We’re only days from the Kraken selecting its team in the NHL expansion draft, and by Sunday the 30 clubs giving players up will have their protected lists publicized for all to see.
Some developments this past week might impact potential Kraken picks. On Tuesday, the Minnesota Wild bought out veterans Zach Parise and Ryan Suter with four years remaining on their contracts, giving the team options to protect defenseman Matt Dumba from the Kraken.
And a report Wednesday said Montreal Canadiens captain Shea Weber has thumb, ankle, foot and knee injuries that might be career-threatening and lead to the Habs exposing him in the draft knowing there’s now little risk he’d be selected. If that happens, the Canadiens could protect both Ben Chiarot and Joel Edmundson rather than expose one of those top-four defenders to the Kraken.
We’ll know more by Sunday. But the intrigue grows as Wednesday’s draft date approaches. OK, let’s answer some mailbag questions.
Q: @mbbrennan asked: Is #SEAKraken going to use the #VegasBorn model and build a team that can compete for the #StanleyCup in year one? Will they spend to the cap in yr 1? Or do you see them going young & develop?
A: Well, I don’t know that Vegas planned to compete for the Stanley Cup in Year 1. But the Vegas model sure spawned a repeat Cup contender, namely because the Golden Knights keep making the playoffs. And that did happen right away.
So, I think that’s what the Kraken should aspire toward — a team with a playoff shot its first year and one that makes it by Year 2 in a somewhat soft Pacific Division. Let’s face it: The expansion draft rules are stacked in the Kraken’s favor, and other teams are reeling due to COVID-19 revenue shortfalls and a flat-salary-cap limit.
Though I don’t see the Kraken spending completely to the cap, I think it should be more aggressive with payroll than some predictions I’ve seen. This team needs to make a splash locally and won’t do it with some vaguely defined five-year plan.
Nowadays, NHL parity is such that making the playoffs can win you a championship out of nowhere. The St. Louis Blues did that in 2019 without a Buffalo Sabres-style teardown. Vegas made the final in 2018, and Montreal did it this season when none of the experts saw them coming.
Yes, some fans prefer slowly built teams with a homegrown core of prospects that maximizes financial value and matures like a fine wine until deemed “ready” to compete for a championship at some far-off date. Sounds great if you can pull it off, but real-world teams also are competing annually with other local franchises for sports market dollars, and they know fans eventually will tire of even the best-intentioned plans that don’t show results.
And general managers that take too long often pay the price. I doubt Kraken GM Ron Francis planned to spend four seasons building the Carolina Hurricanes so he could watch them thrive under somebody else’s watch the past three years. And though I wouldn’t expect recklessness out of Francis, logic dictates he’ll feel a greater sense of urgency now. Especially when, as mentioned, the Kraken has advantages working in its favor.
So, yeah, the Kraken will have young players. But this won’t be some five-year “Let the kids play” experiment in which winning takes a back seat.
Q: @rjarnold asked: Based on the characterization of coach Hakstol as one who focuses on player development, who are the top three players from your mock expansion draft you feel are the most likely to benefit from a change of scenery and some developmental coaching and become top contributors?
A: Mason Appleton, 25, of the Winnipeg Jets has a reputation for hard work that should help him thrive under coach Dave Hakstol. Appleton was overshadowed by a plethora of talented Winnipeg forwards but slowly got power-play and penalty-kill time. He would see more of it here and expand beyond his bottom-six role.
Jeremy Lauzon, 24, had limited NHL success with the Boston Bruins compared with fellow young blue-liner Connor Clifton, but Lauzon is generally viewed as the more talented defender. I think playing for an ex-defenseman in Hakstol and another in Kraken assistant — and Lauzon’s former AHL coach — Jay Leach would bring that talent out.
Likewise, third-line center Alex Kerfoot, 26, of the Toronto Maple Leafs worked directly with Kraken assistant Paul McFarland in 2019-20. And Kerfoot spent the past two seasons with Hakstol there as an assistant, though he was coaching Toronto’s defensemen. Like Appleton, Kerfoot is a hard worker, which should gain him Hakstol’s trust — likely more as a winger.
Q: @CelestialMosh asked: I’m hearing good things about how Climate Pledge Arena is shaping up, but the pictures I’ve seen so far are not telling a thousand words. Can you kindly expand on why it’s appearing to be much more than just another venue with the same roof as the Key Arena?
A: Had to think for a moment, but it became obvious looking at photos I’ve posted through various stages of the arena’s construction. It’s the natural light flowing in through the glass wall of windows on the arena’s north end.
That natural light should help arena patrons forget the facility’s floor is more than 50 feet below ground.
Something that will instantly trip-up first-timers to the arena is walking inside and immediately being in the highest seating sections.
And it’s a steep look down. That’s my other favorite part. Having grown up attending games at the similarly steep seating sections of the prior Montreal Forum, I am not a fan of the newer, bigger 19,000- to 21,000-seat arenas.
Climate Pledge reminds me of days before cramming luxury suites into as big a venue as possible took precedent over fan sight lines. Yes, Climate Pledge has plenty of luxury spaces. But the arena’s intimate feel is from the steep grade of the seating sections, which puts fans physically closer to the ice. And that gives even nosebleed seats really good sight lines.
Q: @seattlechef asked: Any chance that they’ll make a big push for Eichel?
A: Probably not Jack Eichel specifically, but I’d like the Kraken to get in on some blockbuster-type deal. It has money, ability to wheel and deal for a variety of players and draft picks, and the No. 2 overall pick in the entry draft to offer for the right return.
It doesn’t necessarily need to be a trade, either.
My mock expansion draft had GM Francis selecting Carolina Hurricanes defenseman Dougie Hamilton, but only if he signs during the Kraken’s exclusive 72-hour pre-draft advance negotiation window. If not, you go with Jake Bean. But the rules enable the Kraken this one time to offer free-agent players eight-year maximum contracts up until the July 28 free-agency period opens. A player’s current club — the Hurricanes in Hamilton’s case — also can offer eight years, but all other teams are limited to seven. So the Kraken has an edge if Hamilton is willing to leave Carolina.
Might as well try to land him, or Taylor Hall of the Bruins, or maybe Gabriel Landeskog of the Colorado Avalanche. And that doesn’t preclude also signing the next level of top free agents, such as Zach Hyman, Tyson Barrie or Phillip Danault. Again, the expansion draft, entry draft, flat salary cap and COVID-19 financial downturn has lopsidedly tilted this process the Kraken’s way.
Playing it safe feels like a missed opportunity. I’d like at least one massive swing at a big-money, huge-upside player.
Eichel qualifies as potentially huge upside, given he was a No. 2 overall draft pick in 2015. His former Buffalo Sabres GM, Jason Botterill, is in the Kraken’s front office, and I see rationale for flipping the current No. 2 overall entry-draft pick to Buffalo for an established NHL playmaker such as Eichel rather than waiting on a draftee such as Matthew Berniers.
But the Sabres supposedly want three or four first-round “pieces” of former top picks playing in the NHL or NCAA. That’s too high for Eichel, who also has a herniated disc that might require surgery. If it was two such equivalents — the No. 2 pick and maybe a former first rounder the Kraken lands in a side deal — I might see it. Not this time.