Seattle Kraken’s Pending 2024 Free Agents – Who Stays And Who Goes?

After a turbulent end to the 2023-24 season, which saw them fail to qualify for the 2024 NHL Playoffs, the Seattle Kraken and general manager Ron Francis look like they will be busy this offseason. 

The organization needs to hire a new head coach after relieving Dave Hakstol of his duties earlier this month. Missing the postseason in two of his three seasons at the helm sealed his fate, but the current roster appears to have a limited ceiling in terms of future Stanley Cup contention, and the Kraken should think long and hard about the direction the franchise wants to take. 

The 2024 NHL Draft Lottery results locked the Kraken into picking eighth overall later this summer. Seattle’s prospect pool is quickly improving and looks set to graduate a number of talented forwards into the professional ranks in 2024-25, but organizational weaknesses at defense and goaltender must be addressed in the near future.

The Kraken must also make decisions on a number of free agents this offseason, with seven total players with a reasonable expectation of playing NHL games needing a new contract ahead of next season. Players can either become unrestricted (UFA) or restricted (RFA) free agents upon the expiry of their contract, depending on their age and years of NHL experience.

Related: Seattle Kraken – 4 Keys To A Successful 2024 Offseason

The salary cap for the 2024-25 season is projected to rise to $87.7 million due to increased revenue and the paying down of debts related to the COVID-19 pandemic. This represents an increase of $4.2 million from the 2023-24 campaign (+5%), the first time the cap has jumped that much since it grew by $4.5 million (+6%) during the 2018 offseason.

The Kraken currently have around $64.6 million committed to 15 players for next season, though some of the open roster spots will be assumed by players like Shane Wright and Ryker Evans, who are still on their team-friendly entry-level contracts.

Each of the Kraken’s notable pending free agents will be listed alongside the most probable term (in years) and average annual value (AAV) of their next deal according to Evolving Hockey’s Contract Projections tool. The RFA projections assume that the player re-signs with the Kraken, while the UFA projections assume that the player tests free agency and signs elsewhere.

Unrestricted Free Agents

The Kraken are scheduled to have four notable UFAs hit the open market this offseason, one of whom has been with the team since its inaugural season.

Pierre-Édouard Bellemare, Center

Contract Projection: 1 year, $0.855 million AAV

Bellemare recovered in time to play in a few games before the end of the regular season (40 total), but I don’t see him back with the Kraken in 2024-25, even on a cheap deal.

The Kraken have several young centers, Shane Wright, Ryan Winterton, and Logan Morrison, who are vying for full-time NHL roles next season. If the organization wants to pivot towards the future, clearing out space in the lineup for these prospects is imperative.

Bellemare is still looking for his first Stanley Cup at 39 and has been excruciatingly close on several occasions. He went to the Cup Final in 2018 with the Vegas Golden Knights but lost to the Washington Capitals. He played for the Colorado Avalanche between 2019 and 2021 but moved to the Tampa Bay Lightning, who made their third straight trip to the Final in 2022 but lost to his former team in the Avalanche in the 2022 Final.

Bellemare remains a solid defensive forward and a reliable face-off winner, so he should easily find a spot on a contending team for around the league minimum.

Chris Driedger, Goaltender

Contract Projection: 2 years, $1.29 million AAV

There’s likely no one in the Kraken organization who has been dealt a worse set of cards than Driedger.

The goaltender was one of the players who made the trek to Seattle to be present for the team’s expansion draft event and immediately signed an extension with the club. Driedger struggled with injuries and consistency during his first season with the team and suffered a torn ACL while playing with Team Canada at the 2022 World Championships.

After a lengthy nine-month recovery, he spent what was left of the 2022-23 campaign in the AHL with the Coachella Valley Firebirds, where he split time with Joey Daccord and Chris Gibson. He featured in two NHL games this season but once again spent most of the season with the Firebirds as Daccord grabbed the starting role following an injury to Phillip Grubauer.

At this stage, Driedger is an over-qualified AHL netminder but may have to settle for a third-string role with a team where he can battle for the backup job. He could stay with the Kraken and hope that an injury or poor performance creates an opportunity for him, but he may opt for a destination where the road to an NHL job is clearer.

Justin Schultz, Defenseman

Contract Projection: 3 years, $3.18 million AAV

Schultz delivered on his two-year contract in Year 1 by scoring 44 points in 87 regular-season and playoff games. He also operated as a solid secondary powerplay coordinator behind Vince Dunn.

Like his teammates, Schultz saw his offensive output drop considerably, with only 26 points in 70 games last season. He struggled to keep up on the defensive end, posting a minus-23 plus/minus rating, which was the worst on the team.

Schultz’s time with the organization will likely end this summer, as the veteran rearguard turns 34 shortly after the start of free agency. 

