Wednesday marked the official beginning for the National Hockey League’s 32nd franchise as the Seattle Kraken selected a player from 30 other teams (Vegas exempt) to fill their roster for the 2021-22 season.
With the Tampa Bay Lightning winning the last two Stanley Cups, it’s clear that the NHL is moving in a direction where high-volume offense is the name of the game similar to that of the NBA and NFL.
In five of the last six seasons, the winner of the Stanley Cup was either ranked in the top 10 in scoring or in goals allowed.
The Pittsburgh Penguins were ranked third (2016) and first (2017) during their back-to-back run, while the Lightning topped the league in 2020.
If the Kraken are looking to succeed right out of the gate, then general manager Ron Francis needed to find the right crop of players that will sway to, at least, one far side of the spectrum.
Did he do a fair job in his first decisions with a roster? Here’s a look at how the Kraken are currently set up for their inaugural season.
The two names that grasp your attention first are Yanni Gourde and Jared McCann.
Gourde should quickly become a fan-favorite in the Emerald City as he was a key contributor in both of the Lightning’s Stanley-Cup championships. Over the two playoff runs, he tallied 21 points with 13 of them coming by way of goals.
When Gourde returns from shoulder injury, expect the Kraken to reach a new level come 2022.
As for McCann, he knows how to make a name for himself among the biggest stars. Over the last three seasons, McCann was side-by-side with Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin on the Penguins. While he’s never had the chance to grow into a flat-out superstar yet, Seattle could be his opportunity to take what he’s learned from Crosby and Malkin and break out into a 30-goal player a season.
While $5.5M is a big hit, it should pay off for Seattle as Jordan Eberle is a team-first type of player. Eberle wasn’t as explosive on the offensive side over the last three seasons for the New York Islanders than he was in his first year with the Long Island-side franchise or in Edmonton, but the 31-year old will be one to defer to Gourde or McCann to put pucks on net.
The Islanders are never at the top of the hockey community’s list to make deep playoff runs, but they’ve reached the second round over the last three seasons with the last two being conference final/semi final appearances for the Isles.
The addition of Eberle brings a necessary chemistry piece to keep egos at bay.
Then, there’s Joonas Donskoi, who comes from the NHL’s best-offensive team last year in the Colorado Avalanche.
Even with the likes of Nathan MacKinnon, Gabriel Landeskog and Mikko Rantanen, Donskoi was a major contributor on the offense side with 17 goals last season. He did struggle in the series against the Vegas Golden Knights, but Donskoi brings an electric side in special teams play as he’s tallied nine goals over the last two seasons on the power play.
Oh, don’t forget former Nashville Predator Calle Jarnkrok, who was one of the core members of the 2017 team that reached the Stanley Cup Finals.
While there isn’t necessarily a superstar within this initial crop of scorers, this is a group of forwards that can produce good chemistry and the goals will come from there.
Scoring is always nice, but teams need enforcers to establish dominance and pace in a game.
Kurtis MacDermid could very well be the steal of the expansion draft for the Kraken. The numbers may not look pretty on the 27-year old (especially that -14 rating last season), but the Los Angeles Kings haven’t been one of the NHL’s better offensive teams even dating back to their Cup wins in 2012 and 2014.
MacDermid will be the energy guy off the second or third line for Seattle and if the Climate Pledge Arena is in need of some motivation, he will throw his body around and be a thorn in the side of opponents throughout the season.
Mark Giordano is currently the most expensive player on the franchise as he enters Seattle with a cap hit of $6.75M.
At 37-years old, there isn’t much time for the longtime Calgary Flame to produce efficiently for the franchise, so he could be on the move to a team in need of a big vet to lead their young guys (Rangers?, Panthers?). It wouldn’t come as a surprise if he’s moved because Seattle could use as many draft picks as possible, but with Giordano making an appearance at the expansion draft, it would be odd if his time in Seattle was just promoting the sweater at Gas Works Park.
According to The Seattle Times, former Oiler Adam Larsson has agreed to a four-year/$16M deal.
A fresh start is needed for the 28-year old after a tumultuous run in Edmonton where he had a -28 rating in the 2018-19 season. It’s a high-risk selection for Seattle and the team is probably banking on his struggles in Edmonton to drive him to success in the Pacific Northwest.
In total, 12 defensemen were selected by Seattle, so expect to see a lot of shifts in who Francis will lock down as the guys to hold down the fort on the blue line.
No Cup winner is solidified without the men to keep pucks out of the net and Seattle made this a point of emphasis with the selections of Chris Dreidger and Vitek Vanacek.
While only three goalies have won the Conn Smythe Trophy over the last decade, those performances from Tim Thomas, Jonathan Quick and, most recently, Andrei Vasilevskiy are among the best individual runs you will see in NHL history.
Dreidger and Vanacek are expected to battle it out for the main job.
In 34 career starts, Dreidger has posted a 2.09 goals against average (GAA) with a save percentage of .929. With last season’s medians in GAA and SV% marking 2.74 and .908% respectively, it could be a great sign that Seattle will be one of the better defensive teams early on.
Vanacek had an on-and-off season in his rookie year with the Washington Capitals, but there won’t be Stanley-Cup expectations right out of the gate in Seattle. The 25-year old nearly hit the medians on the nose last season and I expect the, now, professional sophomore to give Dreidger a hard battle for that No. 1 spot.
Francis has put together a solid foundation for the Kraken to be a fun and competitive franchise right at puck drop in October. While there isn’t a defined superstar yet, the Golden Knights did a similar build when they entered the league in 2017.
As of right now, the Kraken look to be a “Last Four In” or “First Four Out”, in March Madness terms, when it comes to their postseason outlook.
Side deals and trades are still to be worked out to set the franchise’s first crop of players before training camp, but Cascadia should be excited already.
Seattle will put their roster to the test against the fifth-year franchise in Vegas Oct. 12.