Kraken’s early season struggles are just a reflection of Ron Francis’ expansion day choices

Let me first state that I still think there’s hope for the season. So many of the Seattle Kraken’s losses in October and the first half of November were one goal games late in the third period. The team justifiably needed time to gel, to practice scenarios such as the power-play, or a late game 6 on 5, and the gap there can be blamed for several of the lost standings points. They’re due for some regression when it comes to bad bounces, and the back half of the season should look better than the front.

All that said, general manager Ron Francis didn’t draft to win in 2021-22. His selections and omissions, as well as the trades he didn’t make, showed a focus on preserving cap flexibility over the first years of the new franchise, as opposed to driving for a playoff spot in year one.

Goaltending Wins Games

This is my personal hill to die on, and I know many people don’t agree, but the best goaltender in hockey was available on draft day. Carey Price, today in the Player Assistance program, was unprotected. While his current unavailability muddies the waters, at the time the only concern was a hip injury. The timing of the announcement of the injury and the potential lost time were entirely too convenient to be believed, and he had just led a very average Montreal Canadiens team to the Stanley Cup Final.

Price’s Pacific Northwest roots, his established abilities, and the fan excitement that such a pick would have generated didn’t tip the scales in favor of the selection for Francis. The goaltender’s injuries, contract scenario (5 years remaining at $10 million per season), and the other goaltenders available the sent Kraken in a different direction. The team’s combined 0.873 save percentage may have some questioning Francis’ goaltending decisions.

Price might not have been everyone’s choice, but he wasn’t the only possibility that slipped through the nets. Let’s not forget that Vitek Vanecek, selected from and then returned to the Washington Capitals, has a 0.912 save percentage and the Caps’ starting job.

Sometimes You Can Outscore Your Problems

Vladimir Tarasenko has seven goals. Adam Henrique has six. Jeff Skinner has five goals as well. The players selected off the Blues, Ducks and Sabres have a combined 3 goals between them. I’m a huge Vince Dunn fan, but some of the numerous close games mentioned above go the Kraken’s way if the team has an extra 15 goals on its side of the score sheet.

Anyone who played with the great, interactive Expansion Draft tool on Capfriendly knows that it would have been easy for Francis to hit the salary cap if he’d chosen differently. And there is certainly a good chance that every Kraken fan will be thankful for the cap space if a big name free agent comes here this offseason or next, but today’s team seems to be missing some balance.

Wait, they took who?

Even in terms of the selections Francis did make, there were some surprises, and some apparent missteps as well. Adam Larsson was a great free agent signing, but by simply waiting a couple of days, the team could have had him AND another roster player off the Edmonton Oilers.

Gavin Bayreuther was selected off the Columbus Blue Jackets roster, a name few would have picked in any mock draft. Perhaps the 27-year-old defenseman will be a late bloomer, but grabbing Max Domi, even if only as a trade chip, might have made more sense.

The Kraken’s analytics may have driven some of these decisions, and I firmly believe that deep statistical analysis is the best way to build a champion in this day and age. But the formula has to make sense, and some of the expansion selections certainly had people scratching their heads.

It isn’t too late to salvage the 2021-22 season (although it’s getting close) and the Kraken aren’t as bad as their record indicates, but the team chosen by Kraken management wasn’t built for today. Their results to date mirror the rather underwhelming records of the Nashville Predators and Atlanta Thrashers when they joined the league in consecutive years at the turn of the century. Not unexpected for an expansion club, but many, myself included, hoped the bar set by the Vegas Golden Knights would be closer to the reality.