Heading into the 2023 offseason, the Seattle Kraken find themselves at a pivotal crossroads this summer as they prepare for their inaugural season. As the offseason unfolds, the Kraken management faces the seismic task of evaluating and making decisions on their own slate of pending free agents.
The front office – spearheaded by general manager Ron Francis – must carefully consider factors such as recent player performance, team chemistry, and salary cap implications as they progress through this pivotal period. According to CapFriendly, the Kraken are projected to have between $15-20 million in cap space before any trades or re-signings are completed, which should be enough room to lock up the key names to fair contracts.
With five key players in particular set to hit the open market, the Kraken’s decisions on either re-signing or letting go of these free agents will shape the identity of the franchise for years to come. Let’s dive into what awaits the organization this summer.
Kraken: Unrestricted Free Agents
The Kraken’s group of unrestricted free agents (UFAs) is headlined by veteran names at all three main positions: forward, defense, and goaltender.
Joonas Donskoi, Forward
Of the Kraken’s collection of free agents, 31-year-old winger Joonas Donskoi may currently hold the least leverage as a pending UFA. He missed the entire 2022-23 season due to lingering concussion issues after a collision with a teammate during the preseason.
After coming off of four straight seasons in which he scored at least 14 goals and 30 points from 2017-18 to 2020-21, Donskoi endured a nightmarish debut campaign with the Kraken. Despite playing 75 games in the year, the Finnish forward only managed to score two goals on the year. Terrible shooting luck played a role, as his 2.2% represented about a fifth of his career conversion of 10.9%.
At this rate, Donskoi’s long-term health is more important than whether or not he can contribute next season. If he decides to retire, it would be a disappointing end to an otherwise solid NHL career.
Carson Soucy, Defenseman
Despite lending his veteran savvy and underrated defensive contributions to the Kraken for the past two seasons, the writing appears to be on the wall for 28-year-old blueliner Carson Soucy.
Soucy was a frequent name mentioned in potential trade talks ahead of the 2023 Deadline, which was unsurprising given that he ranked sixth in average ice time among all Kraken defensemen. He has utility on the penalty kill (he ranked third on the Kraken in shorthanded ice time) and defends his own blue line against zone entries reasonably well, considering his size.
If nothing else, his massive 6-foot-5 frame and condor-like wingspan should have most of the NHL’s general managers ringing his agent come July 1.
Martin Jones, Goaltender
If it weren’t for the contributions of Martin Jones, the Kraken might not have qualified for the 2023 NHL Playoffs in their second season of existence.
After presumed starter Philipp Grubauer went down with an injury in late October, the Kraken were forced to turn to veteran Jones. His recent resume was wholeheartedly uninspiring given that he had failed to post a save percentage (SV%) over .900 since last doing so in 2017-18 with the San Jose Sharks.
Regardless, Jones posted a .896 SV% and a 2.82 goals-against average (GAA) while winning 23 of his 35 appearances between October and the end of January. More importantly, Jones only allowed –0.25 goals more than expected (GSAx) which says that he performed in line with his workload. He didn’t steal games, but he didn’t cost the Kraken, which means a lot, as the team ranked dead last in virtually every goalie category in 2021-22.
Grubauer eventually returned and took back the starting job in the latter half of the season while Jones faltered, but the postseason likely would have been a pipe dream if not for his relative steadiness in the crease.
Jones may be able to find a deal worth more annually or with a longer term on the open market, but the team could do worse with him as a cheap backup behind Grubauer.
Kraken: Restricted Free Agents
Seattle’s two primary restricted free agents (RFAs) were some of the team’s most impactful players at both ends of the ice in 2022-23.
Daniel Sprong, Forward
There may not be a player who better represents the Kraken’s overall ethos than winger Daniel Sprong, who finally seems to have found a permanent NHL home after joining his fourth organization before the age of 26 in 2021-22.
Not only did Sprong tie for third on the team in goals (21) and sixth in points (46), but he did so while only playing 66 games on the year and playing under 12 minutes per game in all situations.
Even though he played fourth-line minutes, Sprong’s production becomes incredible when adjusting for usage. Among all forwards to have played at least 300 total minutes at 5-on-5 this season, he ranked seventh in goals per-60-minutes, fourth in primary assists per-60, and third in points per-60, sitting ahead of some of the league’s elite offensive talents.
Sprong has undoubtedly earned himself a bigger deal, and the Kraken should be the team to give it to him, within reason. As an RFA, Seattle can extend him a qualifying offer worth under $1 million, which would continue to make him one of the best bargains in the NHL. Even if other teams came calling with offer sheets, he might feel a sense of loyalty to the team, which took a chance on him and put him in a position to succeed.
Vince Dunn, Defenseman
Last but not least is the Kraken’s de-facto top defenseman, Vince Dunn. Since being plucked from the St. Louis Blues in the expansion draft, the 26-year-old has proven the Kraken right in their assessment beyond any reasonable doubt.
After a solid but unspectacular first season in Seattle, where he scored seven goals and 35 points in 73 games, Dunn took a tremendous leap in Year Two. He finished tenth in goals (14), assists (50), and points (64) among all defensemen while ranking second by even-strength points (49).
Dunn’s underlying numbers suggested he had expanded his game beyond being an offense-only blueliner, and he helped the Kraken control the run of play at 5-on-5.
Like Sprong, Dunn may have developed a greater affinity for a team that believed in his abilities enough to elevate him in the lineup. Whether that show of goodwill is enough to coax Dunn into signing a more team-friendly deal remains to be seen, but his long-term future in the Pacific North West is undoubtedly bright.
Kraken Quietly at Organizational Crossroad
The Kraken’s free agent decisions this offseason carry notable significance beyond the 2023-24 season. These choices have the potential to cement the team’s roster-building philosophy and establish a clear blueprint for the next decade. They could prioritize retaining key (but aging) contributors to foster chemistry or pursue young, fresh faces with an eye on seriously contending during the back half of the 2020s.
Fortunately for the Kraken, an exciting 2022-23 campaign gives both the players and the executives some leeway when it comes to roster decisions. The fans have experienced tangible success and know that the philosophy behind the roster construction is sound. The 2023 offseason is just the next hurdle in the Kraken’s quest for the Stanley Cup, and there’s little doubt they are up for the challenge.