Over the weekend, the Seattle Kraken announced deals with two of the team’s restricted free agents. First, on Saturday, Forward Kole Lind signed a one-year, two-way deal, worth $775,000 at the NHL level. Then, on Sunday, defenseman Cale Fleury signed a two-year, one-way deal worth $800,000 annually with the Kraken. Following a deal with defenseman Will Borgen on Friday, only one Kraken restricted free agent remains unsigned – Vince Dunn.

The Kraken sign Kole Lind to a one-year deal

Lind, 24, spent the entire 2022-23 season with the Coachella Valley Firebirds, appearing in all 72 games and 26 postseason games. He had a terrific scoring season in the AHL, recording 30 goals and 32 assists in the regular season. His 62 points were second on the team and tied for 16th in the entire AHL. Lind elevated his already lofty play in the postseason, leading all AHL skaters in points (31) and assists (22), and trailing only teammate Max McCormick in goals (9).

The 6-foot-1 right-handed winger has two goals and six assists in 30 career NHL games, most coming during the 2021-22 season with the Kraken. 

Lind’s deal for the 2023-24 season is a two-way contract, meaning that while he is set to earn $775,000 at the NHL level, he will earn a lower minimum guaranteed salary of $345,000 if he returns to the AHL again this season.

An NHL role for Kole?

Lind has proven that he can be an elite playmaker and finisher at the AHL level. Since he pairs those skills with a willingness to play a physical game and serve as an agitator, there is plenty to like about Lind’s projection to the NHL level. In my mind, the questions with Lind are, first, whether he can keep pace at the NHL level, particularly defensively, given his below-average skating speed, and, second, whether he can keep the penalties under control.

I believe Lind should be a strong consideration for the fourth-line right wing or extra forward role in Seattle this coming season. I think Kailer Yamamoto likely has the edge over Lind for regular playing time to start, but Lind will have training camp to make his case. In the event of an injury to a winger, he and Tye Kartye are at the front of the line to fill in.

Kole Lind (Photo/Brian Liesse)

A mutually advantageous deal?

Seattle extended a qualifying offer to Lind for a one-year, two-way contract worth $892,500 at the NHL level. Even so, Lind negotiated and agreed to a deal with lower monetary upside in the NHL. Why? I can speculate at two potential explanations. 

First, Lind may have agreed to a lower NHL salary in return for an increased AHL salary above the minimum that would have come with the qualifying offer. His minimum guaranteed salary last season was $175,000. That sum has almost doubled this year to $345,000. This is significant for a player whose estimated earnings to date are just over $1 million.

Second, Lind’s camp may have reached the conclusion that he had a greater chance to actually earn the higher NHL salary if he agreed to take a bit less. How so? With other potential end-of-the-roster players like John Hayden and Pierre-Édouard Bellemare carrying $775,000 cap numbers, taking a higher NHL number may have worked against Lind’s chances of staying on the NHL roster with the Kraken. With Seattle spending to the cap, every dollar matters and can be significant in weighing marginal pieces. Of course, this is true of other teams around the NHL too. Lind could be slightly more interesting on waivers at $775,000 than he would have been at $892,500 (or more).

This latter consideration may have also contributed to his decision to forego his right to request salary arbitration. Even if he was “successful” at arbitration, the contract would have been a two-way deal and a high NHL salary may have helped push him back to the AHL level for another season. Certainly, Lind would have preferred a one-way deal at or around the value of the qualifying offer, but Seattle wasn’t willing to offer it.

An unrestricted free agent at 25 years old next offseason?

As I have written about, a player who would otherwise be a restricted free agent qualifies as a “Group 6” unrestricted free agent if the player’s contract ends and he is (a) over 25 years old, (b) has played three or more professional seasons, and (c) has played in fewer than 80 NHL games. 

Unless Lind appears in 50 regular-season or postseason NHL games this season, or is re-signed in the interim, Lind will meet each of these criteria next offseason. At 25 years old and boasting a prolific AHL scoring resume, he will likely have leverage and suitors on the open market. All of this makes it an important year for Lind and his future with the Kraken organization.

The Kraken sign Cale Fleury to a two-year deal

Visualization by HockeyViz

Fleury, 24, spent the 2022-23 season with the Kraken, but he rarely saw the ice as an extra defenseman on a relatively healthy blue line. He appeared in 12 games, totaled just under 160 minutes on the ice and recorded no goals and one assist. Overall, Fleury has appeared in 68 NHL games, with two points (one goal and last year’s assist). 

