It’s been quite a wait, but the Kraken on Friday is expected to make the NHL an official 32-team league.
NHL sources indicated the league will announce Friday that the Kraken’s final installment on a $650 million franchise fee has been paid. That would give the franchise official NHL standing, something it hasn’t had despite the team being awarded to Seattle in December 2018.
The acceptance as an official team means the Kraken can sign free agents, attend league meetings, vote on rule proposals and receive confidential league information.
The informational part will be key as the NHL figures out steps for next season. Cross-border travel by teams has halted because of COVID-19 concerns, and none of the seven Canadian squads is allowing fans in arenas.
In contrast, the Chicago Blackhawks announced they’ll allow limited fans into the United Center for their final two home games, making them the last U.S.-based club to permit crowds. It’s uncertain whether the NHL, which says it has lost more than $1 billion to the pandemic, would open next season by a planned Oct. 12 start date unless the border reopens without current quarantine rules and all teams can permit fans at full capacity.
The Kraken is counting on Climate Pledge Arena being fully operational to start recouping the franchise fee, plus another $1 billion or so being poured into arena renovation.
The team has missed out on signing undrafted free agents. But the best of those are typically college players looking to play a handful of NHL games to burn a year of service time — which the Kraken can’t offer because it isn’t playing.
“So that takes us out of a lot of those negotiations anyway,” Kraken general manager Ron Francis said. “But we’re certainly looking at the Ontario Hockey League, the Western Hockey League, other junior players as well as some of those in Europe to see whether they might have any interest in signing.”