Seattle Kraken general manager Ron Francis developed a reputation for conservatism during a seven-year stint as the Hurricanes GM.
That same stance reflected in Carolina through his cautious approach to off-season purchases and trades, as well as his preference for strong defense over strong offense, was evident during Wednesday’s expansion draft.
The Kraken were always expected to pass many of the big names and big-contract players in the draft, but they passed almost all of them. Carey Price, Vladimir Tarasenko, James van Riemsdyk, Ryan Johansen, Matt Duchene, Adam Henrique, Max Domi and many others will remain with their teams.
Instead, the Kraken put together a roster that barely exceeded the $48.9 million minimum wage. That leaves them well over $25 million to spend the rest of the off-season and a rather disappointing initial expansion class.
For every senior player the Kraken bites into, they made an obscure off-the-board pick elsewhere.
Forwards Jordan Eberle (Islanders), Calle Jarnkrok (Predators), Jared McCann (Maple Leafs) and Yanni Gourde (Lightning), defenders Mark Giordano (Flames), Vince Dunn (Blues) and Adam Larsson (Oilers) and goalkeepers Chris Driedger (Panthers) ) and Vitek Vanecek (capitals) should be solid pieces. In fact, Eberle, Gourde and Giordano were the only players to take the Kraken with cap hits over $5 million.
However, the rosters of John Quenneville (Blackhawks), Carsen Twarynski (Flyers), Gavin Bayreuther (Blue Jackets), Kurtis MacDermid (Kings) and Morgan Geekie (Hurricanes) were big surprises.
It initially seemed likely that the Kraken had made those choices because of side-matches. The Golden Knights struck 10 side deals during the 2017 expansion release, acquiring many of their eventual stars through that process, and the Kraken reportedly charged skyrocketing prices in side deal negotiations leading up to Wednesday. But such transactions have not happened, according to CapFriendly.
The clear focus of the Kraken team assembled so far is to keep the puck out of the net.
Of the 19 skaters they chose who played regularly in the NHL last year, 12 had better defensive than offensive results last season (as measured by equal chances per minute, for and against).
Only three Eberle, Gourde and Donskoi were in the top 200 of the entire league in terms of scoring opportunities. Five Jamie Oleksiak (Stars), Haydn Fleury (Ducks), Brandon Tanev (Penguins), McCann and Geekie were among the top 100 odds-versus-chances.
Goalkeeping must be a strength. Feeling poised to become a No. 1 goalkeeper after his Florida breakout year, Driedger went 14-6-3 with a save rate of 0.927. Vanecek also did most of the season last season as a rookie and along with Joey Daccord (Senators) provides solid depth.
However, the full Kraken team is not assembled and it would be shocking if Francis didn’t use the generous felling space he kept. The Flyers and Lightning remain desperate for big contracts this off-season, and the Kraken could help them, for a price.
Francis will also be able to complete his team with the No. 2 overall pick in Friday’s draft. That roster will also reveal more about his team building mentality. With the Hurricanes, four of his six first-round picks were defenders.
The Kraken could also be big players in free agency next week, three of their biggest splashes (Larsson, Oleksiak, and Driedger) were waiting for unrestricted free agents. Signing Avalanche captain and pending UFA Gabriel Landeskog, for example, would immediately change the outlook for Year 1.
But at least after a day of team building, NHL’s newest franchise isn’t looking as good and certainly isn’t looking as aggressive as expected.
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