Imagine a floatplane descending onto the waters of Lake Union carrying goaltender Carey Price, who is whisked ashore and on to the big stage at Gas Works Park, where thousands of cheering Kraken fans welcome the franchise’s new marquee player.
It isn’t beyond the realm of possibility Wednesday night, whether with Price or another player the Kraken chooses in the long-awaited NHL expansion draft. The plane scenario, though not confirmed as part of the live ESPN2 broadcast, has at least been up for consideration as the Kraken and NHL look to make as big a splash — literal or otherwise — as possible when the league’s 32nd franchise actually takes shape.
Kraken general manager Ron Francis was facing a Wednesday-morning deadline to hand in his list of 30 players selected, one from each NHL team with the exception of the Vegas Golden Knights. The suspense over whether the list includes Price, 33, the former Tri-City Americans netminder who just led Montreal back to the Stanley Cup Final, or possibly a different franchise cornerstone such as Colorado Avalanche captain Gabriel Landeskog, 28, should make this one of the more anticipated sports events in our city’s history.
“Now, suddenly, all of this becomes real,” NHL chief content officer Steve Mayer, serving as executive producer of the 5 p.m. telecast, said this week of the Kraken’s roster. “I just remember back to Vegas and my first expansion draft … how different it was from the start of the draft to the end. Just in terms of people backing what had become their players. It just feels so much more real after you get done with the process of announcing players.”
Nearly 32 months since the franchise was awarded, fans have only junior-level forward Luke Henman, signed as a free agent in May, identifiable as a Kraken player. But by the 7 p.m. conclusion of Wednesday’s broadcast, co-hosted by Chris Fowler and Dominic Moore with analyst Kevin Weekes doing on-site reporting, they’ll have a roster of NHL-seasoned players to mull over.
Francis must pick at least 14 forwards, nine defensemen and three goalies, and he can choose the remaining four players from any position. At least 20 players must be under contract next season at a minimum $48.9 million salary-cap hit.
Though Francis has mostly contained leaks ahead of his picks, some video surfaced Tuesday on Twitter of ESPN analyst Weekes tossing fish at Pike Place Market and recording what appeared to be a pretaped announcement of one pick with television cameras rolling — which the NHL plans to do from several landmark locations as part of the broadcast.
Weekes announced on the video and apparently during multiple TV takes, according to one eyewitness posting the footage, that the Kraken had chosen center Alexander Kerfoot, 26, as its Toronto Maple Leafs pick. There has been much debate over whether the Kraken will take Kerfoot or forward Jared McCann, so the video caused a social-media stir. The Kraken responded with a tweet Tuesday that multiple takes were shot and included a hashtag that said, “#keepguessing.”
It’s also gotten out through more traditional reporting, that Florida Panthers goalie Chris Driedger, 27, will sign a three-year, $10.5 million deal ahead of the broadcast. Driedger would immediately slot in as a candidate for the No. 1 goaltending job if the Kraken passes on Price, whose five remaining contract years at a $10.5 million annual cap hit sparked a continentwide debate about selecting him.
Still, this is an unprecedented situation in which a new franchise can add a marquee player with immediate off-ice name value and local ties. Measuring that under the lens of strictly an on-ice transaction won’t always apply if there’s a prevailing business argument that Price helps the Kraken more quickly broaden its reach.
Would Price want to come? Why not? It gets the British Columbia native out of Montreal’s intense hockey media hotbed. He also waived his no-movement clause so the Canadiens could expose him, knowing he might be picked. His wife, Angela, is from Kennewick, and Washington has no state income tax — pertinent to Price this year as he’s due a onetime $11 million bonus.
The Kraken’s picks will be announced by division, with sports and entertainment celebrities on hand to read off the names from a 50-foot-wide, 24-foot-tall main stage featuring two large video screens.
“It’s really an outdoor venue that we’re essentially building out, and the backdrop is the water and the city from the Gas Works Park area,” Mayer said. “I think it’s going to look spectacular, especially for those who don’t know Seattle. And the stage is really unique and definitely has a very distinct Kraken feel to it.”
Out on that water, boaters participating in a “Sail-gate” can watch the broadcast as it’s beamed to a 40-foot-wide screen positioned on a floating barge some 500 feet offshore. The water is too deep to anchor the 100-foot-long barge, so it will be held in place by two tugboats.
Gary Wichansky, owner and CEO of Seattle-based Hotopp Associates, a design firm tasked with creating and building the on-location sets, said achieving stunning visuals that “really frames the city for the TV show” was paramount. The company sent employees to the park with a handheld LIDAR scanner to map out the topography and pinpoint “the best camera positions and staging locations so we could dial in to it quickly as we only have Monday and Tuesday to load it in and Wednesday to rehearse.”
First thing Monday morning, crews totaling around 150 people began assembling the sets, seating and on-site vendor spaces.
The set will have 1,000 reserved chairs and lawn seating for around 3,000. The Kraken gave out all free tickets to the event last week, and nobody without one is allowed in the park.
“The stage events like this are always exciting when an audience shows up for us,” Wichansky said. “So I’m just excited for that vibe in the park. I’ve done a lot of events with the NHL, and the level of enthusiasm for this is really high just because of the buzz coming out of (COVID-19) quarantine.
“It’s an interesting opportunity for the new team in the city, because for that whole (pandemic) year they had such little opportunity to engage. I think fans are going to be excited just to have that kind of energy.”
From a TV-interest-level perspective — especially with the Price factor — the Kraken/NHL live event should be more than ready for prime time. And we’ll know by broadcast’s end whether the team’s roster is as well.