3 Free Agents For The Seattle Kraken To Target As Ron Francis Promises “Aggressive” Summer

During a post-practice press conference on Wednesday, Seattle Kraken general manager Ron Francis suggested that the organization would continue to be “aggressive” in free agency this summer. The expansion franchise has stumbled out of the gate, sitting 30th out of 32 teams in the overall standings this season, and an impotent offense underlines their underwhelming campaign. 

They struggle to consistently generate quality scoring chances (31st in expected goals per-60) and haven’t finished the few opportunities they do generate (28th in goals per game). With Francis’ ambitious proclamations serving as the backdrop, here are three intriguing forward candidates for the Kraken to pursue during the 2022 free agency period.

Bryan Rust, Pittsburgh Penguins

Bryan Rust has missed 22 of the Pittsburgh Penguins’ 55 games so far this season but remains one of their most dependable attacking options, with 42 points in 33 games. His 1.27 points-per-game (P/G) rate ranks third among pending unrestricted free agents (UFAs), and the 30-year-old winger could give the Kraken a much-needed shot in the arm within their forward ranks.

Rust has often ridden shotgun with captain Sidney Crosby but is a versatile offensive force in his own right. According to Corey Sznajder’s All Three Zones tracking project, Rust is an above-average passer, a reliable source of shots, and one of Pittsburgh’s stronger transition players. Pairing Rust with someone like Yanni Gourde – who leads the Kraken by far in shot-assists per-60-minutes at 5v5 – gives him a running-mate capable of unlocking his scoring potential.

Related: 4 Reasons The Seattle Kraken Should Trade Captain Mark Giordano

Since 2019-20, Rust ranks 24th in the NHL in goals (67), 44th in points (140 in 144 games), and 31st in P/G (minimum 82 games played). Even as he crests the hill of his pre-and post-age 30 seasons, he’s a near-lock to earn a sizeable raise on his current average annual value (AAV) of $3.5 million per season. 

Compared to most ill-fated free-agent signings, Rust doesn’t have the same wear and tear on his body that would suggest he is likely to physically break down before his contract runs its course. Steady point-per-game skaters don’t hit the open market very frequently, and the rest of the league is salivating at the prospect of stealing him away from a Pittsburgh team navigating a tight cap structure.

Mason Marchment, Florida Panthers

There has arguably not been a greater surprise in the NHL than the Panthers’ Mason Marchment, whose point-per-game pace (28 points in 28 games) represents a tremendous jump in his production. The undrafted winger joined the team through a trade with the Toronto Maple Leafs during the 2019-20 season, and he’s transformed into a galivanting power forward in the Panthers’ run-and-gun system.

Small sample size aside, the underlying numbers point to a sound process driving Marchment’s eye-popping results. At 5v5, the Panthers own 59% of all shots, 61.5% of xGF, and an astronomical 78.4% of all goals when Marchment takes the ice. His absurd finishing is notable (his 16.4% shooting percentage is four times higher than last year’s conversion), but he’s fired a greater number of shots on net year-over-year (9.33 vs. 6.68 shots-per-60).

Related: 3 Seattle Kraken Coaching Candidates If Hakstol Is Fired

Unsurprisingly, the hulking Marchment does most of his damage on the forecheck and cycle, utilizing his massive 6-foot-4 frame to great effect. He is one of the NHL’s most successful forecheckers and has recovered 6.8 dump-ins per-60 at 5v5, the seventh-highest rate this season. As a result, his formidable line completed by rookie Anton Lundell and the underappreciated Sam Reinhart is Florida’s best forward combination by xGF% (minimum 100 minutes played). His tenacious style complements any line, and the Kraken could use a player of his ilk on the roster.

Any suitors will rightfully be wary of his sudden breakout after little previous indication that such offensive potential bubbled under the surface. The 26-year-old likely sticks with the club that’s given him an expanded role, but generous vultures (er executives) will circle with lucrative offers well outside his current $800K payout. The chance that the one-hit-wonder label could be applied underlines any contract talks, but he’s driven play well enough that he provides value even if his production declines. How Florida proceeds is an interesting storyline going forward, but they’re currently reaping the rewards of mining another diamond-in-the-rough

Nazem Kadri, Colorado Avalanche

If there’s a single pending UFA whose availability is being evaluated with a heavy dose of skepticism, it’s Nazem Kadri. The Colorado Avalanche’s second-line center has seen his production erupt this season, leading the Stanley Cup contender in scoring with a career-high of 68 points in 51 games. Over a full campaign, that scoring rate translates to an 82-game total of 109 points. If acquired by the Kraken, he instantly becomes their most skilled pivot and pushes their other centers down the lineup.

So, what’s brought about this unexpected statistical jump? A combination of favorable shooting luck (the third-highest on-ice shooting percentage of his career), Nathan MacKinnon’s health struggles and the fabled contract year bump has coalesced to manufacture a dream season for the first-time All-Star.

Related: 3 Seattle Kraken Players Likely To Be Traded At 2022 Deadline

Given that the Avalanche must juggle any transactions with MacKinnon’s looming contract extension, it’s difficult to see how they can fit Kadri’s deserved raise into their cap calculations. The controversial pest is sure to draw a boatload of interested suitors, with several organizations (Edmonton, Montreal, or Philadelphia?) hoping to avenge underwhelming seasons with a big offseason splash. The ensuing bidding war is going to drive up Kadri’s already rising price, and his age profile (he turns 32 in October) is concerning in the event he signs a long-term deal. 

Any interested parties must do their due diligence in pinpointing whether Kadri’s success is a product of circumstance or a true reflection of his talent level. Tread carefully NHL general managers; it’s a good thing none of them have ever inked a contract that’s quickly turned sour.

Francis’ Plans Don’t Bode Well For Kraken Future

Although Francis mentioned that any signings would have to be made with the eventual contract extensions of their top prospects (Matty Beniers and their 2022 first-rounder) in mind. In my recent trade deadline articles, I’ve argued that the franchise is better off embracing their status as a rebuilding outfit and auctioning off their most valuable assets to accumulate draft capital.

Seattle only has six forwards under contract who have regularly featured in the NHL season, and could easily fit any one of the listed UFAs under the cap limit if they were so inclined. Whether that’s the most optimal use of their cap space (hint, it’s not) is up for debate, but any decisions set the franchise’s path for the better part of the next decade. Signing a significant number of peak-age free agents doesn’t preclude executives from eventually trading them for cap relief, but financial flexibility becomes more onerous to achieve. The matrix of opportunity cost is clearly established, and Francis’ assumed path is the wrong one, all things considered.

Data courtesy of All Three ZonesHockey ReferenceMoneyPuck, and Natural Stat Trick. Contract and salary information are taken from CapFriendly.

About Marko Zlomislic 54 Articles
Marko is an aspiring sportswriter with a passion for crafting stories while using a combination of the eye-test and (shudder) analytics, which is complemented by an academic background in criminology and political science. When not covering the Seattle Kraken for Oregon Sports News, Marko can also be found pouring countless hours into various sports video games franchises, indulging in science fiction novels, and taking long runs around his neighbourhood. You can yell at him by following him on Twitter or via email at mzlomislic97@gmail.com. He also regularly produces content for The Hockey Writers.