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Kraken fail to leverage position in bare-bones expansion draft

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With the process now complete, or at least almost there, one thing for certain is that each and every NHL GM learned a lot from the last expansion draft and the nightmare that was the Vegas Golden Knights entering the league with a golden ticket in their clutches. 

That is, each and every GM except Ron Francis?

This column is coming out hours after it was originally planned for the sole reason that surely, there was another shoe to drop. Because it's impossible to believe — and astounding, really — the Seattle Kraken would have managed to execute one lousy side-deal agreement with the other 30 teams involved. 

Yet, with only the player with the largest locker, Tyler Pitlick, being the only original Kraken draftee moved some 24 hours after almost every selection was leaked, it seems like reality has finally set in.

And that the Kraken fumbled this.

With once-in-a-lifetime leverage, the NHL's 32nd franchise, with an eye firmly set on competing in the future and not the present, drafted a collection of players, and one from each team except Vegas, to form a roster that is completely underwhelming on the surface.

Yes, the same thing was said about the Golden Knights, who of course defied every reasonable expectation with a group considered totally lesser-than. And it could be that the Kraken have unearthed gems themselves, and players that can break out akin to William Karlsson, Brayden McNabb, William Carrier and Tomas Nosek. 

But by choosing the best-fit approach, and not using this platform to act as a conduit in order to disperse and house talent, the Kraken failed, rather spectacularly, to mine the same sort of talent that Vegas did with this single-use moment of unimaginable leverage. 

Hadyn Fluery, a defenseman from the Anaheim Ducks, walks off stage after being introduced as a new player with the Seattle Kraken NHL hockey team, Wednesday, July 21, 2021, during the Kraken's expansion draft event in Seattle. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)
Hadyn Fluery, a defenseman from the Anaheim Ducks, walks off stage after being introduced as a new player with the Seattle Kraken. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)

There could even be a Shea Theodore or an Alex Tuch among the collection of players chosen. Morgan Geekie and the brothers Fleury seem like highly intriguing prospects with high upsides.

But if there is, the general managers that formed the protection lists and uniformly held on to their prized prospects, well, they don't see it. 

Through Pitlick, Seattle managed to add one additional draft selection — a fourth rounder — to the normal set of selections doled out from season to season. No, first-round picks like the ones Vegas used as currency to acquire the top-end talent leading its program weren't going to be coughed up this time. 

But how is it that they didn't draft a single disposable asset worth more than a fourth-round selection?

It seems the Kraken didn't acquire a single readily-flippable player worth anything of consequence on the open market. There are candidates, sure, but each were trotted out on stage at the team's expansion party, therefore signalling a strong likelihood they're meant to stay. 

That included the seemingly shell-shocked Mark Giordano, the former Calgary Flames captain who, at 37 years old and on an expiring deal, should receive incredible interest from around the league. 

It seems like an unconscionable error to have an entire catalogue of players at your disposal, many of whom could help bring back bits of futures that could feed this slow build to contention, and simply leave them be.

All we have heard in the lead-up to the expansion draft is that cap space is the most important thing, that Francis and the Kraken braintrust wants to keep the payroll as squeaky clean as can be. 

The issue is that cap space, and the financial flexibility that is so rare in this game, is that it's only a weapon if it's used. Like a timeout left on the bench, it doesn't do anything for you once the horn sounds. So for a team not interested in competing immediately despite how big and imposing its defensive core may be, and therefore without the need to push their own payroll into the upper limits, making best use of the cap space available means taking on dead money to gain incentive and, in this case, maximizing the return on futures assets.

For all we know, Vince Dunn will be a strong contributor for the next 5-10 seasons in Seattle. But are we supposed to believe that his individual value will exceed the return on Vladimir Tarasenko had the Kraken agreed to hang on to his salary for two non-competitive seasons? 

The same question could be asked of many assets available, including Dylan DeMelo. How would the extent of the return package for a defenseman half the league would probably be interested in compare to what Seattle's selection (forward Mason Appleton) can provide?

Also: there was a glut of goaltenders available and ready to be redispersed around the league — and the Kraken just took the three they plan to enter the season with?

It seems someone needed to remind Francis that extra credit isn't given to teams that don't keep bad contracts. (Though he might have one already with Brandon Tanev). 

Sweetening only one pot (so far), it seems the Kraken braintrust was convinced otherwise. Yes, GMs have clearly learned from past mistakes, but this was opportunity to improve their teams as well. 

The reported exorbitant asks from the Kraken appear to have stonewalled that. 

Failing to use an ounce of their leverage, and a position only one team in NHL history has held previously and used to build a Stanley Cup contender almost instantaneously, the Kraken will enter their expansion season with what looks to be a bad team with fewer prospects and a draft-pick catalogue that no team is envious of. 

Making matters worse, their best selection and prospective top center — Yanni Gourde of the Tampa Bay Lightning, previously — requires shoulder surgery and will miss the first six weeks.

It's not the wrong move, not trying to compete. It's actually very sensible from the Kraken standpoint to realize the Golden Knights hit the jackpot in a way that simply wasn't repeatable. 

But by turning their nose up at players who could be coveted by other teams from around the league, and instead selecting a surplus of players who are neither established or prospects worth a protection slot, the Kraken seem to have missed both attainable objectives through this highly enviable process, which is to either compete now or kickstart the methodical build.

A win for the other 30 GMs. Decidedly.

Who would have ever picked that?

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