3 ways Seattle Kraken have had big summer that’s flown under radar
Schools are opening across Western Washington this week, and surely there will be plenty of playground bragging about summer vacations and exploits as classmates reunite. NHL training camps will be opening next month, as well, and while Seattle Kraken general manager Ron Francis won’t be bragging about his summer exploits, maybe he should.
Francis didn’t have the splashiest summer in the NHL – that award goes to the Calgary Flames and general manager Brad Treliving for his trade of Matthew Tkachuk and signing of Nazem Kadri. Though Francis’ summer hasn’t made national headlines in the way Treliving’s did, it was still pretty good.
He has improved the Kraken’s roster, and yes, there is still room for improvement, but Francis has put Seattle in a much better position than it was entering its inaugural season last year. Here’s a look at what Francis was able to pull off this summer.
Drafting Shane Wright with the fourth overall pick was a no-brainer for Francis and the Kraken. And while Wright’s slight dip from projected No. 1 pick to No. 4 was not thanks to any moves by Francis, he and his team wasted no time in picking the player they had listed on the top of their draft board, ending up with someone who could solidify the Kraken’s center position along with Matty Beniers for years to come.
It also helped set the tone for Francis and the Kraken. Coming into the draft, Francis stated his goal was to find goal scorers, something Seattle’s pipeline was lacking. Francis did just that with the later rounds in the draft. With the team’s first pick in the second round, they nabbed a dynamic scoring forward in Jagger Firkus, who not only has a fun name but is coming off a 36-goal campaign with the Western Hockey League’s Moose Jaw Warriors.
Firkus was one of 11 players the Kraken selected at the draft in Montreal, and except for Finnish goalie Niklas Kokko, the common trait among them all was offensive skill. Outside of Wright and Firkus, other prospects to keep tabs on include winger Jani Nyman and center David Goyette.
No prospect is a sure thing, but Francis has set up the team with a much-improved pipeline and a chance for some players to develop and contribute at the NHL level. Wright most likely will play in the NHL this coming season as an 18 year old. How long will it take Firkus and the rest of the draft class to end up in Seattle?
NHL free agency
Following the NHL Draft, the free agency period in July was the next opportunity for Francis to improve his team this summer. Francis had publicly stated that he wanted to be “aggressive” and go after players that once again could add goal scoring to the Kraken attack. The market took the wind out of the aggressiveness Seattle was looking for, however.
One of the top free agent targets, Filip Forsberg, re-signed with the Nashville Predators and never made it to free agency, while the other big fish, Johnny Gaudreau, surprisingly chose family and location over money, landing with the Columbus Blue Jackets.
While maybe not as aggressive as was hoped, Francis was very busy during free agency and did add some goals to the Kraken. First up was the signing of former Colorado Avalanche winger Andre Burakovsky to a five-year, $5.5 million a year contract. Burakovsky scored a career-best 22 goals with Colorado last season, has a great shot, and will get more opportunities to score than he did with an Avalanche team where he played behind elite forwards.
To help boost the team’s lackluster (to put it nicely) power play, Francis also added defenseman Justin Schultz to a two-year, $3 million a year contract. Schultz is a veteran of 602 NHL games, has a Stanley Cup ring and has always been a solid player with the man advantage. His addition will give the Kraken more depth on the back end.
With the injury to goaltender Chris Driedger, Francis brought in veteran Martin Jones as some insurance to back up Philipp Grubauer. Jones signed a one-year contract worth $2 million as a stopgap until Driedger is ready to return.
Somewhat overlooked, Francis also signed several players to help fill the roster for the Coachella Valley Firebirds, who will be playing their first season in the American Hockey League as Seattle’s top minor league affiliate.
It was a busy few days for Francis, and while he added some goal scoring to the team, it didn’t feel like enough to move the Kraken needle at the time. Free agency dried up, but Francis wasn’t done adding.
Oliver Bjorkstrand trade
The highlight of Francis’ summer was snagging a goal scorer in Bjorkstrand from Columbus for practically nothing. Since the 2021 NHL Expansion Draft, we’ve heard a lot about how Francis had cap space that he could weaponize against other teams. He had yet to really do that, however, and you had to wonder how that cap space was helping if the team had not used it.
Enter the Blue Jackets.
With their big addition of Gaudreau and re-signing of Patrik Laine, the Blue Jackets found themselves in a situation where they were over the salary cap. They had to shed money and Francis stepped up. Seattle had cap room and excess draft capital thanks to the moves Francis made at the trade deadline last season. So he offered up two 2023 NHL Draft picks (a third-rounder and a fourth-rounder) in exchange for Bjorkstrand.
Desperate to shed his $5.4 million a year salary, the Blue Jackets took the offer, which was far below Bjorkstrand’s market value, giving Seattle the goal scorer it needed. Third- and fourth-round picks have middle of the road value and the hit rates of players drafted in those rounds is low. On top of that, Francis still has his original third and fourth round picks in his pocket, so basically he got Bjorkstrand for nothing.
Bjorkstrand scored 28 goals last season, is a great shooter, and most likely will play on Seattle’s top line as a winger this year. It was a masterful move by Francis and the type of aggressiveness he had promised before the summer started.
In the end, Francis greatly improved his team. On paper, the Kraken should score more goals. Will all that turn into more wins? It should. Will it be enough to turn them into playoff contenders? The jury is still out on that.