We’re still only in the leaked stage, and leave it to the NHL to not think that the Seattle Kraken’s expansion draft would get out before the big show tonight thus rendering it moot, but it appears that GM Ron Francis has gone the pretty boring route. No Carey Price, no side deals that actually pilfer a better player like Vegas did, no nothing.
This is what the roster looks like so far, according to what’s leaked:
Yeah, not impressive. Though I suppose first glance at the Vegas roster four years ago wouldn’t have popped off the screen, either except for a couple names here and there. Yanni Gourde was a valuable mid-sixer for the champion Lightning, but will turn 30 next season and mid-sixers don’t tend to age well. Jordan Eberle comes with top-10 pick history, but has rarely lived up to it and is more useful than a star. Jared McCann is a name that half-jumps off the roster, maybe like an aborted jump-squat, as he’s only 25 and has flashed being a top-six forward. But a star he is not. Brandon Tanev is one that some hockey observers will try and claim is a steal because they enjoy the production he makes of yelling at opponents from his bench or penalty box that it is not at all intentional on Tanev’s part. He also has great hair.
Francis has his MO, which is defense, as he built a stout one in Carolina that has been the strength of their team for years now. Mark Giordano is clearly meant to wear the captain’s “C”, but every Flames fan will tell you he’s finished. Last year was his first being underwater in possession metrics and, at 38 at the start of the season, that won’t get better. But if he’s there to mentor the likes of Vince Dunn, a nifty puck-mover plucked from St. Louis, or reexhume the career of Haydn Fleury or Cale Fleury or whatever other Fleury Francis found, so much the better.
Francis opted to take, reportedly, two impending free agents in Jamie Oleksiak and Adam Larsson, and both are basically non-entities. The best you can hope from either is that you don’t notice they’re there. Larsson never got a fair shake in Edmonton, thanks to being swapped for Taylor Hall alone, but he’s fine on a middle pairing as long as toast is your favorite food.
Francis will hope that he got a steal in goal with Chris Driedger, who may have been Florida’s best goalie but was never going to displace the highly and hilariously compensated Sergei Bobrovsky or top prospect Spencer Knight. Driedger put up a .927 save-percentage last year, but still has less than 40 games in the NHL and to say for sure what he’ll be is anyone’s guess.
What Francis has done, and said he would, is preserve cap space. The terms on Larsson’s and Oleksiak’s new deals aren’t official yet, and Driedger needs to be signed too. But it is likely that the Kraken will come out of this with some $25-30 million in cap space now. They could potentially have $50 million or more in the summer of 2022, with the impending free agents he’s taken. The question is...for what?
The free agent class is not impressive. Taylor Hall looks certain to remain in Boston. Alex Ovechkin isn’t going to walk through that door. Dougie Hamilton? I guess? That’s about all the true difference makers on the market. The Kraken aren’t really in a position to swing a trade for a wantaway star like Jack Eichel because they haven’t even had a draft yet and none of the players taken today are going to spin excitement meters.
Next year’s free agent class isn’t much better either, unless Francis is planning an offer-sheet to Matthew Tkachuk or Brayden Point. Or throwing all the money at Sasha Barkov. But the Panthers would almost certainly never let Barkov leave, and offer sheets happen on a comet-like schedule in the NHL. If Francis were interested in making waves he could throw an offer-sheet at Elias Petterssen this summer and create an instant rivalry with the next-closest team in Vancouver. But should an expansion team be tossing picks overboard before playing a game? Evgeni Malkin at 36? That’s not a thing, as great as Malkin has been.
It’s easy to mock the Knights for borking their cap space in about seven minutes after coming into existence, which forced them at times this year to go with 15 or 16 skaters in games this season. But they did get a Stanley Cup final appearance, and two conference final appearances out of it, and with another bounce here or there who knows. Bang for their buck isn’t the problem.
Francis has taken the usual expansion route, which is to wait for the draft picks, and maybe get more picks by harvesting bad contracts from elsewhere that we know will come along. It’s hockey, so it can work pretty quickly, especially if Driedger turns out to be the real thing in net. It’s just not very sexy. I want my Carey Price to the Leafs rumors, goddammit!