With the 2023 NHL Trade Deadline come and gone, the Seattle Kraken remain unchanged. Not a single piece moved in or out. But while Kraken fans may have wanted some addition or subtraction, this inactivity shouldn’t come as a surprise based on general manager (GM) Ron Francis’ belief in his team as it stands. The question now becomes: Was making zero moves the right course of action?
Francis’ Trade History
Looking back on Francis’ trade activity during his tenure with the Carolina Hurricanes, he wasn’t only active in the days leading up to the NHL trade deadline, but also in the summertime. In fact, Francis was involved in 23 different deals over his approximate four-year stint as GM, some involving big-name players like Eric Staal. As for “Deadline Day” itself, of the five he has overseen with the Hurricanes, along with his first in Seattle last season, he brokered 18 trades total in the days leading up to the cut-off date. In the six deals involving the Kraken, Francis acquired a total of 10 draft picks, along with Viktor Rask and Daniel Sprong. Sprong is in his first full season with Seattle while Rask is currently playing for HC Fribourg-Gottéron in the Swiss National League.
Seattle is in a much different position now than they were last season, when the playoffs weren’t in the picture. Since the team then had pending free agents whose contracts were expiring, Kraken management were sellers leading up to the 2022 Trade Deadline. Even the moves the GM made in the summer of 2021 — similar to his time with the Hurricanes — targeted draft picks instead of major players. No surprise there, since Francis has maintained from the start that he wants to grow the team from within.
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The only trade that he has made this season was on Feb. 23, 2023, when he acquired Jaycob Megna from the San Jose Sharks for a conditional 2023 fourth-round pick. Francis also wants to keep costs low (no player on the current roster earns over $6 million annually), and head coach Dave Hakstol likes what he already has in the room. The former Philadelphia Flyers bench boss has been integral in quickly turning this team into a contender by sticking with his system, one that was very successful at the NCAA level with the University of North Dakota. But is the roster enough? Based on their recent play, that’s up for debate.
It’s been a tale of two different teams over the first two months of the 2023 calendar year for the Kraken. In January, the team won 11 games, comprising an eight-game win streak that started on New Year’s day with a win against the New York Islanders, and concluded two weeks later on Jan. 14, with a resounding 8-5 victory over the Chicago Blackhawks. But then matters soured, as the club ended the month with just three wins over their last seven games. This poor run trickled well into February where Seattle won just four times.
In these 11 losses spanning Jan. 16 to Feb. 28, the team scored a combined 18 goals, for an average of 1.63 goals per game, well below their season average of 3.50. No doubt the loss of Andre Burakovsky has been a big issue. How big? The 28-year-old has 39 points to show in just 49 games this season. For perspective, Jordan Eberle leads the team with 50 points, having played 13 more. Fortunately, it looks like Burakovsky may be back in the lineup at some point in the next couple of weeks.
Who’s the Number One Goalie?
This is a big question that needs to be answered very soon. Not only did Seattle’s scoring dry up substantially (see above), the team’s goaltending has been sub-par to say the least. Over the 18 games between mid-January and the end of February, Hakstol started Martin Jones eight times and Philipp Grubauer on 10 occasions, at one point alternating between the two for six straight games. The numbers were split almost right down the middle, with Jones losing five and Grubauer in net for six of the losses.
I’m no NHL head coach, but when you’re flip-flopping back and forth between goaltenders, especially at this point in the campaign, it doesn’t seem like the best scenario for any club. Let alone one fighting for a berth in the postseason. However, the other school of thought is that this “is” Hakstol’s plan — to go with a two goalie system the rest of the way, even into the playoffs. We have seen this happen more often in the NHL lately and it has worked. However, I still believe that it’s very important to have a designated starter especially going into the postseason.
The Kraken have 20 games left in the campaign, beginning Sunday, March 5, vs. the Colorado Avalanche. In the other 19, Seattle will face five other teams who are currently in a playoff spot in the ever-changing Western Conference standings, including three contests against the Dallas Stars, one vs. the Edmonton Oilers, single matches against the Los Angeles Kings and Minnesota Wild, before concluding with back-to-backs against the Vegas Golden Knights.
On paper and based on the standings, these are the tougher ones. However, they do have the benefit of facing struggling, non-contending teams, including the Anaheim Ducks (twice), the Arizona Coyotes (on three occasions), as well as the Sharks, Ottawa Senators, Vancouver Canucks and Blackhawks.
The fate of Seattle’s season lies in their hands. While it amounts to a hard run, their schedule is favorable. Ideally, when those two games arrive against Vegas in mid-April, though, the Kraken will hopefully already have a playoff spot locked down, so they won’t have to “gamble” with one on the line.