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NHL

The Kraken Passed The Marshmallow Test

SEATTLE, WASHINGTON - JULY 21: The Seattle Kracken draft picks (L-R) Jordan Eberle, Chris Driedger, Chris Tanev, Jamie Oleksiak, Haydn Fleury and Mark Giordano following the 2021 NHL Expansion Draft at Gas Works Park on July 21, 2021 in Seattle, Washington. The Seattle Kraken is the National Hockey League's newest franchise and will begin play in October 2021. (Photo by Alika Jenner/Getty Images)
Alika Jenner/Getty Images

So let’s get Kraken. In a 90-minute presentation rendered anticlimactic by every single pick having been leaked hours earlier, and notable only for confirmation that the jerseys look good as hell, the NHL’s 32nd franchise gained life by tapping 30 other rosters, like some sort of hockey vampire. And while I am extremely gun-shy after having been underwhelmed by Vegas’s expansion draft and saying so and being as wrong as humanly possible, I’ll go ahead and say it: The Seattle Kraken—for now—look pretty crappin’.

More helpfully, here’s Emerald City Hockey‘s projected lineup:

Most glaring is a lack of stars outside of Giordano, who’s on the career downslope anyway, though he still has plenty to offer and should be Seattle’s first captain (if he isn’t traded before opening night, which seems quite plausible). The Kraken could have had the likes of Carey Price, Gabriel Landeskog, and PK Subban. But they would not have come cheap. I am torn between disappointment that the Kraken are a largely a bunch of career third-liners and cheap no-name youngsters, and the knowledge that this is pretty much the draft strategy I endorsed.

I do not think the Kraken will be terrible. They have a genuinely deep defense and Driedger has shown every sign of being a No. 1 goalie and there’s just enough scoring there and the Pacific Division is awful. I also do not think, as currently constituted, the Kraken will be a playoff team, let alone a team that can follow in the skates of the Golden Knights, who reached the Cup final in their inaugural season and have been real contenders every year since. Vegas not only set unrealistic expectations for an expansion team, but they might’ve ruined it for Seattle by fleecing the rest of the league so badly.

Where Vegas really won its draft was in the side deals—convincing other teams to throw in a player or a pick in exchange for not selecting a certain player. Those side deals formed the core of the Knights’ offense. Seattle tried, but was not able to swing any side deals ahead of its draft.

“We talked about that going into this,” said GM Ron Francis. “This was going to be so much different than what Vegas went through. There hadn’t been an expansion draft in 17 years. Vegas did a good job taking advantage of the rules and everyone’s lack of experience in that environment. “But the minute that one was done, they knew we were coming in … So they had a lot more time to prepare for us.”

That meant managing their own rosters for the last four years with an eye on having to protect players for this, and it also meant not being idiots and giving the expansion team two useful players to prevent them from taking one.

So, without the realistic option of building an immediate powerhouse, Francis settled for the second-best thing: sustainability. Even if these Kraken suck mondo ass, they’re not stuck with this. Of their 30 players, just 10 of them are under contract for more than one year (and three of those were their own free-agent signings). And even now the Kraken have $29 million in cap space (with a few RFAs to sign). It’s not possible to overstate how valuable that flexibility is in a league with a flat cap where so many teams are desperate to get out from under onerous contracts. Over the coming days and years, fully expect the Kraken to take on messy contracts via trade—because they can—and to receive valuable pieces for their trouble. The NHL’s trade freeze expires at 1 p.m. EDT today, the entry draft begins Friday, and free agency opens next week, and it’s arguable the real work of building the Kraken is only about to begin.

Boldness is a virtue, especially in a league where that’s rare in front offices. But Seattle is not Vegas, and could never be, from the moment the rest of the league realized what Vegas had pulled on them. What the Kraken are is what an expansion team is traditionally supposed to be: a cipher for now, but with the flexibility to build from the ground up, and with a plan. Other than a select few players inked long-term, we’re not getting a peek at that plan just yet. If it feels something like a letdown for now that Seattle didn’t break the bank out of the gate, so be it. But patience is a virtue, too.