The Kraken is on the clock after the Tampa Bay Lightning wrapped up a second consecutive Stanley Cup title Wednesday by beating the Montreal Canadiens in five games.
So it’s on to the July 21 NHL expansion draft for the league’s 32nd team, followed by the July 23-24 entry draft, with the Kraken picking at No. 2 overall. Lots to look forward to.
With the Cup awarded, expect the NHL to release its regular-season schedule — two versions are reportedly circulating among teams, with one assuming the NHL sends players to the Winter Olympics, the other in case it doesn’t — within a couple weeks.
By the way, the William Hill sportsbook has the Vegas Golden Knights and Colorado Avalanche as 6 to 1 co-favorites for next season’s Cup title, with Tampa Bay next at 8 to 1. The Kraken is tied with the Buffalo Sabres and Detroit Red Wings for the lowest Cup odds at 200 to 1.
OK, let’s get to your mailbag questions:
Q: What teams do you feel will have to make side deals with the Kraken to either try to offload salary cap, or protect assets?
A: Well, some interesting scenarios emerged in recent days, as winger Vladimir Tarasenko, 29, of the St. Louis Blues and defenseman Duncan Keith of the Chicago Blackhawks reportedly asked for trades. Tarasenko is reportedly unhappy over medical treatments by Blues team physicians. Keith no longer fits a rebuilding Chicago team, and Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman reported that Keith wants to be closer to his 8-year-old son in British Columbia.
For those wondering whether Kraken general manager Ron Francis has had direct conversations with the Blackhawks about Keith, he doesn’t comment on specifics. But I can’t imagine he hasn’t had talks, as Keith provides a veteran blue-line leader and possible first-team captain for money that isn’t outlandish.
“I have had direct talks with all the teams covering a variety of scenarios. Chicago included,” Francis said via text.
Keith, who turns 38 next week, has a no-movement clause in his contract, so he controls his destination. At issue is a $5.54 million salary-cap hit each of the next two seasons. But it’s a front-loaded contract, so total money owed is $3.6 million through 2022-23. Plus, with the draft upcoming, a deal could be swung in which Chicago retains cap space in return for steering the Kraken’s pick.
Tarasenko, the face of the Blues most of the past decade, apparently became disgruntled with the team’s handling of his recent shoulder surgeries. He’s much younger than Keith, obviously, but there’s a $7.5 million cap hit in each of the next two seasons.
Still, Tarasenko was a perennial 30-goal scorer when healthy. And his longtime agent until a couple of months ago was Mike Liut, a cousin of Francis. So the Kraken might still get some reliable backroom information on Tarasenko beyond standard agent-speak. The Blues need cap relief, and they’d get it if Tarasenko is dealt — though they’d likely need to eat some money. And that’s again where a side deal could occur.
Other potential side-deal partners include cap-strapped Tampa Bay. The Lightning wants to unload Spokane native Tyler Johnson and needs to entice the Kraken to take his contract and maybe others. Cup finalist Montreal might also push the Kraken to take talented but enigmatic forward Jonathan Drouin so it can otherwise protect goalie Jake Allen and key pieces from its surprising playoff run.
Q: Let’s talk about Climate Pledge Arena. Is two scoreboards going to be the new norm?
A: Not sure I’d go that far. Let’s see how fans take to the concept and what quirks get discovered about two scoreboards that nobody envisioned. That said, I love the concept. Fans at the far ends of the ice get closer access to video replays and anything else they might have missed at the opposite end.
Also, the big scoring action takes place at either end. So fans watching the puck in those end sections at key moments won’t have to swing their heads in another direction to check out a typical lone scoreboard at center ice for time remaining and other key info.
And fans in the most expensive seats in the middle of the ice won’t have scoreboards in their direct frontal vision. When I took a virtual reality tour in February 2020 that replicated being inside the finalized arena, it really seemed to open up the sightlines from those middle sections.
Still, I’m sure someone will find something they don’t like — which is typical for anything new. So we’ll see.
Q: Do you think Seattle would have any interest in goalie Braden Holtby in the expansion draft?
A: Yes, but only if it feels Holtby still works as a No. 1 or No. 1(a) in a tandem. Sure, there are cheaper options for backup types, but they haven’t had Holtby’s sustained success as a No. 1 goalie. And that matters when gauging upside, as opposed to, say, Allen, who has never looked completely comfortable as a No. 1 throughout his career.
That said, Holtby’s .889 save percentage in 21 games with the Vancouver Canucks this past season was his worst. The advanced stats show he allowed 8.41 more goals than expected given the quality of shots faced — among the worst by an NHL regular.
Holtby’s .897 save percentage the previous season with the Washington Capitals had been his low, though it was for a campaign aborted due to COVID-19 with a dozen games remaining. Over two seasons, you’re talking a shortened sample size of 68 starts — only two fewer than Holtby’s 2015-16 campaign. He ranged between .911 and .922 for nearly a decade, which is why he once seemed a certain Kraken pick.
Can he bounce back? Or is regression setting in for a player who will turn 32 come training camp? Also, Holtby’s contract is backloaded — his salary-cap hit isn’t terrible at $4.3 million for next season, but he’s owed $5.7 million. Still, it’s only one year of money, and he’s enough of a name that you could flip him to a contender as playoff insurance if things don’t go the Kraken’s way.
Also, it’s not as if the Canucks offer many tempting options. Defenseman Madison Bowey was acquired from Chicago at the trade deadline, ostensibly so the Canucks would have at least one required blue-liner to expose — which isn’t exactly a ringing endorsement.
The best of the Canucks’ lot may be winger Jake Virtanen, a former first-round pick who seemed on his way to becoming a 20-goal, 40-point guy before popping only five goals — with zero assists — in 38 games this past season. There’s also an ongoing civil lawsuit filed against Virtanen in April, in which a woman claimed he sexually assaulted her in a hotel room in 2017.
Virtanen has disputed the claims in court, and a police investigation remains ongoing. But if you’re the Kraken, why go there? Especially in a Seattle market that has had its share of cases of violence between athletes and women? Sometimes, the smart play is to not try to prove how smart you are. If the Kraken wants to take risks, at least with Holtby you’re dealing with on-ice questions alone.