After a trying inaugural NHL season for the Seattle Kraken, the 2022 offseason promised significant changes across the board, particularly regarding roster construction. General manager Ron Francis hinted at a busy free-agent window, and he delivered, signing NHL-caliber players at all three positions.
After a season in which the team only compiled 27 wins and finished 30th in the overall league standings, it’s foolish to suggest that they would do anything but take strides forward. Still, Francis’ moves in free agency should lead to meaningful improvement in their on-ice results and won’t shackle the organization in terms of future cap flexibility. With that, let’s dig in.
Andre Burakovsky, Forward
2021-22 Statistics: 80 GP – 22 G – 39 A – 61 PTS – 16:16 ATOI
Contract: Five years, $27.5 million
Going into the offseason, injecting skill into an often-impotent Kraken attack was the top priority for Francis and company. The team scored 2.63 goals per game (29th in the NHL) and owned the 29th-ranked power play (14.6%) by conversion. Further, center Jared McCann’s 50 points was the lowest team-leading total in the league last season, and only Jordan Eberle has ever eclipsed 30 goals in a single campaign. Simply put, the Kraken’s offense was anemic from the get-go.
As a result, Seattle’s most significant offseason move came with the signing of Andre Burakovksy, a 27-year-old winger coming off winning the Stanley Cup with the Colorado Avalanche. After being buried on the Washington Capitals’ depth chart, the Swedish forward capitalized on a greater role with the Avalanche, scoring at a 64-point pace over the past three seasons.
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The main draw of capturing Burakovksy’s signature is his ability to help drive play in transition. His microstat profile paints him as a player capable of generating offensive zone entries with possession of the puck, which leads to higher-quality scoring chances. Given that the Kraken finished in the bottom half of the league in this regard last season, his skillset becomes all the more valuable in bettering their offensive setup.
Burakovksy’s deal takes him through his age-32 season, giving the Kraken access to what should be most of his prime years of production. Paying him $5.5 million annually is not an insignificant commitment, but it represents one of the team’s better contractual bets over its first two offseasons. If he can produce without the safety net that was the Avalanche’s loaded forward group, this could prove to be one of the best deals inked from this year’s free agent class.
John Hayden, Forward
2021-22 Statistics: 55 GP – 2 G – 2 A – 4 PTS – 10:51 ATOI
Contract: One year, $750k
The Kraken’s second notable free-agent signing was that of 6-foot-3 center John Hayden, who boasts over 200 games of NHL experience on his resume. Unfortunately, his addition doesn’t appear to be much more than adding depth further down the lineup, given his limited role with the downtrodden Buffalo Sabres last season.
The 27-year-old brings physicality (104 hits and 84 penalty minutes) but struggles to positively drive play to any significant degree. Hayden’s career highs of four goals and 13 points came with the Chicago Blackhawks back in the 2017-18 season, but there is little indication he will become an impact player with the Kraken in 2022-23.
Martin Jones, Goaltender
2021-22 Statistics: 35 GP – 12 W – 18 L – 3 OTL – .900 SV% – 3.42 GAA
Contract: One year, $2 million
With the news that backup netminder Chris Driedger is due to miss most of next season while recovering from surgery to repair a torn ACL, the Kraken found themselves needing a goalie. In the aftermath of a whirlwind goalie carousel, they landed on 32-year-old Martin Jones, he of nearly 400 regular-season appearances and 60 playoff runouts. While spending most of that time with the San Jose Sharks, Jones held the starting job while the franchise made appearances in the Western Conference Final (2019) and the Stanley Cup Final (2016).
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Apart from a lack of scoring, the Kraken were sunk by abysmal performances in the crease. According to EvolvingHockey, both Driedger and Philipp Grubauer finished in the bottom-half of goalies by goals saved above expected (GSAx), with Grubauer sitting last with over 32 goals allowed above expected. Their underwhelming campaigns contributed to the league’s worst team save percentage (SV%) at .880 and handicapped what was otherwise a strong defensive outfit at 5v5.
Unfortunately for the Kraken, Jones hasn’t been much better in recent years, ranking 132nd out of 134 goalies since 2019-20 in GSAx. Much more should be expected of Grubauer, who was a Vezina Trophy finalist in 2020-21, but Jones shouldn’t be viewed as a reliable stopgap. A one-year commitment almost entirely eliminates the possibility that his presence becomes an anchor on the roster, but it’s an uninspiring bet on a goalie who hasn’t done much to warrant a regular spot in an NHL lineup.
Justin Schultz, Defenseman
2021-22 Statistics: 74 GP – 4 G – 19 A – 23 PTS – 16:55 ATOI
Contract: Two years, $6 million
With the departure of the franchise’s first-ever captain in Mark Giordano, the Kraken blueline was crying out for a veteran presence who could provide some offensive impetus. Enter Justin Schultz, who has scored at a career rate of 36 points per 82 games and won back-to-back Stanley Cups with the Pittsburgh Penguins in 2016 and 2017.
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Schultz was used in a bottom-pairing capacity with the Capitals last season, averaging just under 17 minutes of ice time in all situations. Given his offensive inclinations, he was regularly deployed as the blueline quarterback on the team’s second powerplay unit, ranking behind only John Carlson in total usage with the man-advantage. He also maintained a positive share of shots and scoring chances at even strength, consistently driving play in the right direction.
At 32 years old, Schultz is far-removed from his statistical prime. Even so, he represents an outlet for an offense through confident puck-moving from zone to zone. If paired with a stout partner such as Carson Soucy, his defensive limitations can be disguised while allowing him to flaunt his strengths. On an affordable two-year pact, adding Schultz is a low-risk, high-reward gamble.
2022-23 Season Promises to Be One Filled with Improvement
In tandem with plucking several sound players in free agency, the 2022 NHL Entry Draft reaped Shane Wright, arguably the Kraken’s potential franchise center. Couple those additions with the continual development of 2021 second-overall pick Matty Beniers and the organizational outlook is significantly more positive compared to just a few short months ago. Even if earning a playoff spot remains a toss-up at this point in time, the team will look much different come opening night. If nothing else, the future is bright in the Pacific Northwest, and hope sells in the NHL.
Data courtesy of AllThreeZones, CapFriendly, Evolving Hockey, Natural Stat Trick, and the NHL.