One thing is for sure with the Seattle Kraken after watching the team’s expansion draft.
It looks like they’re going for the slow-and-steady approach.
Which means there could be some growing pains early.
It’s hard to believe, but we’re only two months away from preseason games for the Kraken and less than three months away from regular-season games at the new Climate Pledge Arena.
Hockey is going to be a new sport for many of you. Trust me, once you get into it, it’s very addicting.
Personally, I’d be surprised if the Kraken will be good to start with. The Vegas Golden Knights took the NHL by storm in their first season, going 51-24-7 in 2017. They drafted a few star players — the big one being a Hall of Fame goaltender in Marc Andre-Fleury — who were nearing the end of their careers, and they struck gold with a few lesser-known players who suddenly blossomed into huge stars when given the chance to play. William Karlsson was the best example of this kind of player. He went from a personal-high nine goals in a season to 43 goals in his first year in Las Vegas.
Jonathan Marchessault was another guy like Karlsson who wasn’t that well-known but became Vegas’ first star player who consistently scores 25 goals a year. When I visited Las Vegas just before the pandemic broke, there were Marchessault T-shirts and jerseys everywhere in that town.
Fleury in particular showed he had a lot left in his tank as he won 117 games in Vegas over the next four years and could end up third all-time in goaltender victories.
The Kraken took a very conservative approach, not focusing a lot on offense to begin with. They had to draft at least nine defensemen and they drafted 12. It appears to me the Kraken are going to take a measured approach of just trying to stay competitive early with a big emphasis on defense.
The Montreal Canadiens left Carey Price available for the expansion draft. Like Fleury, he’s a Hall of Fame-bound goaltender nearing the back half of his career. He would have made an intriguing cornerstone to the team, but he came with a hefty contract of $10 million a year. The Kraken stayed away from big contracts.
Here’s a few guys I think you can keep an eye on next year.
Probably the biggest star on the team is defenseman Mark Giordano. I was kind of shocked the Kraken could actually get him. He also has the biggest contract at $6.75 million a year. Giordano put up some fantastic numbers for a defenseman from 2013 to 2019, scoring as many as 21 goals, which is great for a backliner. In 2018-19, he generated 74 points, had a plus-minus of 39 (meaning his team scored 39 more goals than it gave up while he was on the ice) and won the Norris Trophy as the league’s top defenseman.
In short, a good guy to build a team around. But he is 37 and likely nearing the end of his career. He might be the Kraken’s first Hall of Famer.
Jordan Eberle might end up being the Kraken’s leading scorer. He is a former first-round draft pick who looked like he was going to be a big star in the NHL when he scored 34 goals for the Edmonton Oilers in 2011-12. He was a consistent 20- to 25-goal scorer for the next five years, but in the past two or three years, his scoring numbers have dropped. He is still only 31 years old, and like some of the guys drafted by Vegas, he could bounce back if put in the right situation.
An intriguing guy for me is Joonas Donskoi, a Finnish player drafted from the Colorado Avalanche. The Avalanche are the team I follow the most closely, so I know him well. He’s a very talented second-line player for Colorado who has some trouble staying healthy, and he was buried a bit on that team behind a bunch of superstars. He’s a consistent 18- to 20-goal guy, but I could see him blowing up into a 30-goal scorer if healthy and given a chance to play.
Yanni Gourde is another talented forward from the championship Tampa Bay Lightning buried behind a logjam of star players who could blossom with the Kraken. Another name to remember.
The starting goaltender is likely going to be Chris Driedger, a guy hardly anyone has heard of because he’s played for Florida. He went 14-6 last year for the Panthers.
The Kraken stayed way below their salary cap and left themselves a lot of room to sign some free agents. The team has $27 million a year it can spend on free agents.
The best free agent out there is Gabriel Landeskog, an absolutely fantastic center with Colorado. He is genuinely one of the top 20 players in the league. I expect he would cost at least $8 million to $10 million a year. Since the Kraken have been so conservative so far, I don’t expect them to go after this guy. Being a longtime Avalanche fan, I hope he stays in Colorado.
One free agent I’ve heard mentioned that the Kraken might sign is Jaden Schwarz, a guy in St. Louis who has scored more than 20 goals four times. He’s still young at 29 and wouldn’t cost nearly as much as Landeskog.
In any case, I can’t wait for games to begin in October. And I can’t wait to see who steps up as the stars for the Pacific Northwest’s newest pro team.
Sports Editor Pierre LaBossiere can be contacted at [email protected]