We hear a lot about it, but when is the “competitive window” open for the Seattle Kraken? It’s a question John Barr and Darren Brown received in the most recent Sound Of Hockey Podcast mailbag episode, and one I’ve been thinking about.

Asked about the expected timeframe for a typical Kraken draft pick to debut in the NHL, general manager Ron Francis said on July 1, “It’s probably a three-to-four-year timeline.” Francis might as well have been describing the shelf life of the current iteration of the Seattle Kraken team, though.

Digging into the data, the Kraken have one of the oldest rosters in the NHL and have relied heavily on those older players to produce. But unlike some teams, the Kraken are not locked into their current roster long term. Many contracts phase out over the next couple years, and Seattle has no contracts at all with more than four years of term remaining. This puts them in rare company. The Kraken are one of only two NHL teams with zero dollars in cap commitments after the 2026-27 season.

All of this points to significant roster turnover in the coming years. It also gets us back to that question Francis received—about the timeline for Seattle’s prospects. With any luck, several of a trove of high draft picks from Seattle’s first three drafts will start pushing for NHL roles between the 2024-25 season (the fourth season after Seattle’s first draft) and the 2026-27 season (the fourth season after the team’s third and most recent draft).

It’s easy to see the fit with the timing of the team’s NHL deals. If things go according to plan, in three-to-four years, Kraken homegrown talent will be contributing on cheaper contracts, and the team will have relatively clean books to supplement that talent via free agency. If the draft picks do not work out, the team will still be in position to reset, unhampered by long contracts for declining players. Seattle would be able to trade its last big NHL contracts, restock its draft picks, and try again.

There is a lot of work ahead for the Kraken front office, but they’ve put the team in an enviable position. On the one hand, the Kraken are contending for the playoffs with their current roster. On the other hand, they have the resources—both in terms of prospects and future cap space—to take a further step forward in three-to-four years. The status of the Kraken roster suggests this may be the true “competitive window” the team is targeting.

Kraken prospects are finally starting to knock at the door

Tye Kartye advances the puck (Photo/Brian Liesse)

As Francis noted, it takes time for drafted prospects to start to arrive at the NHL level. “Ideally it’s two more years, if they’re in juniors, and then they start coming up the American [Hockey] League,” Francis explained.

Seattle is just now two full seasons removed from its inaugural draft. Right on Francis’s schedule, the Coachella Valley Firebirds will see their first significant influx of young talent this season, with drafted prospects Jacob Melanson, Ryan Winterton, Tucker Robertson, and Ville Ottavainen, and undrafted free agent Logan Morrison, all projected to join the team.

That group is only the beginning. Across three drafts, the Seattle Kraken have used 17 top-100 draft picks. That total is third most in the league behind only the Chicago Blackhawks (19) and the Arizona Coyotes (18). This is significant. Consider that six teams—the Boston Bruins, Edmonton Oilers, Florida Panthers, Pittsburgh Penguins, Tampa Bay Lightning, and Toronto Maple Leafs—have made just four top-100 picks in the same span.

While the first of Seattle’s draft picks, Matty Beniers, has already emerged as a legitimate NHL player, the rest are still developing. It is still too soon to know what they will be, but there are reasons to be optimistic about the group of players Seattle has coming.

Most notably, the team has secured a stable of high-scoring forwards from the junior hockey ranks. According to data tracked by Pick224, among those playing at least 20 CHL games last season, the Seattle Kraken had five of the top 25 in primary points per game—Melanson, Morrison, Shane Wright, David Goyette, and Jagger Firkus.

This group is supported by a diverse cupboard of skaters bringing physicality and scoring (Tye Kartye and Jani Nyman) or defensive profiles (Oscar Fisker Mølgaard and Zeb Forsfjall) to high-level professional leagues at a young age.

On the blue line, Ryker Evans was an AHL All-Star in his rookie professional season. And, in the CHL, Lukas Dragicevic and Ty Nelson both ranked within the top 20 defensemen in even-strength primary points per game, while also showing the ability to play key power-play minutes.

Wright is likely to contribute this year or next. Francis has spoken highly of Evans and Kartye too, and it seems probable both will get an opportunity for a full-time role with the Kraken by the 2024-25 season at the latest. Players like Melanson, Nelson, Ottavainen, or Winterton could push for NHL time after that.

