He’s a Hall of Fame center with two Stanley Cup titles.
His character was so revered that he won three Lady Byng trophies.
He’s a legend in Pittsburgh, where he made the All-Star team in five consecutive seasons.
But in Seattle … he’s doing things a little bit differently.
Kraken general manager Ron Francis just completed a process he’s been focused on since being hired two years ago. He selected 30 players in the NHL expansion draft Wednesday and then seven more in the entry draft Friday and Saturday.
How his vision will materialize won’t be fully known for years. But for better or worse — and it may very well be for better — his approach appears unorthodox.
Part 1: The expansion draft
As has been mentioned, the Vegas Golden Knights set a near-impossible standard when they went to the Stanley Cup Final in their first year. Their GM, George McPhee, hit pay dirt in his expansion draft as his team vaulted to the top of the Western Conference.
Expecting a similar result from the Kraken is probably unfair. Still, the expectations in this burgeoning hockey town are there. Will Francis meet them?
There is no doubt the Kraken acquired some talent in the expansion draft Wednesday. A player such as Mark Giordano — a former Norris Trophy winner for best defenseman — is not to be scoffed at. But there was also some talent left on the table, ostensibly for salary-cap purposes.
The NHL cap is at $81.5 million, and Francis had the go-ahead to spend that much in the draft. He ended up spending $54.4 million.
That’s hardly a suggestion that Francis is anything but fully invested in this team. It’s clear he was trying to give the franchise financial flexibility so it could sign impactful free agents. Still, free agents have the choice on whether they want to come to Seattle. Draftees do not.
A risk worth taking? Possibly. But it’s a risk nonetheless.
There were also zero trades or side deals for the Kraken in the expansion draft. For context, the Golden Knights made 10 trades four years earlier. Francis said the reason for the lack of movement was that GMs learned from their mistakes four years ago and opted not to overpay to protect assets. Still, an uneventful draft mixed with conservative picks left myriad hockey pundits wondering what exactly Francis was thinking.
Does this mean they’re right? Not necessarily. It wasn’t clear that Vegas hit a home run immediately after its draft in 2017. As of now, though, it’s a head-scratcher for some.
Part 2: The entry draft
Francis’ first pick Friday — the No. 2 overall selection — might be the easiest decision he’ll make in Seattle. After Owen Power was taken first overall, the Kraken chose Michigan center Matty Beniers. Any pick besides Beniers would have come as a massive shock. With his second-round pick, however, Francis did manage to surprise some folks.
One would have been hard-pressed to find defenseman Ryker Evans going in the second round in any mock drafts. Yet the Kraken selected the 19-year-old with the 35th overall pick Saturday. It’s not that mock-draft writers necessarily know what they’re talking about — especially after a season in which COVID-19 shielded scouts from getting full portraits of prospective players. Still, the pick felt a little bit like the Seahawks taking running back Rashaad Penny in the first round three years ago despite Penny appearing to be a consensus third-rounder.
Again, front offices are generally more informed than random dudes with an internet connection. And according to Francis, the entire staff was sold on Evans as an essential pickup in the second round. Still, it came across as unconventional, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing (see: Billy Beane, Moneyball). But if it doesn’t work out, it’s that much more noticeable.
There are still a couple months of offseason before the Kraken opens camp. There are still plenty of moves to be made. To make another Seahawks comparison, their GM John Schneider has made numerous key acquisitions just before the season — or even the middle of the season. No need to rush to judgment yet.
But there’s a hunger for quality hockey in Seattle right now. And fair or not, there are high expectations. Fans should be patient as Francis continues to navigate this offseason. But if there isn’t success on the ice, they won’t be patient for long.