Kraken general manager Ron Francis on Monday downplayed the fact his team will play its debut season with its top farm affiliate on the opposite coast from where it eventually plans to have one next year.
Having an American Hockey League affiliate in close geographic proximity is generally preferred by NHL teams in order to facilitate rapid call-ups of minor-league players during the season. But that won’t happen with the Kraken right away, with the team announcing Monday it will use the North Carolina-based Charlotte Checkers as its AHL club in a sharing arrangement with the Florida Panthers while the Kraken awaits completion of a planned arena in the Palm Springs area of California.
“I think the biggest thing when we looked at this was trying to find a location and an organization we could work with,” Francis said Monday. “We wanted to reach an agreement where we could kind of put all of our players in one spot rather than put three here and four there and spread it out.”
For now, the Kraken will put between eight and 12 players with the Checkers next season. As the secondary team in the deal, the Kraken has the option of adding an assistant coach to the Checkers while the Panthers — who signed a multiyear agreement with Charlotte last September — will be keeping head coach Geordie Kinnear.
Having the temporary affiliate in place was a near-term priority for the Kraken, with the team preparing to select players in the July 21 expansion draft. A few days later, it has the No. 2 overall pick and third selection in rounds two through seven of the NHL entry draft.
Players from both drafts will form the bulk of those being sent to Charlotte, primarily those taken in the expansion draft who can’t crack the NHL team’s roster right away. While the Kraken will select 30 players — one from each NHL team except Vegas — only 23 can be on the active roster, with 20 dressing for games.
Entry draft players under age 20 and selected from major junior teams must be returned to those squads if they don’t make the Kraken’s roster. Players that age drafted and then signed out of Europe or the NCAA are eligible for AHL play if they don’t make the Kraken right away.
The NHL announced Monday that ESPN2 will broadcast the expansion draft live from an undisclosed Seattle location starting at 5 p.m. PT on July 21, with Chris Fowler serving as host and joined by former NHL player Dominic Moore. Another ex-NHL player, Kevin Weekes, who serves as an analyst for Hockey Night in Canada and the NHL Network, will join the ESPN2 broadcast reporting from various “iconic Seattle locations” as the Kraken’s selections are announced.
The Kraken’s planned AHL arena has been oft-delayed; first by a location switch from its initial downtown location to a nearby Coachella Valley spot just outside Palm Desert, then by bureaucratic issues and opposition from some community groups. Crews broke ground this month on the Oak View Group-financed venue, which is expected to be completed and used as home for a new Kraken AHL affiliate by October 2022.
What the Kraken will lack in immediate proximity is partially offset in familiarity as the Checkers served as the AHL feeder squad for the Carolina Hurricanes back when Francis was that team’s GM. Much of his new Kraken management team, including assistant GM Ricky Olczyk and amateur scouting director Robert Kron, has already worked extensively with the Checkers’ current management group.
Francis said his familiarity with Checkers CEO and owner Michael Kahn should be helpful this coming season. With uncertainty surrounding COVID-19 and whether the Canadian border would reopen, Francis said the Kraken was limited in its discussions on locations that might have been in closer proximity to Seattle.
The Checkers opted out of the 2020-21 season due to concerns about COVID-19 safety and logistics, delaying the first year of their affiliation agreement with Florida. The Panthers wound up in a sharing arrangement with the Tampa Bay Lightning at its AHL affiliate in Syracuse, New York.
But the Checkers announced last month they plan to resume play with a season opener Oct. 22.
Said Kahn on Monday: “I’m very excited, of course, being with Florida. But working again with Ron Francis is exciting as well as we worked together many years with the Hurricanes.”