Honestly, four months ago, how many people predicted the Seattle Kraken would be in this expect spot?
At 32-20-6, they stand with 70 points, holding the final wild card spot, and four points clear of the Calgary Flames. Based on their projections for this season, many with the playoffs closer than a pipe dream but still out of reality, they are playing with house money.
The crazy part in all of this, aside from one massive losing skid potentially sinking playoff hopes, is another win streak could mean division title contention. The Kraken are six points back of Vegas for the Pacific Division perch, still with one game in hand, and two more meetings to go.
That’s now put the Kraken into an enviable, but delicate position, with the trade deadline five days away. General manager Ron Francis is all about the slow roll - not the rush, rash, cut-corners-and-build an overnight juggernaut. There’s the “plan.”
“It’s important to keep that plan in mind, moving forward,” Francis told 93.3 KJR-FM last month. “But if there’s the right piece, we can add, that we don’t makes a huge sacrifice to what we’re trying to do here, long term, then it’s certainly something that we’ll explore.”
“I think we owe that to our players, and our fans, if the right piece is there to try to add it, for sure.”
Head coach Dave Hakstol does not officially push the transaction buttons with who is ultimately brought in or moved out, but has an insight to the pulse of his dressing room. He clarified it after the Kraken fell, 5-1 to the Maple Leafs on Sunday.
“I’m confident if there’s a way for Ron to improve our group, while keeping everything in mind in terms of our overall process, I’m certain he’ll do that,” said Hakstol.
“At the core, of all of this, whether there’s change coming by Friday or not, I still firmly believe the solutions and the finish will be dictated by the group inside this dressing room.”
What we do know: Francis won’t be afraid to get active by Friday, within the boundaries of appropriate price. We also know he likes his top 9 forwards. Only the Vegas Golden Knights have made the Stanley Cup Playoffs as a second year team since the expansion boom of the 90’s, and the Kraken are well on track to match that benchmark. Already with a superstar blossoming in Calder Trophy candidate Matty Beniers and Shane Wright ready in the near future, the Kraken are well ahead of the curve.
How much are they willing to give up, and how much do they need?
Goaltending for the most part has turned the corner this season. The Kraken boast scoring depth, headlined by Beniers, Jared McCann, Jordan Eberle, Andre Burakovsky (when healthy), Jaden Schwartz, and even Oliver Bjorkstrand, one season removed from 28 goals. Daniel Sprong has hammered out 15 goals with contained ice time and even battling competition to stay in the lineup. Vince Dunn and Adam Larsson are 100-year sequoia tree-solid as a defensive pair. For the price that many big names are commanding, such as a young talent, a first round prospect, or future first rounders, that demand flies in the face of the Kraken building process where they are remarkably in contention while aiming to build a contender, long term.
It's very close to a rare situation this season where the Kraken can have it both ways, and really are having it both ways.
Many of the big names are off the board, some requiring everything-with-the-kitchen-sink in return such as Timo Meier, Ryan O’Reilly, Vladimir Tarasenko, Bo Horvat, and even Tanner Jeannot who brought a haul back for Nashville including Cal Foote, and five draft picks (including a first rounder).
That would lead the Kraken to rounding out the edges for playoff time in other areas: “depth” needs, at forward and particularly with face-off help (where they are last in the NHL with a 45.4% win rate), and on defense, where the penalty kill can use help.
They currently have nearly $897,000 of cap space, according to capfriendly.com, while Burakovsky could be back in two weeks as reported by ROOT Sports. Virtually any move the Kraken make will have to involve moving money around.
How much? It depends on who fits. Here’s a look at five potential adds the Kraken could still pursue, where the cost isn't potentially demanding:
1. Conor Sheary
Left wing, Washington Capitals
Contract: $1.5 million annually, pending UFA
The skinny: It’s likely that Sheary would be a rental, but a cost-conscious rental with Stanley Cup experience (he’s won it twice and played with Justin Schultz in Pittsburgh). He’s scored 12 goals this year with the Capitals, buried 19 last year, and plays with an abrasive style with speed that fits nicely into the Kraken system. Plus, he can kill penalties, as part of a ninth ranked Capitals PK unit.
2. Nick Jensen
Defense (RD), Washington Capitals
Contract: $2.5 million annually, pending UFA
The skinny: Well known as a player who plays heavy minutes on the Capitals PK unit, it’s a terrific fit on the Kraken as far as the type of player who succeeds in their system, where you have to skate and pressure on the forecheck to succeed in this system. Immediate feedback, in a report by The Daily Faceoff, is the Capitals could be entertaining a first rounder in return, which is a yellow or red light for the Kraken in this sense. Plus, the Kraken have a glut of right shot defensemen, which, aside from Adam Larsson would force shuffling around Justin Schultz, Will Borgen and Cale Fleury.
3. Nick Bonino
Center, San Jose Sharks
Contract: $2 million annually, pending UFA
The skinny: Could the Kraken take his deal, though pushing mid 30’s, and add to their mix? Bonino has championship blood running through his veins, winning back-to-back Cups with the Penguins with Schultz in 2015-17. That’s a sample of much needed experience the Kraken can add. He’s appeared in 105 career postseason games, has been an integral part of a Sharks penalty kill that’s top five in the league and though with a down year at the circle, has been at 50% or better in six of the last seven seasons.
4. Robert Bortuzzo
Defense (RD), St. Louis Blues
Contract: $950,000 annually
The skinny: This would be a well-below the radar add, mainly if other options have been exhausted to complement the Kraken blueline. Bortuzzo, who is in the first year of a relatively inexpensive two-year deal, has struggled with injury issues but brings Stanley Cup experience where he would be reunited with Vince Dunn and Jaden Schwartz. He’s averaged 1:47 per game of penalty kill time.
5. Nick Bjugstad
Center, Arizona Coyotes
Contract: $900,000, pending UFA
The skinny: Bjugstad, a ten-year NHL veteran, has found a resurgent year with a 13-goal campaign, most since he buried 19 goals with the Florida Panthers five years ago. He’s averaging over 16 minutes of ice time, most in four years. At 6-foot-6 and 209 pounds, he is built like a skyscraper, has a history of fitting in with puck pressure teams, and though below 50% at the face-off dot this year, was terrific with a 55% clip last season. It could be a relatively low cost move to examine if the Kraken determine more help is needed down the middle.