Kraken Need Dunn to Step Up Offensively or Consider Trading Him

Throughout the offseason, there have been many discussions regarding Vince Dunn’s future with the Seattle Kraken. It’s been discussed as a part of several articles from the THW Kraken team, however, this piece is solely about him. The 25-year-old has one year left on his contract at a $4 million cap hit and could find his name popping up in trade rumors this season. He has neither a no-trade nor a no-movement clause in his contract, so general manager Ron Francis has the whole league available if he chooses to move him.

Vince Dunn, Seattle Kraken
Vince Dunn, Seattle Kraken (Photo by Christopher Mast/NHLI via Getty Images)

Dunn had a decent 2021-22 season when you look at things in black and white. He scored seven goals, 28 assists and 35 points in 73 games while playing a career-high 20:41 average time on ice (ATOI). He also led the Kraken in assists and points by a defenseman.

Related: 3 Kraken Who Could Be X-Factors in 2022-23

The problem with those 28 assists was that just nine were primary assists. To be a No. 1 defenseman in today’s NHL, you need to take an active role in leading your team’s transition from the defensive to offensive zone. An “active role” could be carrying the puck yourself or by making a solid first-pass out of the zone. He needs to take a more active role in his team’s breakout from the defensive zone, and hold onto that mindset when entering the offensive zone. If he can be more proactive in his game than reactive, he could see an increase in primary points.

Dunn spent a lot of time learning from some very successful NHL defensemen throughout his career. He won a Stanley Cup with now-Vegas Golden Knights defenseman Alex Pietrangelo, and then played with Norris Trophy-winner Mark Giordano this past season. He has the potential to become a top-pair defenseman, but he really needs to show it this season.

In the offseason, the Kraken added veteran defenseman Justin Schultz, which should take some pressure off Dunn, especially on the power play. Even further, they’ve added some much-needed firepower to their forward group; now more than ever is the time for Dunn to land some primary assists.

Justin Schultz Washington Capitals
Justin Schultz, former Washington Capitals defenseman (Photo by Sara Schmidle/NHLI via Getty Images)

If all goes well, the Kraken can look to extend the pending-restricted free agent (RFA), and maybe even lock him into a deal at the same rate, if not less. However, due to his contract right now, he can be moved wherever Francis can garner the best return. For this article, I’m going to discuss what the Kraken need to see from Dunn to consider extending him. In addition, I’ll look at different tiers of teams (Cup contender, playoff contender, rebuilding) and his potential to land with one of them if the Kraken do in fact decide to move him. Let’s dive in.

Kraken Need Dunn to Lead the Charge

It would be unfair for me to sit here and say that Dunn needs to start emulating an Adam Fox or Cale Makar. However, it’s reasonable to suggest that he should be looking to score around 45-55 points this season. He’s shown he can get to 35 points on a bad team after last season, but to truly be the team’s No. 1 defenseman, he needs to start producing like one. Even Arizona Coyotes defenseman Shayne Gostisbehere totaled 14 goals and 51 points on a team that struggled immensely, so it is doable.

Related: Kraken 2022-23 Opening Night Defensive Corps Projections

That means Dunn is going to have to drive play and be the one creating chances for his teammates. I have projected that he will be paired with Adam Larsson on the team’s top pair to start the season. Given Larsson’s defensive abilities, he should be more than capable of cleaning up offensive-zone turnovers or other mistakes that Dunn could commit. 

Despite playing 161:13 on the power play last season, Dunn only tallied 11 power-play points. Given that he only spent 15:45 time on ice (TOI) killing penalties last season, he needs to find a way to make himself invaluable to the team. If his production is insufficient, it’s not like he has the penalty kill to fall back on. The additions of Shane Wright (assuming he makes the team out of training camp), Oliver Bjorkstrand, and André Burakovsky should open the door for a ton of different looks relative to last season.

The Kraken need Dunn to step up and start producing in his role. I’ll concede that even if the point totals aren’t there, it’s imperative for him to start being the primary contributor to his stat line. If he can’t find a way to make things click, then he could find himself wearing new colors by the end of the season.

Dunn’s Potential Trade Value Varies Based on Team’s Standing

Regardless of performance, whether or not Dunn gets traded has a lot to do with the direction the Kraken are looking to go as a franchise. As things stand, they have under $2 million in cap space, and if the team is out of the playoff race by the new year they could look to free up room ahead of the 2023 free-agent frenzy. However, it’s a combination of his play and current cap hit that will affect his trade value.

It may be tough for “Stanley Cup contending teams” to have the cap space to bring him in, and they may be unwilling to part ways with a roster player who holds a high enough cap hit to make room for him. Contract aside, if he struggles during the first half of the season, then he may not be the hottest name available ahead of the trade deadline. In that case, he’d be passed over for someone who could make a larger impact. However, if a prospective team is looking to slot him into a reduced role, things could work out well for both parties.

Then there are those middle-of-the-pack, “playoff contender” teams that may be looking for that extra piece to help them into a playoff spot. If he has a good year, or even just an alright year, he could be an attractive option for those teams. Similarly to what I’d mentioned before, if he could fill a role that has less responsibility than he’s given now, he could become a valuable asset to that team.

That leads me to “rebuilding teams.” If the Kraken trade Dunn to a non-playoff team, the return could go either way. First, teams need to see Dunn as someone they can work with and potentially build around, which may be difficult if he struggles this season and his trade value plummets. However if his value is at a decent level, trading him could warrant a decent return. On the contrary, some teams could see it as an opportunity to exploit the Kraken for looking to move him, which could make it difficult to get a decent return.

Naturally, if they’re looking to trade him then it implies they don’t plan on extending his contract. If that’s the case, then they’ll take whatever return they could get from whichever team is the highest bidder. However, there is one caveat; the Kraken should avoid trading with teams within their division.

Reduced Role Could Benefit Dunn if Extended

Just because Dunn has yet to cement himself as a top-pair defenseman doesn’t mean that he doesn’t hold value for an NHL club, even the Kraken. If the team decides to hold onto him, there will have to be some serious conversations regarding his future role, and that could even impact his potential term and cap hit. He’ll likely be looking for a long-term deal, and price wise that could work in the team’s favor. 

Giving Dunn less responsibility, a lesser role, and potentially a smaller cap hit could open the door for potential free agent defensemen to be pursued next summer. MacKenzie Weegar is a player that comes to mind who’s approaching unrestricted free agency (UFA) that the Kraken should keep an eye on. Looking internally, they have prospect Ryker Evans entering his first season as a professional in the American Hockey League (AHL) with the Coachella Valley Firebirds. Pushing Dunn deeper into the lineup could have positive effects on the defensive corps’ long-term depth.

Now, I’m getting ahead of myself. However, these are ideas that the Kraken need to consider when thinking about Dunn’s future throughout the season. Despite harping that if he doesn’t step up they should trade him, I don’t hate him as a person or a player. The Kraken need a No. 1 defenseman. If he can’t grasp that role and take his game to that level, then they need to move on.

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