A little after 12:30pm on Monday, general manager Ron Francis delivered his final thoughts at Kraken Community Iceplex on the evolving core of the Seattle Kraken, looked down at his phone, and had one remaining thought to unload after maneuvering a busy trade deadline week.
“I’m going to go take a nap on the flight,” said Francis.
His phone line was very much awake over the course of nearly a week, shortly before the Kraken departed a three game trip with stops at Arizona and Los Angeles. Francis wrapped up the Noon PT trade deadline on Monday, the first the Kraken have ever been involved in, with a roster undergoing a significant transformation to stock up on draft picks for future direction.
Forward Marcus Johansson was dealt to the Washington Capitals on Monday morning for forward Daniel Sprong, two draft picks, and the Kraken picked up minor leaguer Victor Rask from the Minnesota Wild for future considerations. Defenseman Derrick Pouliot was also claimed off waivers from the Vegas Golden Knights.
The final total: six players outbound with either completely expiring contracts or entering restricted free agency, in exchange for ten inbound draft picks scheduled over the next three years to load the Kraken up on draft day. They are due to select four times over the first two rounds of this year’s NHL Draft in Montreal and are slated to make 11 picks in the first two rounds over the next three years.
“We get to the position we are now, and you have guys on expiring contracts as (unrestricted free agents), you’re going to lose them for nothing at the end of the year if you don’t make a deal or get them signed,” said Francis.
“The personal side, it’s tough,” said forward Jordan Eberle. “It’s part of the game, it’s part of how things are transpiring. You just come to the rink and do the best you can.”
Johansson, along with Calle Jarnkrok (Calgary), Mark Giordano (Toronto), Colin Blackwell (Toronto) are all with new teams and at the moment due to hit unrestricted free agency this summer. Defenseman Jeremy Lauzon, dealt to the Predators, and forward Mason Appleton, shipped to the Winnipeg Jets, will be restricted free agents but under team control who have the right to match any offer.
Where the draft picks are eventually capitalized depend on the course of action the Kraken select. They can load up their pipeline with the picks and wait for development, or re-package them in trades for immediate boosts on the roster.
Francis, who declined to identify a new captain for the immediate future with Giordano moving on, said pieces are in place to add in free agency and trades, a part of the goal for improvements next season.
“To get some pieces, last summer we were looking at having to give up our first round pick or second round pick,” said Francis. “We (didn’t) have a lot of picks. We had to build that as well.”
“But now with draft capital we acquired here in the nine picks in top two rounds, 16 in top three over next three years, that gives us more pieces to try to get into those games, if ‘team X’ is looking to trade a player. We may have pieces we can flip to get that player to bolster our roster.”
Francis said all options were explored at the trade deadline, including players and prospects.
“We looked at everything,” said Francis “We looked at hockey trades where you get a player in for player out, we looked acquiring prospects and picks. We felt end of the day, the deals we made were best at the time. We may have been offered a prospect, but we felt the pick was more valuable.”
Francis, a three-time winner of the Lady Byng Trophy for gentlemanly conduct as a player, also recognized the human side of the hockey world where it’s often referred to as a business but is forced to maneuver with emotions.
“I always hate to do this because these players have families and you’re turning their lifestyle upside down,” said Francis. “But if there’s a silver lining, four of the six guys we moved went to places that were probably their first choice to be moved. But we think we got fair return on the players we moved out.”
Giordano was moved to Toronto, now playing nearby where he grew up and his parents reside. Technically armed with a no-trade clause in his contract, Francis confirmed Giordano, who was “first class the whole way through” and said “I’m not tying your hands” in the process, verbally waived all restrictions to a potential trade destination but for legal reasons still had to submit a list of ten teams he preferred not to be traded to, all of which were out of the playoffs.
“In talking with him, if he had one place to choose to go it was Toronto,” said Francis, who finalized the trade with Toronto on Sunday afternoon. “He’s from there. His family is there. It’s not why we did that deal, but when we went through things, we felt it was the best deal to make for Mark with Toronto, and that’s why we did it for two seconds and a third (round pick) and putting Colin Blackwell in the deal as well.”
Attention now turns to a core the Kraken have in place – Jared McCann, Yanni Gourde, Jaden Schwartz, Brandon Tanev, Adam Larsson, Jamie Oleksiak, Philipp Grubauer, even Kole Lind (confirmed will stay at the NHL level for the rest of the season) – aiming to build with what Francis has indicated to include enthusiasm.
“I take a guy like Jared McCann, a restricted free agent,” said Francis. “He could have refused to sign with us, played next season, walked away for nothing – but he was excited to re-sign with our organization.”
Following the completion of the Stanley Cup Playoffs, the Kraken, who have nearly $23 million in cap space freed this summer (accounting for pending free agents), can take their next swings in the market at the draft, July 7-8 in Montreal, and in free agency, starting July 13.
“We feel we still have good players in our lineup, we think we have the cap space, money, facilities, city to try to entice players to come play here,” said Francis. “That’s our challenge over the course of the summer.”
Eberle said the relief of the trade deadline, moving to past tense, moves the focus to the last 19 games of the season to build on a special place the Kraken want to be:
“You look at the other night on Saturday when we won, the fan base – how great they are,” said Eberle. “They’re loud. You imagine when you’re in a playoff spot, fighting for it? That’s what we want to get to.”
INCOMING: DANIEL SPRONG
Coming over in the Johansson trade to make Seattle his fourth NHL stop, the former Capital, Duck and Penguin forward has 40 goals and 64 points in 186 career games. The speedster winger buried a career high 14 goals in just 47 games with Anaheim three years ago and came within one of that career mark last season with 13 goals in 42 games with the Capitals.
This season, Sprong has eight goals and 14 points in 47 games. He was originally selected by the Pittsburgh Penguins in the second round of the 2015 NHL Draft.
INCOMING: DERRICK POULIOT
Returning to the Pacific Northwest for a third time as a Portland Winterhawk grad and Vancouver Canuck, Pouliot will make Seattle his third NHL stop with 204 games of NHL experience, spending a bulk of the season with the Vegas Golden Knights farm club in Henderson.
The 28-year old, left shot defenseman last played a full season in 2018-19 with the Canucks and had 12 points in 62 games.
WHL fans of a decade or longer would know him well. Pouliot, selected eighth overall by the Penguins in the 2012 draft, was a part of a Winterhawks team that reached the finals four straight years, won the title in 2012-13, and that season came within a win of capturing the Memorial Cup.
KRAKEN AT PRACTICE, MAR. 21: