The first trade in Kraken history wasn’t a blockbuster, but the team got a 2022 fourth-round draft pick Thursday from the Calgary Flames in exchange for defensive forward Tyler Pitlick.
Thus ends the brief, 24-hour career of Pitlick, 29, a right wing who can skate, forecheck and kill penalties in shutting down other teams’ scorers and therefore had some trade value. He also had a $1.75 million salary cap hit, so the Kraken saves that and gets its overall committed payroll down to just under $51 million with more room to add players it wants as opposed to those it had to pick from each team due to expansion draft rules.
The Kraken was by all accounts preparing to snag young Arizona Coyotes goaltender Adin Hill in the draft before he was preemptively dealt to San Jose last week so his team wouldn’t lose him for nothing. Pitlick became the Kraken’s target once it appeared clear there’d be a landing spot for him elsewhere.
Kraken general manager Ron Francis said at Wednesday’s expansion draft he expects to be active in free agency and trades and so every bit more he can get under the NHL’s $81.5 million cap limit gives him additional room to pursue top players.
“We’re still having conversations in that regard,” Francis said. “Now that we have our team selected, I’m sure other teams will be calling us in the next few days. We’ll see whether there’s anything that makes sense and go from there.”
Expansion draft rules required Francis to take a player from each of 30 teams — Vegas was exempt — with at least 20 picks needing to be under contract for next season at a minimum cap commitment of $48.9 million.
Francis now has 21 players under contract and is just $2 million over that minimum threshold. Only 23 players can be on an NHL roster once the season begins, so of the 29 remaining players taken in Wednesday’s draft there are a handful who likely won’t be around once the puck drops on the team’s debut season Oct. 12 in Vegas against the Golden Knights.
The NHL’s free agency period begins July 28. While Francis did not take advantage of his 72-hour, pre-draft exclusive free negotiating period to get a free-agent deal done with the likes of Colorado Avalanche captain Gabriel Landeskog, St. Louis Blues winger Jaden Schwartz, Montreal Canadiens center Phillip Danault or Carolina Hurricanes defenseman Dougie Hamilton, there is nothing precluding him from consummating something down the road.
Except, that is, all the other teams in the league that will have the chance at competing offers. The Kraken also will now only be able to offer seven-year maximum contracts to free agents like every other team, having foregone the possibility of adding an extra year for deals done during the advance window.
A free agent’s current team can offer an eight-year deal, a rule implemented to give clubs an edge at retaining star players.
Overall, the expansion draft result — while solid in complementary pieces — was lacking in star power. The Kraken passed on proven goal scoring in James van Riemsdyk of the Philadelphia Flyers and the high-upside gamble on the contract of former perennial 30-goal scorer Vladimir Tarasenko from St. Louis.
The Kraken also did not complete any expansion draft side deals with teams pressed for cap space. One of the more notable was the Tampa Bay Lightning, which has been trying to jettison the contract of Spokane native Tyler Johnson for more than a season.
The Golden Knights made 10 such deals for players and draft picks during its expansion draft four years ago, which helped Vegas build the foundation that led to its Stanley Cup Finals appearance that 2017-18 debut season. Francis reportedly was asking a steep price in draft picks to get opposing GMs to steer him away from certain players and this time, unlike four years ago, his counterparts refused to budge.
“Vegas did a good job taking advantage of the rules and sort of everyone’s lack of experience in that environment,” Francis said. “Last time where GMs were more willing to, in a sense, overpay to protect certain assets, this time they learned from that and they weren’t willing to make the mistakes that they made last time.”
The Kraken did draft high-energy Lightning center Yanni Gourde, 29, though he’ll miss the start of the regular season after recently undergoing shoulder surgery. The Lightning still has a number of contracts it could move that offer offense — Ondrej Palat and Alex Killorn among them — and that could be pieced into a trade if Tampa Bay ate some salary on its end.
But for now, until the Kraken makes additional moves beyond the draft and Thursday’s very minor first trade with Calgary, it’s too early to make guesses about the caliber of its opening night roster.