Kraken look less threatening after conservative expansion draft approach

Ron Francis, now the general manager of the new Seattle Kraken, developed a reputation for conservatism during a seven-year run as Hurricanes GM.

That same strategy — reflected in Carolina through both his cautious, risk-minimizing approach to offseason signings and trades as well as his preference for a strong defense over a strong offense — proved evident once again during Wednesday’s expansion draft.

The Kraken were always expected to pass on many of the big-name, big-contract players exposed in the expansion draft, but they instead passed on almost all of them. Carey Price, Vladimir Tarasenko, James van Riemsdyk, Ryan Johansen, Matt Duchene, Adam Henrique, Max Domi and many others remain with their previous teams.

Instead, the Kraken assembled a roster that barely eclipsed the $48.9 million salary cap minimum. That leaves them with well above $25 million to spend the rest of the offseason, but a rather underwhelming initial expansion draft class.

For every upper-end player the Kraken did bite on, they made an obscure, off-the-board pick elsewhere.

Forwards Jordan Eberle (Islanders), Calle Jarnkrok (Predators), Jared McCann (Maple Leafs) and Yanni Gourde (Lightning), defensemen Mark Giordano (Flames), Vince Dunn (Blues) and Adam Larsson (Oilers) and goaltenders Chris Driedger (Panthers) and Vitek Vanecek (Capitals) should all be solid pieces. Eberle, Gourde and Giordano were, in fact, the only players the Kraken took with cap hits over $5 million.

The selections of John Quenneville (Blackhawks), Carsen Twarynski (Flyers), Gavin Bayreuther (Blue Jackets), Kurtis MacDermid (Kings) and Morgan Geekie (Hurricanes) were all major surprises, though.

It initially seemed likely the Kraken had made those picks because of side deals. The Golden Knights executed 10 side deals during the 2017 expansion draft, acquiring many of their eventual stars through that process, and the Kraken were reportedly asking sky-high prices in side-deal negotiations leading up to Wednesday. But no such trades occurred, per CapFriendly.

The clear focus of the Kraken team assembled so far is keeping the puck out of the net.

Of the 16 skaters they picked who played regularly in the NHL last year, 11 had better defensive than offensive results last season (measuring by even-strength scoring chance rates per minute, for and against).

Only two — Eberle and Donskoi — ranked among the top 200 league-wide in scoring-chances-for rate. Four — Jamie Oleksiak (Stars), Haydn Fleury (Ducks), McCann and Geekie — ranked among the top 100 in scoring-chances-against rate.

The goaltending should be a strength. Driedger feels ready to be a No. 1 goalie after his breakout year in Florida — he went 14-6-3 with a .927 save percentage. Vanacek also handled starting duties for much of last season as a Capitals rookie and, along with Joey Daccord (Senators), provides solid depth.

The full Kraken team hasn’t been assembled yet, however, and it’d be shocking to see Francis not soon weaponize the generous cap space he worked so delicately to preserve Wednesday. Teams like the Flyers and Lightning remain desperate to unload large contracts this offseason and the Kraken could help them out, for a price.

Furthermore, Francis will be able to supplement his growing team with the No. 2 overall pick in Friday’s entry-draft first round. That selection will reveal more about his team-building mentality, too; with the Canes, four of his six first-round picks were defensemen.

The Kraken could also be big players in free agency next week — after all, three of their biggest splashes Wednesday (Larsson, Oleksiak and Driedger) were all pending unrestricted free agents. Signing Avs captain and pending UFA Gabriel Landeskog, for instance, would instantly alter the year-one outlook.

But at least after one day of team-building, the NHL’s newest franchise doesn’t look quite as good or nearly as aggressive as expected.

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