When Seattle Kraken general manager Ron Francis didn’t select players like Vladimir Tarasenko, James van Riemsdyk, and Carey Price last summer when building the team’s inaugural roster, he was making a statement. The team was planning for the future, acknowledging perhaps, that the Vegas Golden Knights and their gangbuster first season were an aberration, and that latest NHL expansion team was unlikely to take such a giant step forward in Year 1.
Some would argue that it was a self-fulfilling prophecy, but the very significant advantage those choices give the Kraken today is a boatload of cap space. Next year the team needs to take a step forward, and the money available to Seattle should mean that they can outbid most suitors if the right player is available. So who might that player be this offseason?
Longtime Calgary Flame Johnny Gaudreau is having a career season. Drafted in the 4th round back in 2011, the timing of his best production couldn’t have worked out better for his wallet. As a guy who hovers around a point-per-game over his 600 game career, he has to be a consideration, and the American-born Gaudreau just might be looking to come home to the States.
He’ll get a significant payday if he hits the market, and plenty of term as well. The Kraken can afford the range (ballpark it at $70 million over 7 years), but Gaudreau’s inconsistency over the years makes it highly likely that he won’t live up to those numbers. Ideally he re-signs with the Flames at similar dollars, tying up a large chunk of cap space on a divisional rival as he ages and declines.
What the Kraken really need is offense. Goal-scoring solves a lot of problems, and covers up some it can’t, and Filip Forsberg is a player who consistently finds the back of the net. Like Gaudreau, he’s had a heck of a bounce back season in the last year of his contract, scoring 40+ goals for the first time in his career. He may not produce 40 goals again whether he re-signs in Nashville or takes his talents elsewhere, but he will still be a top-tier scorer, and one pictures him fitting well on the wing of young Kraken center Matty Beniers.
Forsberg will likely get $6-$8 million per season, and at 27 he’ll want as much term as he can find. That could mean staying in Nashville, but if their offer is closer to six he might test the waters of free agency. This is a player I’d pursue if I was managing the team. While a drop off is likely to occur in the final years of the deal, Forsberg instantly makes the 2022-23 Kraken far more dangerous.
A player rumored to be a future Kraken is defender John Klingberg. Defensive salaries exploded last summer and the 29-year old Klingberg could very well end up too expensive to be worth the value he’d bring on the ice. But he isn’t in the top tier of defenders, and at his age may not receive offers for maximum term either. While the Kraken have a decent selection of D-men signed for the next year or two, there’s little question he’d be an improvement to their top four.
I’d explore a four-year deal with Klingberg, settling for five if the price made sense. Any longer and you risk an expensive and declining d-man taking up vital cap space when the team is a true contender.
Evgeni “Geno” Malkin
This one is sure to be contentious, but a 36 year old Evgeni Malkin, if healthy, could be just what the Kraken need. Malkin’s most likely destination is exactly where he’s played his whole career — Pittsburgh. But as the Penguins turn the page on their most recent dynasty, there’s a chance that Geno is the first significant departure. If so, Francis needs to be at the front of the line with an offer.
In his injury-shortened season he’s still managed a point-per-game, but the price tag should come down significantly versus his current $9.5 million. The presence of an elite center with multiple Stanley Cups to his name in the middle of the Kraken lineup would take some pressure off Beniers, and there’s little doubt that the Kraken’s #2 overall pick from last year could learn a lot from the guy selected there in 2004.
There are plenty of other options in free agency, but the good general managers know you don’t build a winner that way. Francis’ best move might be resisting signing any of the pending UFA’s this summer. Timing is everything, and waiting to add in free agency could give a better picture of the team’s needs. Another year or two on the bottom of the standings, while painful for the fanbase, could give the team some budding superstars through the draft, and at that point the roster gaps might be very different. But if you had the GM’s chair, who would you look to sign?