The Seattle Kraken made two moves on Friday afternoon. First, the team announced it was signing veteran, unrestricted free agent forward Pierre-Édouard Bellemare to a one-year, league minimum $775,000 contract. About an hour later, Elliotte Friedman reported that the team had re-signed restricted free agent defenseman Will Borgen to a two-year, $2.7 million contract. (The Kraken confirmed the signing shortly thereafter.)
The Kraken sign Pierre-Édouard Bellemare to a one-year deal
Bellemare is a 38-year-old, defense-first forward, coming off a down season statistically and analytically. A native of Blanc-Mesnil, France, Bellemare spent much of his twenties playing in Europe in the SHL. He arrived in the NHL in the 2014-2015 season, when he signed a contract with the Philadelphia Flyers. Since then he has logged 660 games played, totaling 60 goals and 71 assists, for Philadelphia, Las Vegas, Colorado, and, most recently, Tampa Bay. He has helped his team deep into the playoffs, making the Stanley Cup Finals twice, once with Las Vegas in 2017-18 and once with Tampa Bay in 2021-22.
In a press release issued with the signing, Kraken GM Ron Francis credited Bellemare as a “hard-working, defensive-minded forward.” Bellemare fits a team need on the depth chart for a bottom line player capable of winning face-offs (51.4% win percentage for his career) and taking penalty kill minutes. “He is effective in the faceoff dot and brings valuable veteran experience,” Francis said.
Bellemare’s effectiveness defensively, including in shorthanded situations, waned last season, and his offensive production fell off drastically. That said, the risk here is minimal. If nothing else, he is a good insurance policy for the team if another stronger option does not present itself before the end of camp. Moreover, his experience and perspective – in the face-off circle, for example – could be a valuable add to the team for however long his tenure may be.
If Bellemare does not make the team, his minimum salary would not have any impact on Seattle’s cap.
The Kraken re-sign Will Borgen to a two-year deal
Borgen, 26, was one of the Seattle Kraken’s original expansion draft picks. He spent much of his first season with the team buried on the depth chart and scratched from the lineup. After the 2022 trade deadline, he assumed a more regular role, and carried over that momentum into the 2022-23 season when he played all 82 regular season and 14 postseason games for Seattle. He has totaled 28 points in 132 career regular season games.
Borgen started this past season on the third defensive pair with Carson Soucy but eventually earned a promotion to the second unit along side Jamie Oleksiak. He was up to the new challenge, for the most part, in 2022-23, but the most intriguing part about Borgen is that there could more upside in his game still. He has played less than 150 total NHL games – a number he may more than double during the term of this new two-year deal. Additional experience could unlock yet more production from Borgen, who is an impressive size and speed athlete with solid puck skills.
Already a stalwart on the Kraken penalty kill, Borgen’s retention feels like a critical piece of business for Seattle, particularly amid rumors that Borgen’s name had come up on the trade market. The average annual value of the deal is much higher than I had predicted based on market comparable research, but it is not difficult to find the argument that he could be worth it, for the reasons I laid out above. And Borgen had leverage. Earlier this week he had exercised his right to have his salary set by arbitration failing an agreement.
For the Kraken, this deal gets them an important piece back, in his prime, and buys out one UFA year at a price that does not break the bank. For Borgen, he gets the security for which he has worked very hard. He’ll make almost as much this year alone as he has made in his career to date. And he’ll get the chance to be unrestricted at age 28 upon this deal’s expiration. If his upward trend continues, he’ll be looking at an even bigger deal then. All things considered, Borgen did very well here.
Where do the Kraken go from here?
Seattle’s focus now turns to reaching deals with their remaining restricted free agents, Vince Dunn, Cale Fleury, and Kole Lind. Dunn is the big one as he is looking for a massive payday. How does that play out? Dunn requested salary arbitration too, as did Fleury. Beyond that, the team has filled all of its obvious “needs.” I anticipate that, following the RFA deals, the Kraken will still have a bit of cap space in reserve for opportunities to upgrade the roster that may present themselves.