In the press release announcing the signing to a two-year deal, the Kraken noted that Fleury’s 10.51 hits per sixty minutes led the 2022-23 Kraken, and his 4.88 blocked shots per sixty minutes ranked second among all skaters who played in more than 10 games. 

Since his sample size is small, we can’t take too much from his on-ice shot analytics, but the information we do have doesn’t stand out positively or negatively. In my mind’s eye, Fleury was a capable sixth or seventh defender who swung back and forth between impressive and frustrating plays and reads on the defensive side and was fairly quiet offensively.

Was a two-year term the key to a compromise?

Similar to the offer extended to Lind, Seattle’s qualifying offer to Cale Fleury was a one-year, two-way deal worth $787,500 at the NHL level and less at the AHL level. Unlike Lind, though, Fleury has a longer NHL track record, more leverage, and requested arbitration to set his salary, absent a negotiated agreement. Seattle, recognizing that leverage, agreed to a one-way deal structure over two years to get the deal done.

On Fleury’s side, the two-year deal guarantees him $1.6 million no matter where he plays. On Seattle’s side, the term is also significant. Like Lind, Fleury had the chance to be a Group 6 unrestricted free agent after this upcoming season. With 62 NHL games under his belt, if the team had sent him through waivers to the AHL or he sat another year behind three healthy right-shot defensemen, he may not have gotten into 18 additional games. 

The two-year deal avoids the potential Group 6 conundrum this coming offseason and locks Fleury in for the 2024-25 season as well. Assuming Fleury stays with Seattle for the full two years and gets in 18 games over those two seasons, he would again be a restricted free agent in the 2025 offseason.

Cale Fleury (Photo/Brian Liesse)

Could we see a Fleury in the desert?

The Kraken have eight defensemen on one-way contracts for this coming season: Dunn (when it gets finished, it will be a one-way deal), Adam Larsson, Jamie Oleksiak, Will Borgen, Brian Dumoulin, Justin Schultz, Jaycob Megna, and Fleury. Theoretically, the team could keep all eight in Seattle. The Kraken carried eight defenders for much of their inaugural season. Seven defenders is more typical, however. 

Seattle didn’t send Fleury through waivers last year (a) because he was the best bet on the roster for the seventh defender role, and (b) they didn’t have the AHL depth on the right side to withstand losing him to a waiver claim. The dynamic is different this year. Megna can capably fill the seventh defender role, and Seattle has righty defender Connor Carrick, a veteran of 242 NHL games, signed to a one-year deal and bound for Coachella Valley. 

If Carrick clears waivers earlier in camp, which he likely will, the Kraken might feel confident enough to test waivers on Fleury. Fleury is still a young player who needs ice time to develop. 160 minutes of ice time in an entire season is not doing him or Seattle any favors.  If given the option, I think the team would rather see Fleury get a full slate of games in the AHL while the older Megna serves as the occasionally used NHL healthy scratch.

The two-year, one-way deal structure might also cause a team to hesitate claiming Fleury on waivers. This too could help him get through waivers and to Coachella Valley this year.

Performance and injuries, if any, in camp will be a significant factor. But, as it stands in early July, I could see Fleury with the Firebirds this coming season. In the desert he could start building chemistry with future Kraken teammate Ryker Evans.

A 2024-25 NHL role in mind?

Looking forward, Seattle has only two other right-side defensemen, Larsson and Borgen, signed for the 2024-25 season. This contract places Fleury squarely in the mix to compete for a full-time role then. If I am correct that Seattle may prefer to get Fleury reps in the AHL this season, could Evans and Fleury both join the NHL team next year, perhaps even as an occasional bottom-line pairing? I could see it.

Beyond Fleury, the team doesn’t have much in the way of NHL-caliber depth at right-handed defense coming up through the system just yet. Ville Ottavainen, Seattle’s fourth-round pick in the 2021 draft, is scheduled to play in North America for the first time this season with the Coachella Valley Firebirds. If he has an impressive season, he could be in the mix. But, typically, even successful prospects on his trajectory take two or more seasons in the minors before breaking through.

Where do the Kraken go from here?

All eyes turn to negotiations with the team’s last restricted free agent, Dunn. He now has an arbitration hearing date set for July 24, so Seattle will be looking to get an extension in place before that date. Aside from that, I suspect Seattle will keep working the phones to monitor opportunities for upgrades via trade.

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