The Kraken have a ready-made replacement in 22-year-old Ryker Evans, who played 36 NHL games this season (nine points) and also tallied 15 points in 25 AHL games. It’s almost a given that he slides into a full-time third-pairing role while assuming blueline duties on the second power play unit.

It’s much more likely that Schultz (still a capable puck-mover) joins a contender looking for additional offensive punch along the blue line who can offer him a decent final payday. The Kraken will have room, but the signing of their pending RFAs will be prioritized.

Tomas Tatar, Left Wing/Right Wing

Contract Projection: 1 year, $1.17 million AAV

Tatar struggled to mesh within the Avalanche system after signing a contract following a tryout in preseason and was traded to the Kraken a few months into the season. He finished the season with nine goals and 24 points in 70 games and never looked to be a true difference-maker.

He has an unfortunate reputation as an underperformer in the playoffs (13 points in 52 career games) and is on the downswing of his career as he will turn 34 midway through the 2024-25 season.

A team could bet they can get the Tatar, who scored 48 points in 82 games in 2022-23, but I think a retreat to the European circuit could be in the cards instead. 

Restricted Free Agents

The Kraken are scheduled to renew three key RFAs this summer, including 21-year-old center Matty Beniers, the franchise’s first-ever draft pick.

Matty Beniers, Center

Contract Projection: 7 years, $7.03 million AAV

It will be fascinating to see how the Kraken proceed with Beniers and his camp in this summer’s contract talks. He’s coming off a miserable season in which poor finishing luck saw his scoring totals drop from 24 goals and 57 points in 2022-23 to 15 goals and 37 points in 2023-24. 

Beniers’ underlying shot- and chance-generation metrics stayed about the same, so there should be belief in his ability to return back to form. It appears as though the entire team took a step back and saw their percentages crater, so improved health, more stable lineups, and an injection of offense from the youth in the minors should lift everyone’s boat. 

Beniers is an above-average passer and excels at transitioning the puck from zone to zone, so surrounding him with more talented shooters could unlock his offensive potential. Expect a shorter two- to three-year bridge deal as the Kraken evaluates which version of Beniers they will get going forward.

Eeli Tolvanen, Left Wing/Right Wing

Contract Projection: 4 years, $4.33 million AAV

The Kraken are starved for legitimate offensive talent, so locking up Tolvanen to a team-friendly deal due to his age profile will be an important step for the franchise’s next phase.

I find Evolving Hockey’s projections a tad rich, though they are betting on the already 25-year-old Tolvanen evolving into a consistent 25-goal, 50-point forward throughout the contract’s life. 

The NHL salary cap ceiling is projected to rise to around $92 million for the 2025-26 season, so a multi-year contract worth under $4 million annually could be a steal if Tolvanen fulfills his potential. There is some uncertainty, but there is lots of room for capturing value.

Kailer Yamamoto, Right Wing

Contract Projection: 1 year, $1.9 million AAV

Yamamoto’s career trajectory has been anything but smooth since being selected in the first round in 2017 by the Edmonton Oilers. The undersized winger parlayed strong showings in the AHL (34 points in 50 games over two seasons) into an extended NHL stint in 2019-20, where he scored 11 goals and 26 points in 27 games.

That momentum was halted after a 41-point campaign was sandwiched between two seasons in which he scored fewer than 30 points, which led to the Oilers declining to offer Yamamoto a qualifying offer last offseason.

The Kraken took a swing with a one-year, $1.5 million deal, which saw the winger post 16 points in 59 games. It was an underwhelming return (even for under $2 million), but his micro-stat profile paints him as a decent playmaker, active forechecker, and effective puck carrier. 

I’d take another chance on him and hope that a new coach and offensive strategy plays to his strengths, but not for much more of a cap hit than he accounted for in 2023-24.

2024 and 2025 Offseasons Represent Period of Transition for the Kraken

Though the 2024 offseason can (and will) initiate significant changes in and around the Kraken organization, I am personally under the belief that the 2025 offseason could be the most significant in the franchise’s short history.

The NHL has entertained the idea that the cap ceiling could potentially hit $92 million for the 2025-26 season, and this projected bump coincides with a number of sizable contracts coming off of the Kraken’s books. 

Reliable (but aging) veterans Adam Larsson (currently 31), Brian Dumoulin, Brandon Tanev, and Yanni Gourde (all 32) are UFAs next summer and collectively represent nearly $16 million in cap commitments. Their departures could usher in a full youth revolution and mark the start of what could be a fruitful second half of the 2020s for the Kraken.

There remains a great deal of work to be done before the Kraken reach that point of their competitive timeline, but the future is bright and should excite a fledgling but dedicated fanbase as winning the Stanley Cup remains the ultimate goal.

Data courtesy of AllThreeZonesEvolving HockeyNatural Stat Trick, and the NHL.

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About Marko Zlomislic 127 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.