Hats off to the Winnipeg Jets, who became the first NHL team this week to require fans be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 before attending home games this season.
You’d think that with massive NHL revenue shortfalls the past two seasons the league would mandate that all 32 teams implement this policy to avoid further outbreaks. But as we know, the choices made in this country in getting through this pandemic haven’t always been the safest.
Sure, I wouldn’t want to be the guy standing at arena entrances in Tampa Bay, Dallas, or Nashville checking vaccination cards given what’s happening in those places. But what’s the alternative? The NHL has smaller national television contracts than other major pro sports, and stands to benefit most from fully-packed arenas. So, keeping those arenas from becoming super-spreader locales benefits everybody.
The Kraken is still deciding COVID-19 protocols. But vaccines have been mandated for all front office staff with the team, Climate Pledge Arena and the Oak View Group (OVG) company managing that venue. The team this week announced a Nov. 5 concert by The Eagles at the arena is for fully-vaccinated patrons only, as per the band’s request. The Eagles have long been managed by Irving Azoff, who, along with Tim Leiweke, co-founded OVG and successfully recruited future Kraken owners to apply for the expansion franchise.
OK, let’s get to some questions.
The plan, as with all teams, revolves mainly around cramming players through waivers right at training camp’s end. That’s when 23-man rosters will be mostly finalized and teams won’t have room for leftover players who will largely slip through to the minors.
A big disincentive to claiming these players, none exactly superstars, is they must remain on the new team’s NHL roster all season.
For those unfamiliar with NHL waivers, any players sent to the American Hockey League — in training camp or regular season — must go through waivers and give teams a 24-hour chance to claim them. The only exceptions are players with a no movement clause — the Kraken has none — or mostly younger ones yet to surpass a certain minimum-games threshold. It’s a complicated formula and applies to only two Kraken players, Joey Daccord and Luke Henman, meaning everyone else must clear.
The Kraken will also likely invite additional free agents and players offered professional tryout deals to camp. If any are kept, some might be waiver-exempt and could be sent down without being exposed.
But mostly, the Kraken will be slipping depth players through waivers at camp’s end. While it’s possible somebody gets claimed, the Kraken won’t lose all depth because there won’t be enough perfect fits between teams and replacement-level players to make it worth keeping them all season.
As an example, Kraken defenseman Connor Carrick, 27, an experienced NHL player, is expected to provide injury depth. He’s on a two-way contract, meaning he’ll earn $800,000 in the NHL but far less in the AHL.
So, Carrick likely starts in the AHL earning less money until the Kraken really needs to pay his prorated NHL wage to replace an injured player. Sending Carrick to the AHL from camp requires getting him through waivers.
But he’s 27 and it’s been five years since he played more than 47 games in any season. It’s therefore unlikely anyone’s going to claim Carrick and be forced to pay his full NHL salary over 82 games as waiver rules mandate.
Once Carrick clears, he’d start in the AHL and be available for call-ups. And he wouldn’t need to go through waivers again until playing at least 10 cumulative NHL games or spending 30 total days on the Kraken’s roster.
So, if the Kraken calls Carrick up for eight days and he plays three games as an injury replacement he can be sent back down without going through waivers again. And the Kraken could theoretically bring him back up three more times for that same eight-day, three-game stint. But by that fourth Kraken go-round, he’d be at 12 cumulative games over 32 days — having surpassed the 10-game, 30-day maximum — and would need to clear waivers again to return to the AHL.
If he clears, the 10-game, 30-day limit resets for next time.
So, that’s four short-term call-ups you’ve used Carrick in. Any similar combination of games and days works, I just picked those numbers randomly to show how, with careful management, getting players through waivers in training camp allows for adequate depth coverage.
Assuming no significant additions, the top line is probably centered by Alex Wennberg, with Jaden Schwartz on left wing and Jordan Eberle the right. Wennberg is the least experienced at top line play, but Schwartz was a 20-goal man his last healthy season in 2019-20, while Eberle notched 20 in 74 combined regular season and playoff games during the most recent, pandemic-shortened campaign.
Yanni Gourde could become the top center once he recovers from shoulder surgery come November or December.
On the second line, I’d use Calle Jarnkrok at his natural center position, Jared McCann on left wing and Joonas Donskoi the right.
On the third line, I’d give Morgan Geekie an opportunity in camp to show he can play center regularly in the NHL. Hey, they bypassed Jake Bean for Geekie in the expansion draft so let’s see why. Brandon Tanev takes left wing, Mason Appleton his more familiar spot on the right.
I’d toyed with moving Marcus Johansson back to his natural centerman’s spot on the third line, but he hasn’t played there in years and the team needs a fourth line left wing. I put Johansson there over Carsen Twarynski, Nathan Bastian at center and Colin Blackwell on the right.
All this could change if drafted center Matty Beniers joins the Kraken rather than returning to the University of Michigan.
On defense, my first pairing has Vince Dunn on his natural left side — at $4 million annually, best maximize his two-way abilities — with Adam Larsson on the right. Second pairing sees Mark Giordano on his natural left side — like Dunn, to maximize offensive capabilities — and Jamie Oleksiak on his off-handed right side.
The third pairing has size and NHL experience with Carson Soucy on the left and Haydn Fleury the right.
Nobody will commit to anything yet, but basic math gives us an idea. Kraken GM Ron Francis said Philipp Grubauer is unlikely to play the 71% of games he did for Colorado last season. And we know Chris Driedger played 41% of Florida’s games and is paid like a starter at $3.5 million annually.
So, logic dictates Driedger play, as you say, an expanded backup role like last season while Grubauer comes down — making it a 60-40 split. The season runs 25 weeks — I’m taking off three for the Winter Olympics — giving Grubauer about two starts per week.
That’s up to the NBA, which has spent years not making teams available. The big difference now is, the city has an NBA-ready arena — which the league had insisted upon as a prerequisite. In fact, the NBA has been unofficially checkmarking an additional $50 million in Climate Pledge Arena upgrades to meet that league’s design specifications.
NBA commissioner Adam Silver says the league is now open to expansion discussions. This city’s sports power brokers — in politics, team ownership and broadcast circles — have been operating for a while under the assumption it’s not “if” but “when” the NBA returns. Most often, I hear it’ll be within three years of the arena reopening.