On July 13th, the free agent frenzy will commence. Historically, it was a period where players in their late 20’s, their best productive years behind them, cashed in on dollars and term, often finding a new home as they played out the back half of their careers for GM’s with questionable cap management skills. In recent times, as more National Hockey League clubs have embraced analytics, there have been fewer overpayments, but some still happen every year.
The Seattle Kraken are entering year two of their existence. They were in most games last season, but arguably were not a competitive club, falling far short of the absurd standard set by the Vegas Golden Knights a few years prior. Still there is lots to like about the Kraken. They never gave up on a game, even late in the season when several roster players left for draft picks and the club didn’t have the talent to beat the league’s better clubs. The team’s first-ever draft pick, Matty Beniers, came in following the closure of his college career and immediately looked like a pro player. And of course, they looked great whether they won or lost, wearing the league’s sharpest threads.
Should the Kraken be big spenders in free agency?
The first impulse is no. While I’m not personally a fan of tanking, one can’t help but see the Connor Bedard draft as a potential jackpot in terms of literally getting the league’s next “Connor” and so it could be tempting to keep the Kraken’s talent level such that they’re a lottery team once again. Both Beniers and newly acquired No. 4 overall pick Shane Wright will need time to become truly elite NHL players (although I think both will), and adding yet another high draft pick can only help the club make the eventual leap to excellence and contention.
But that doesn’t mean there aren’t pending UFA’s or RFA’s worth general manager Ron Francis’ consideration. The sort of player who hits free agency is a veteran. Someone who has seen it all, likely made a Cup run or two, and also someone who probably has some wisdom they can pass down to youngsters breaking into the league. Signing the right player, even to a bit of a rich deal, can benefit the club in more than one way.
On-ice production is likely, from a pro who still has more to give even if they’ve past their peak. But a veteran also helps in the locker room, during those low points in the season, telling their teammates about another time when things looked bleak, and how they overcame those difficulties. Vets can also teach younger players about life outside the rink. Proper dedication to fitness, practice and limiting the temptations that are all too available to a young and wealthy individual.
Who would fit in a Kraken jersey?
My number one, albeit unlikely choice, is Evgeni Malkin. A three time Cup champion, Malkin has truly “been there.” As a top end draft selection, a performer and a winner, and someone who, like both top prospects on the Kraken, wasn’t selected first overall. Expectation is a funny beast, and both Beniers and Wright definitely had a shot at going No. 1 overall, just as Malkin did way back in 2004. Few would argue that Ovechkin wasn’t the correct selection for the Washington Capitals way back when, but while Malkin lags behind in personal accolades, his multiple Cup rings certainly ease the blow, and shorten the alleged gap between the two. He shares a unique viewpoint with the young Kraken stars, and has wisdom he could share.
The Athletic reported that the Penguins’ last offer to Malkin was for three years, $6 million AAV — and that he would sign if it were upped to a four year deal, something the Kraken could easily afford.
Malkin isn’t the only free agent worth a look for the Kraken. Thirty-three year old David Perron is another player who merits strong consideration. Not because he’s the 25-goal scorer of a couple years back, but because Perron has been around the NHL. He’s been on bad teams and good, including the aforementioned Golden Knights during their inaugural season and the Cup-winning St. Louis Blues. Perron has been a performer his whole career, consistently underestimated, but to my eyes he never misses a shift. That drive is something head coach Dave Hakstol should want installed in his players, and Perron, at a relatively reasonable price, can be a positive force on the bench and in the room.
Perron’s contract could very well look similar to the one Malkin is asking for. Evolving Hockey’s contract projection model expects Perron to sign something in the 3-year, $6.1 million AAV range — though his playoff success could certainly push it a bit higher.
There are certainly other players out there, a whole second tier of supporting players, who are probably more likely to join a team with less-than-favorable odds at contention next season. But if the players above are looking for more than just a second-tier role in a last gasp attempt at capturing another Cup, I’d welcome them in Kraken colors.