Kraken GM Francis Shouldn’t Spend Big on UFAs

With all the mock drafts and projected protected lists hitting the news these days, it would be easy to forget that there are other important dates for the Seattle Kraken this summer. The National Hockey League’s newest franchise is picking No. 2 overall in the 2021 Entry Draft, a spot where franchise defensemen like Chris Pronger, Drew Doughty and recent Cup champion and five-time Norris Trophy nominee Victor Hedman were selected. At forward, Evgeni Malkin went second overall back in 2004, as did Colorado Avalanche captain Gabriel Landeskog. Point being, the Kraken should select a very valuable player.

Evgeni Malkin Pittsburgh Penguins
Former No. 2 overall pick Evgeni Malkin of the Pittsburgh Penguins (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Landeskog’s name will also be heard a few days after the 2021 Entry Draft, when the NHL’s free-agency period begins. Unless he signs a new deal with the Avalanche, the only club he has ever played for, he’ll be amongst the most sought-after players on the market. With a wealthy ownership group willing to spend to the cap and an expansion draft roster, the Kraken will have more available money than virtually any other club. It’s worth asking the question if they should make a splash on July 28, or simply try to fill roster gaps and see how the inaugural season goes.

You Always Overpay the Best Free Agents

It’s established that top-tier free agents get more money and term than their often declining output truly deserves. Players who test the waters of free agency are usually at an age where it will be their last “big money” contract and, having already discussed salary expectations with their home club, believe someone amongst the other 31 (as of this year) franchise general managers will see them as the missing piece in a potential championship run, and pay them as such. One doesn’t need to look too far in the rearview mirror to find examples where these bets didn’t pay off.

Taylor Hall Buffalo Sabres
Much like Wayne Gretzky as a St. Louis Blue, Taylor Hall’s time with the Buffalo Sabres won’t be what fans remember. (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Both teams from Alberta, Canada, have had the pleasure of hosting a massively overpaid, and underproducing, Milan Lucic on their roster, the result of a seven-year, $42 million unrestricted free agent (UFA) offer by former Edmonton Oilers’ general manager Peter Chiarelli. Lucic, incidentally, is willing to waive his no-movement clause to come to Seattle in the expansion (this absolutely should not happen). Even this past offseason, a player like Taylor Hall, former first-overall pick and 2018 league MVP, was a disappointment on a one-year, $8 million deal with the Buffalo Sabres. Free agency isn’t the path to building a champion, it’s the way you add one or two final pieces to a team on the cusp of glory.

2021 Free Agent Class Does Not Spark Joy

The players who will be available to the highest bidder this summer aren’t all that attractive. Hall, as mentioned, carries the risk of disappointment, either through injury or poor play. Landeskog is good player, and a great leader in the room, but is unlikely to reach the market as Colorado will do everything in its power to keep him. The Avalanche, despite their collapse versus the Vegas Golden Knights, are a perennial Cup favourite, so it seems unlikely that he’ll look for greener pastures. Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Tyson Barrie both might leave the Edmonton Oilers, but few can forget Barrie’s unremarkable season in Toronto, or Nugent-Hopkins’ disappointing 2020-21 campaign.

Tyson Barrie Edmonton Oilers
Pending UFA Tyson Barrie will be looking for a big payday after a statistically successful season with the Edmonton Oilers. (Photo by Jonathan Kozub/NHLI via Getty Images)

The goaltenders hitting the market are almost all in their 30s, and the Kraken are in the enviable position of being able to draft the second-best goaltender from any three NHL teams only a couple days before free agency hits. Finding a netminder through free agency has virtually never paid off, and this year isn’t likely to buck that trend. Limited to forwards and defensemen, the Kraken are likely better off if they simply hold their cards, getting a feeling for their roster’s abilities and weaknesses, and looking toward the trade deadline to pump up their lineup for a playoff run if things go well.

Related: Kraken Coach Candidates Narrowed After Gallant Signs with Rangers

All of the above may be true but, in the moment, general manager Ron Francis still might make the decision to sign a player he’s admired on an opposing roster, or one he’d prefer not to play against. Even though it is this author’s belief that the Kraken should keep their powder dry, I would personally be 100% in favour of a one-year, $12 million offer to Washington Capitals captain Alex Ovechkin. Unfortunately, Ovechkin has stated he only intends to ever play for one franchise, but what a splash that would be.

Perhaps someone like Dougie Hamilton might be a good roster addition and Francis — who rarely chased the big fish as the general manager of the Carolina Hurricanes — is in a much different financial situation with his new one. Still, the frenzy on July 28 will be exciting to watch, but the best move might be for the Kraken to sit this one out.

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