Breaking down Seattle Kraken GM Ron Francis’ thoughts on rocky start
For most of the season, Seattle Kraken general manager Ron Francis has stayed behind the scenes. He’s surfaced for an interview here and there, but the most revealing piece appeared on ESPN.com just this week.
ESPN insider Greg Wyshynski spoke with Francis about the start of the season for the Kraken. Francis, who is normally reluctant to reveal any information, gave candid responses to what he thought has gone wrong with the Kraken.
As a complement to the piece, Wyshynski appeared on 710 ESPN Seattle’s Jake and Stacy this week to touch on several Kraken topics such as Seattle’s goaltending, the Kraken vs. Vegas and the NHL Expansion Draft, and the team’s foundation moving forward.
Here’s a closer look at those topics.
It’s the goaltending
Twice during the interview, Wyshinski mentioned the Kraken’s struggles in net. Francis admitted in the ESPN story that goaltending was perhaps the biggest reason the team has struggled overall.
They are both correct – goaltending has been bad and is the reason that the team is where it’s at. The expectations for both Philipp Grubauer and Chris Driedger coming into the season were high. On paper, Seattle was set with perhaps one of the best goalie tandems in the league.
It hasn’t played out the way. Collectively, they by far have the league’s worst save percentage, and even more concerning is the goals saved above average. Grubauer has played the bulk of the minutes in net and has a GSAA of minus-18.48, which is also the worst in the league.
You wonder what the Kraken’s record would look like if he was at the league average.
While it’s easy to heave all the criticism at Grubauer and Driedger, it hasn’t been all their fault. There have been defensive breakdowns that include costly turnovers – Francis referred to them as “beauties” – and odd-man rushes leading to goals. Whatever the reason is, the Kraken are not getting the saves they need.
Both goalies are going to be the guys moving forward. Grubauer has five years left on a $5.9 million contract and has a no-trade clause. Driedger is in the first year of a three-year, $3.5 million deal he signed with the Kraken and has a modified no-trade clause.
Logic says that both guys, at some point, will eventually play closer to their career numbers. Grubauer has never had a save percentage below .915 and it’s hard to believe that he’s suddenly a bad goalie.
The Kraken are not Vegas
It was hard not to look at the success the Vegas Golden Knights have had since joining the NHL as an expansion team and not be excited heading into the season for Seattle. The Golden Knights didn’t do Francis any favors by winning the Western Conference in year one.
Francis and others cautioned that Seattle wasn’t going to be Vegas. While the expansion draft rules were the same, the league atmosphere wasn’t. The 30 other teams had an extra year to prepare for Seattle’s expansion draft as well as the benefit of hindsight and experience of having gone through Vegas’ draft.
How Francis handled the expansion draft has been relitigated among the media and message board heroes of late. There are some legit criticisms.
Perhaps the biggest keys to Vegas’ success were the side deals they pulled, which loaded them up with NHL Draft picks, and in some cases young, talented players such as former Seattle Thunderbird Shea Theodore.
Francis didn’t make those deals for Seattle. It was a combination of the Kraken asking prices being aggressive and other teams learning from Vegas and unwilling to give up valuable draft picks to avoid losing players.
The Kraken and Francis repeatedly stated their goal in the draft was to build a competitive team that had cap flexibility and build a team that could sustain success. They achieved the latter, but the team hasn’t been as competitive as hoped.
Most controversial among the draft day choices was passing on St. Louis Blues forward Vladimir Tarasenko, who was left unprotected. Obviously, for a team that doesn’t have a pure scorer on its roster, selecting Tarasenko would have helped with the offense.
Selecting him wasn’t as much of a slam dunk as it may seem, though. Tarasenko, 30, was coming off injuries that limited him to 34 games played over the previous two seasons. But he’s been healthy this year, a point-per-game player, and has picked up where he left off.
But there are opportunity costs in the expansion draft. Injuries aside, Tarasenko is attached to two years of a $7.5 million contract. If Seattle had selected him, would they have signed Jaden Schwartz? The Kraken chose defenseman Vince Dunn from the Blues instead, and he’s younger, cheaper, and has been one of Seattle’s most consistent players.
Tarasenko could have been a trade chip at the deadline but again, if the Kraken had gone that route, then at the end of the season they potentially wouldn’t have Tarasenko, Dunn, and Schwartz. So it’s not as clear a miss as it appears.
The Seattle Kraken foundation and future
Wyshynski struggled to identify what, or who, made up the Kraken’s foundation. He mentioned defensemen Adam Larsson and Jamie Oleksiak along with forward Yanni Gourde.
There are other players that figure to play key roles in the team’s foundation and future. Jared McCann has been undoubtedly an expansion draft hit. The 25 year old is having a career season and leads the team in goals. He’ll be a restricted free agent at season’s end and should be one of Francis’ top priorities in the offseason.
Morgan Geekie is another young player whose upside is high and looks to be a key Kraken player in the future.
Overall, the Kraken’s top four defensemen have been solid and will be a big foundation to build around moving forward.
Wyshynski is right about Seattle potentially being players in the offseason. Francis has set up his roster to have cap flexibility and he’ll be able to look at adding needed top-six scoring forwards this summer, one or two guys who will fit in with the current forward core and establish a more consistent offensive attack.
There are complimentary players on the roster now who will prove valuable once Seattle can add a dash of spice with higher offensive talent.