The Seattle Kraken approached the Expansion Draft differently than the Vegas Golden Knights in a number of ways. They did not make any side deals, they wasted fewer selections on players they did not intend to sign, and they made fewer trades after the draft. While the results were too similarly deep teams, with the Knights adding talent through side deals and the Kraken going after several big free agents, Vegas did not face the roster crunch that Seattle is now staring down. The Knights pared down their roster strategically early on, while the Kraken are seemingly waiting to see how the preseason plays out. With those game already underway, the regular season is right around the corner and the Kraken’s inaugural 23-man roster is far from set.
The biggest question facing the NHL’s newest franchise is just how risk-averse are Ron Francis and company. Francis was a slow and methodical builder in Carolina who was actually criticized for taking too few changes and missing out on potential big swings. That Francis would look at this current roster and see a worrisome number of potential waivers casualties – and he would be right. CapFriendly currently projects forwards Morgan Geekie and Kole Lind and defensemen Dennis Cholowski and Cale Fleury as being among those sent down to the AHL. The odds of any of those players clearing waivers, nevertheless all five, seem slim. Geekie especially would be a can’t-miss waiver claim (and as such won’t be waived). Lind and Fleury are each only 22 and were highly-regarded prospects in the 2017 NHL Draft, while Cholowski has a 2016 first-rounder and already has 100+ NHL games under his belt.
Yet, the trade-off is obvious. The Kraken could take their chances and try to slip some or all of these names through waivers and establish elite depth in the minors or they could find space on the roster to avoid the threat of waivers. The latter would not be easy. Again, CapFriendly already has Seattle at 24 roster members, one more than is permissible. This is likely in recognition that Yanni Gourde is expected to begin the season on the injured reserve, but still presents issues once he returns. Clearly space for upwards of four additional contracts is a daunting task. The roster is rife with veteran talent, all of whom have been skating together in camp and building chemistry. The vast majority simply will not be assigned to the AHL, but even those on the bubble may have carved out a role for themselves already. Could the Kraken demote late-summer signings Riley Sheahan and Ryan Donato? Possibly, but that is just two openings and both at forward. On defense, there is seemingly no one that could be sent down and the Kraken are not going to carry nine or ten blue liners.
All of this leads to the real roster crunch question: trade or cut? Seattle will have to decide who they want on the 23-man roster and from there decide whether to test the trade market on the outliers or take the zero-sum approach of waivers. They would have little leverage in making deals with the roster crunch looming unless they decide to dangle players with enough value to create a bidding war. Constructing their opening night roster thus could mean determining not the 23 best players, but the 23 players that maximize their value with the others either possessing trade value or lesser waivers risk.
The roster crunch could go in a number of different directions for the Kraken. The one thing that is certain is that NHL’s newest roster is not going to look the same by the franchise’s regular season debut. Change is coming and it is key for the expansion club that they are the right changes.