Free agent center Chandler Stephenson leaving Vegas for Seattle

Edmonton Oilers v Vegas Golden Knights

LAS VEGAS, NEVADA - FEBRUARY 06: Chandler Stephenson #20 of the Vegas Golden Knights celebrates with teammates on the bench after scoring a third-period goal against the Edmonton Oilers during their game at T-Mobile Arena on February 06, 2024 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)Photo: Ethan Miller / Getty Images Sport / Getty Images

It wasn’t even 90 minutes, and general manager Ron Francis has set a tone of the early bird gets the worm. 

Shortly after landing defenseman Brandon Montour, the Seattle Kraken grabbed another free agent in center Chandler Stephenson, leaving the Vegas Golden Knights on a seven-year deal with $6.25 million annually. 

“He brings a winning pedigree and offensive consistency to our team, and we are looking forward to him being a part of our lineup this season,” said Francis in a team statement. 

As part of a breakneck pace with money shelled out to free agents on Monday morning, Francis and the Kraken acted anything but conservatively with their view on using money for upgrades. Stephenson’s case comes with proven numbers, but with a question of sustainability at age 30. 

He’s won two Stanley Cups in Vegas and Washington, is a legitimate playmaker with skating ability, and hit a career high 21 goals three years ago. It’s far from the elite tier of forwards like Jake Guentzel and Sam Reinhart, who didn’t even hit the open market. He likely fits as a complimentary piece for Matty Beniers and an incoming Shane Wright. But when the Golden Knights won the Stanley Cup two seasons ago, his play hit the gas, notching 10 goals and 20 points in 22 playoff games. 

Following up with a 51 point season in 75 games this past year, part of when he filled in as a top line center for an injured Jack Eichel, he cashed in with the richest contract of his career, and is now the highest annually paid forward on the Kraken as of late Monday morning with the free agency winds still howling across the league with an expanded salary cap. As players tend to hit a decline in their 30’s, Stephenson’s long-term production is a question mark, but entertained plenty of attention across the league this year while in his prime. 

Stephenson was also one of the top remaining free agents available on the board, shortly after centers like Elias Lindholm, Steven Stamkos, and Sean Monahan went elsewhere and for comparable term and salary.

“He’s got speed to burn,” said an NHL scout to 93.3 KJR-FM. “Two-way player and great on the forecheck. I wish he would shoot more than he does.”

But after a conservative off-season last year, the Kraken are making their motives clear with $13 million annually in combined salary handed out to Montour and Stephenson. They have cap space, the money available to use it, and they’re not afraid to use it.  

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