With just 48 hours to go until free agency is open for business, the Seattle Kraken made a move to retain a solid mid-season addition. Forward Karson Kuhlman avoided hitting the open market, ducking restricted free agency by signing a one-year deal worth $825,000, announced by the team on Monday.
Kuhlman, a contributor to the Boston Bruins run to the Stanley Cup Final three years ago in a seven-game series loss to the St. Louis Blues, arrived in Seattle off a waiver claim in January.
It didn’t take long for a little adversity to hit his path: he was lost in action on an errant collision at Madison Square Garden on Jan. 30 in a 3-2 Kraken loss to the Rangers. After returning Mar. 19, Kuhlman logged no less than 12 minutes a game while earning routine penalty kill ice time, and at one point, six points in nine games.
“Karson is a versatile forward who can play up and down our lineup,” said Kraken General Manager Ron Francis in a team statement.
“He’s a hard-working player and we are glad that we re-signed him.”
With 100 games under his belt in the NHL and now with a home set for Seattle, he is one name locked up before the free agency period begins Wednesday morning, where the Kraken are expected to play a major role in possibly pursuing a top name with over $20 million in available cap space.
Forward and unrestricted free agent Johnny Gaudreau, coming off a career-high 40 goals and 115 points, is likely to command top dollar but has reportedly been linked to the Kraken, should Calgary fail to sign him. Stanley Cup winner and center Nazem Kadri, coming off a career-high 87 points, has also been linked to the Kraken.
Pierre LeBrun of TSN and The Athletic reported the Kraken as a serious contender for defenseman John Klingberg, who could fit an extremely pressing need for a offensively gifted and experienced right shot defenseman.
Those moves perhaps are likely predicated on the Kraken potentially clearing the financial deck with qualifying offers on Monday. Restricted free agent defenseman Cale Fleury and forwards Morgan Geekie, Kole Lind, Alex True, and Carsen Twarynski were each slipped qualifying offers, extending a first-right-of-refusal window with any other potentially competing team for their services.
All except Geekie, last season, played primarily in the minor leagues with the AHL’s Charlotte Checkers.
Defensemen Haydn Fleury and Dennis Cholowski, along with forward Daniel Sprong and (perhaps surprisingly) forward Ryan Donato, were each not tendered qualifying offers as restricted free agents and will hit the open market.
Donato’s case: as an extremely 11th hour signing just before training camp last season on a one-year, $750,000 deal, he came through with high value and a career-high 16 goals and 31 points for an expansion team that provided a home on the same line with incoming phenom Matty Beniers, who racked up nine points in his first ten NHL games.
He will also be the famous answer to a trivia question: “who scored the first goal in Seattle Kraken history?”
The Kraken can still technically sign him but will now compete against any other NHL team willing to kick the tires on a pay raise, with nothing in return if Donato leaves.
The NHL free agency period opens on Wednesday at 9am PT.