The theme around the holiday season is often one of rebirth, an opportunity to reflect upon the year that was and commit (or try to anyway) to a campaign of personal improvement. The return of NHL hockey to the Pacific North West via the Seattle Kraken was another example of renewal. The subsequent expansion draft process gives us several significant roster decisions to examine and criticize. With the benefit of hindsight, let’s explore whether the Kraken made the right choices given the players made available to them, and suggest three potential alternatives which could be making a more positive impact on the franchise’s short- and long-term future.
Columbus Blue Jackets
Actual Selection: Gavin Bayreuther, Defenseman
Should Have Taken: Max Domi, Forward
The decision to select the pending Unrestricted Free Agent (UFA) defenseman was puzzling for a number of reasons. Although Bayreuther would likely not command a hefty salary given his sparse experience at the NHL level (only a total of 28 games before the 2021-22 season), he didn’t offer much in the way of future potential at the age of 27 and the Kraken’s roster-building strategy revolved around crafting a defensively stout roster from the crease out. Bayreuther re-signed with the Blue Jackets in free agency, leaving Seattle empty-handed.
For a team that has struggled to generate offense this season (19th in goals-per-game), claiming a troubled but talented, forward such as Max Domi could have given a roster bereft of creative talent a boost up front. Although his cap hit ($5.3-million) likely clouded Seattle’s interpretation of the cost involved, his contract is due to expire at the conclusion of this season, meaning that Ron Francis and company would have taken on a minimal level of risk, significantly outweighed by the possibility that Domi could flourish with a change of scenery.
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Unsurprisingly, Domi has found new life under head coach Brad Larsen. His 15 points in 17 games represent his most productive scoring pace since his first season with the Montreal Canadiens in 2018-19 where the dynamic forward tallied 72 points in 82 games as the team’s offensive pillar. In most cases, it’s unfair to use hindsight to criticize decisions that did not pan out as expected, but the cost-benefit matrix involved with bypassing Domi was entirely foreseeable.
Los Angeles Kings
Actual Selection: Kurtis MacDermid, Defenseman
Should Have Taken: Carl Grundstrom, Forward/ Kale Clague, Defenseman
In fairness, the Kraken were given little flexibility in terms of how limited certain protection lists left their range of choices, but their decision to select Kurtis MacDermid from the Los Angeles Kings appeared to be one of a long line of sub-optimal conclusions. Like Bayreuther, MacDermid has already departed the organization, now playing regular minutes for the Colorado Avalanche.
At first (and second) glance, the hulking MacDermid offers little positive value. He’s a 27-year-old blueliner with more penalty minutes than games at the NHL level (173 to 132), has never eclipsed 10 points in a season, and has regularly run sub-50 percent results in terms of shot attempts and chance quality for his career. Outside of the well-established infatuation that NHL executives have with more physically gifted players, it’s difficult to untangle the reasoning behind this selection, especially as two promising skaters were also left unprotected.
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The first, 24-year-old Swedish forward Carl Grundstrom, presents a more versatile skillset in the current NHL landscape. He’s scored 16 goals in 95 career games, was the second-most effective forechecker on the Kings last season with over 5 recovered dump-ins per-60-minutes, and he retains his Restricted Free Agent (RFA) status upon his contract expiring at the end of this season. Even if he never develops into a truly impactful forward at the NHL level, he offers expanded utility in different roles across the lineup.
The second skater, 23-year-old defenseman Kale Clague, is more of a raw project at this point in time than even his former Kings teammate (Clague is now the property of the Canadiens). Clague has posted 11 points in 37 career NHL games while also producing as a burgeoning rearguard in the American Hockey League (70 points over 129 games). His increased mobility, glimpses of offensive talent, and room to grow would have made Clague a more worthwhile long-term gamble than MacDermid.
Actual Selection: Carsen Twarynski, Forward
Should Have Taken: James van Riemsdyk, Forward
Of the 31 selections that the Kraken made in the expansion draft, their dealings with the Flyers are the most perplexing given the amount of talent available to be had. Carsen Twarynski, the grizzled veteran of 22 NHL games, had not shown anything through the early part of his professional career to suggest that he’d be more than an AHL tweener which makes his selection all the more baffling.
Now, the not-insignificant cap commitments afforded to available options such as Jakub Voracek (three years remaining at $8.25-million per year), James van Riemsdyk (two at $7-million), and Shayne Gostisbehere (two at $4.5-million) likely diminished Seattle’s appetite. Yet, all three players still hold enough value around the league as potential trade targets with partial salary retained.
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The selection of van Riemsdyk would have made the most impact on special teams, as the powerful winger ranks 24thin power-play goals since 2019-20. For a team that is cruising along at a middling 17.7% clip (21st in the league) with the man-advantage, his offensive chops could make the difference between challenging for a playoff spot and wishing upon the draft lottery gods at season’s end.
Aftermath of the Kraken’s Expansion Draft
So, how are the Kraken doing this season? They sit 27th in league-wide points percentage and are being submarined by particularly poor goaltending from Philipp Grubauer, who has posted a .882 save percentage and the fewest goals saved above expected in all situations. Given that the players that Seattle chose have either left the organization or are toiling in the minors, adding one or more of my suggested selections could have made the Kraken a much more formidable force in their inaugural season.
Data courtesy of CapFriendly, Corey Sznajder, Hockey Reference, MoneyPuck, and Natural Stat Trick.