Seattle Kraken offseason primer: Key dates and decisions
The NHL regular season is coming to a close, it’s stopped snowing in the Puget Sound area, and summer is right around the corner. The time for hitting the beach, family trips, and camping is upon us. All of us except for Seattle Kraken general manager Ron Francis.
With a smile on his face, Yanni Gourde does everything for Kraken
With the season ending, he has some work to do and there’s no time to go camping. Instead, he has to improve on a roster that finished last in the Pacific Division and second to last in the Western Conference.
The Stanley Cup Playoffs begin this week and Seattle’s pro scouts will be watching and taking notes of players that may be a fit with the Kraken. These scouts will be communicating with Francis, looking for potential trades or as free agent targets this summer.
It’s all part of the “offseason” in the NHL which is anything but. Here is a look at this summer’s big dates that Francis will need to be ready for.
NHL Draft Lottery – May 10th
It won’t be too long before Francis and the Seattle Kraken know which pick they’ll hold in the upcoming draft. Last season, the Kraken had a lotto ball fall in a favorable way as they moved up from third to second where they took Matty Beniers.
Seattle should end up with the third-worst record in the league, which gives them an 11.5 percent chance of moving up to the top spot at the draft lottery. The Kraken most likely will pick third or fourth, but will pick no lower than fifth.
If they win and pick first, the Seattle Kraken will take Shane Wright, who would come and play in the NHL in the fall. There are good, top-end players available to the Kraken after that, but it’s unclear which ones would be NHL ready right out of the gate the way Wright will.
NHL Draft – July 7-8
Francis and his staff will head to Montreal in July to participate in the franchise’s second NHL Draft.
Not only will Seattle have a top-five pick, but Francis has accumulated four second-round picks and 11 overall this year. He’s on record saying that he hopes not to use those picks to select players, but rather is hoping that some can be used as an asset to make player trades.
The NHL Draft could land Seattle a bounty of players.
They’ll come home with a young prospect, whether it’s Wright, US speedster Logan Cooley, Matthew Savoie, or Slovakian Olympic medalist Juraj Slafkovsky. Wright is the consensus number one pick but the top of the Draft is deep and if the Kraken could land a lightning-quick offensive star like Cooley, the beginning of an explosive core (along with Beniers) is starting to form.
That second batch of players after Wright is talented enough to play right away but will have to show they have the strength and speed to compete at the highest level if they want to start in the NHL.
But newly drafted prospects may not be all the Kraken add at the draft.
Francis could also come home with an established player, or two, that he acquires via trade by using some of those extra picks. It’s a lot harder to predict who the available players are but it’s safe to say the Seattle Kraken will look different on July 8.
The Kraken will be on the ice in July after the draft. Well, sort of. Unable to do so last year because of the rush to start a new franchise, Seattle will hold a prospects camp after the Draft this summer. This will be a chance to see the players selected in the Draft along with prospects like Ryker Evans and Ryan Winterton skate with the new batch of draftees.
These camps will be the first chance Francis will have to assess who is ready to fight for a spot on the roster come training camp.
NHL Free Agency – July 13
This may be the busiest time for Francis this summer. Armed with cap space burning a hole in his pocket, Seattle should be a player in free agency.
Francis has publicly stated that he plans on being aggressive in Free Agency and is in a position to use a salary cap that only went up one million dollars this year to his advantage. Nobody should be able to outspend the Kraken but that doesn’t mean they’ll go out and sign every top player.
Free Agency can be fickle and often lead to a team overspending in both dollars and term to acquire elite players. Does Francis make a splash here and go after players like Johnny Gaudreau or Filip Forsberg, two of the top free agents who should be on the market? Or does he look more reasonably priced guys just below that top market and build that way?
This is going to be a pivotal moment for Francis and the franchise this summer.
The RFA question
Before training camp opens in September, Francis has some decisions to make with several players who will become restricted free agents this summer.
Seattle can choose to give these players a qualifying offer and retain their services or allow them to walk as free agents. Some of these players endeared themselves with the fans but the fact is, there are not enough roster spots to bring everyone back and add elsewhere.
Does Ryan Donato, who had a career season with Seattle, get an offer? It would be hard to let him go after a season where he ended up playing on Seattle’s top line. What about Karson Kuhlman who has filled a role and found chemistry with Yanni Gourde.
Morgan Geekie will need a decision. He’s young, and has skill, but has yet to put it together on a consistent basis at the NHL level. Hadyn Fleury is another tough call as the defenseman’s early mistakes led to being a healthy scratch on a regular basis.
Francis will have some tough calls here and there is potential for some players who showed well this year to be moving on.
Finally, in August, Francis can put his feet up, fire up the BBQ, and take a breather. Not much of one, though, because training camp comes in September and the expectation of an improved season is sky high.
He can rest a bit, but you wonder how restful it will be after a busy summer filled with important decisions. We’ll find out if he chose right in late September, early October as the Seattle Kraken training camp moves into the regular season again.
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