Seattle’s NHL roster is aging

At the NHL level, the Kraken have a veteran-heavy lineup. This is not surprising, of course. Since draft picks take time to develop, Seattle was constrained to build its initial teams by two main methods. First, the Kraken had the Expansion Draft, a process that exempted most young players. Second, Seattle had unrestricted free agency, where most players are only eligible for UFA status after they are 27 years old.

Fast forward two years and the Kraken roster is one of the oldest in the league. I calculated the average age of projected 2023-24 NHL rosters using the starters projected in depth chart tool on CapFriendly. The average age of the projected Kraken lineup is 28.30, which is tied with the New York Islanders and Minnesota Wild for the sixth-oldest lineup in the league.

Paired with what we know about how NHL players’ skills decline over time, the age of Seattle’s roster weighs heavily on my mind when considering whether a 2023-24 Kraken team that returns mostly the same lineup can improve from last year’s performance.

Individual players can skew averages, though, so I also looked at how many 30+-year-old players each team projected to carry on their 2023-24 rosters. All studies seem to agree that players peak in their 20’s. So age 30+ players—as a group, on average—can be expected to decline. (Beyond that, there is no magic to this cutoff I used beyond its roundness. Could the cutoff have been 29 or 31? Yes.)

By this measure, too, Seattle has an old roster. The Kraken are projected to carry 11 players at least 30 years of age, which is tied for second most in the league with the New York Rangers and Washington Capitals, and behind only the Pittsburgh Penguins.

As an aside, the Penguins stand out as an extreme outlier, with, by far, the oldest roster in the NHL. In fact, the difference in average age between the Penguins (30.91) and the second-oldest team, the Washington Capitals (29.00), is bigger than the difference between the Capitals and the 22nd-oldest team, the Winnipeg Jets (27.17). Pittsburgh also projects to carry four more age 30+ players than any other team.

Since no two players on a roster are equally valuable or relied upon, I also looked at (1) how many games those 30+-year-old players played in the 2022-23 season, (2) their average time on ice, and (3) how many goals they scored. If a team’s over-30 players are fourth-line forwards, backup goaltenders, or healthy scratches, there is less of a concern about age-related regression.

This analysis showed that the Kraken are heavily reliant on their older players. Seattle’s age 30+ players: (1) played 794 games in the 2022-23 season, second most in the league; (2) averaged 17:41 of ice time per game, tenth most in the league, and (3) scored 101 goals, eighth most in the league.

All of this suggests that the arc of the current NHL roster is likely to decline without changes to address age-related regression.

Seattle’s minimal contract commitments give the team flexibility

The Kraken have constructed their roster carefully, however, and find themselves in relatively strong position to solve for any age-related issues. Absent any other transactions this offseason, the Kraken will enter the season with more than $2 million in cap space—ample room to make any in-season moves.

Looking forward, Seattle’s veteran contracts all cycle out over the next four years. Setting aside entry-level contracts, the Kraken have fifteen NHL contracts covering the 2024-25 season, but that number drops down to seven in 2025-26, four in 2026-27, and none in 2027-28 and beyond.

Of course, it is desirable to lock in young talent on long-term deals, like New Jersey has done, for example. But Seattle has not yet had those options with early-prime players. (Beniers is the first player worthy of such a contract, and I expect Seattle to pursue it.)

Instead, Seattle has exercised admirable restraint in resisting maximum-term deals for older potential free agent targets (like Gabriel Landeskog at the Expansion Draft) or high uncertainty internal options (Vince Dunn).

Seattle’s future flexibility is even more pronounced when looking at the salary cap charges of the future contract years on the books.

This information on future contracts and cap charges was drawn from the active player database at CapFriendly.

Changes are on the horizon

I infer from the information above that the Kraken may be targeting a timeframe three-to-four years out—when the team is cycling in a large wave of young talent to replace the current veteran core—as an ideal window to take the “next step.” The Kraken’s veteran contracts will be off the books, and the team should have as much or more cap space than any competitor to target free agents to supplement a cheaper group of prime-aged players.

In the meantime, Seattle has a veteran-driven lineup that has proven capable of making the playoffs and making noise when it gets there. This is quite the trick.

Curtis Isacke

Curtis is a Sound Of Hockey contributor and member of the Kraken press corps. Curtis is an attorney by day, and he has read the NHL collective bargaining agreement and bylaws so you don’t have to. He can be found analyzing the Kraken, NHL Draft, and other hockey topics on Twitter and Threads @deepseahockey.

%d bloggers like this: