Free agency officially opened in the National Hockey League on Wednesday, and the Kraken were once again in the thick of things. General manager Ron Francis didn’t spend quite as much money as he did last offseason, when he handed out $76.4 million in total contract dollars ($15.9 million against the 2021-22 salary cap) to three players — Jaden Schwartz, Alex Wennberg, and Philipp Grubauer. But there were still several key signings for not only the Kraken but their American Hockey League affiliate Coachella Valley Firebirds as well. Here’s a quick rundown of every signing from day one.
Outside UFAs joining Seattle
André Burakovsky (5 years, $5.5 million AAV)
Burakovsky is no doubt the biggest move that Seattle made on Wednesday. The two-time Stanley Cup winner gets the same deal that Schwartz received last year from Seattle. He’ll no doubt be in the mix to play on the top line this year, adding another reliable, veteran presence alongside Matty Beniers.
Justin Schultz (2 years, $3 million AAV)
The Kraken bolstered their defense depth with another two-time Stanley Cup winner in Justin Schultz. Although the 32-year old’s point totals have diminished in recent years, he’s still a plus defender when it comes to possession — the Capitals controlled 51.3% of the shot attempts with him on the ice last year at 5-on-5, the second best mark on the team.
Martin Jones (1 year, $2 million AAV)
With Chris Driedger recovering from a torn ACL until at least this coming January, the Kraken had to add some depth at the goaltending position. Jones doesn’t have the most inspiring numbers, but he does have significant experience at the NHL level, and a one year deal doesn’t add any long-term risk to the Kraken’s roster. He will likely get the edge over Joey Daccord as the primary backup to Grubauer as training camp begins.
The entry-level contracts
Shane Wright (3 years, $950k AAV)
At the end of day three of Kraken development camp, fourth-overall draft pick Shane Wright signed his entry-level contract on the ice at the Kraken Community Iceplex.
Both Wright and Francis have indicated that he will have a chance to make the NHL roster for this coming season, but it’s not a sure-thing just yet, even with the contract signing. We’ll have to wait and see how he handles his first taste of NHL action this preseason before we know for sure where he will play in 2022-23.
Ryan Winterton & Jacob Melanson (3 years, $845k AAV)
Winterton and Melanson became the third and fourth skaters from the Kraken’s inaugural draft class to sign their professional contracts, joining Beniers and Ryker Evans.
Winterton is coming off of a phenomenal season with the Ontario Hockey League’s Hamilton Bulldogs. The Bulldogs won the OHL championship and advanced all the way to the final game of the Memorial Cup before falling to the St. John Seadogs. Between those two postseason runs, he tallied 25 points in 23 games, including 3 goals and 2 assists in a 4-game sweep of new Kraken draft pick Ty Nelson’s North Bay Battalion.
Melanson has played with the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League’s Acadie-Bathurst Titan for the past two years, scoring more than a point per game for the team (75 points in 72 games). He’s also got a sturdy 6’0, 200 lb frame that he’s not afraid to throw around once in a while.
The Firebirds deals
The Coachella Valley Firebirds are set to make their debut this Fall, but before they can do that they’ll need enough skaters to fill out a game day roster. Seattle made six additions to their minor league club on Wednesday — four forwards, one defender and one goalie.
Poganski leads this group in terms of NHL experience, with 22 games under his belt over the past three seasons. He played college hockey at the University of North Dakota, including the 2014-15 season with head coach Dave Hakstol.
Poturalski has only played in four NHL games, but has blossomed into one of the best skaters in all of the AHL right now. He led that league in scoring each of the past two seasons, only the fifth time a skater has done that back-to-back in AHL history. He broke the 100-point barrier last year in just 71 games en route to a Calder Cup Championship with the Chicago Wolves.
Rafferty has three games of NHL experience and two seasons of AHL experience, where he’s tallied 69 points in 122 games. He earned an All-Star team nod in his rookie season back in 2019-20.
Hughes has spent five seasons in the AHL with the Providence Bruins, every one of which — up until last year — was with then-head coach Jay Leach, now an assistant with the Kraken. Hughes scored four shorthanded goals this past season and made the All-Star team.
Frödén spent his entire career up until last season in his native Sweden. In his one season of AHL action (also with the Providence Bruins) he put up 34 points in 49 games. He scored his first NHL goal in his first NHL game in Boston last year on a nice deflection in front of the net.
Hellberg has been a stud goaltender in the KHL for much of his career. In five seasons, he earned 24 shutouts, a 2.00 goals against average and a .927 save percentage. He led team Sweden to a World Championship in 2018 when he let in just five goals across three games.
As it stands now, the Kraken are projected to have about $10.6 million in cap space for the 2022-23 season, according to Cap Friendly. They’ve got the resources to be in on every remaining free agent, including the likes of defender John Klingberg, who remains unsigned as of this writing. Stay tuned for more, because Ron Francis isn’t done just yet.