By Tim Booth / Associated Press
SEATTLE — What the expansion draft of the Seattle Kraken lacked in drama it made up for with quirks, production and a giant party to celebrate one of the biggest steps in the launch of the NHL’s newest team.
“I envisioned this a lot of different ways and this is unbelievable,” Seattle coach Dave Hakstol said. “All the boats on the lake behind us, the scene on the other side of the stage. It’s awesome.”
Any unknowns about Seattle’s selections evaporated when all 30 names leaked hours before the team announced its selections on the shore of Lake Union.
While surprises were absent, it was still celebratory night to introduce the nucleus of Seattle’s roster that will debut at Vegas in mid-October and will play its first home game on Oct. 23 against rival Vancouver.
One pick was announced by an octopus from the Seattle Aquarium. Another came written on a fish thrown in the city’s legendary Pike Place Market. And there was an assembly line of Seattle sports celebrities taking part, from Sue Bird to Marshawn Lynch.
Fans on all types of aquatic devices — paddleboards, kayaks and all sizes of boats — created a flotilla traffic jam on Lake Union. There were giant inflatable octopuses, makeshift Stanley Cups and when Commissioner Gary Bettman appeared next to the shore, he was soundly booed.
“It proves you’re true hockey fans,” Bettman said to the group on the water, leading to chants of “Gary, Gary, Gary.”
Of course, those fans turned out to see the makeup of Seattle’s first roster. And it became clear that flexibility with the salary cap was one of Seattle’s biggest priorities. Of the 30 players selected, Seattle committed only $54 million of a possible $81.5 million, not including a few restricted free agents selected that will push the number closer to $60 million should they stay.
The side deals and trades that Vegas fleeced the league with a four years ago were absent this time around. Vegas announced 10 trades during its expansion draft; Seattle, zero.
“Last time around (with Vegas) teams were paying a price to stay away from guys. This time, they weren’t willing to do that because GMs learned,” Seattle GM Ron Francis said. “What they were looking to do is get us to take bad money or bad contracts in order to leave somebody exposed and for us we think (cap space) was the most valuable thing asset we had right now, especially in potentially a flat cap environment for a year or two.”
Defense was clearly a priority for Seattle, whether to build its own depth or for the opportunity to flip players for other options. A few seem locks to stay like Adam Larsson and Jamie Oleksiak, both unrestricted free agents who signed long-term deals with Seattle. Larsson got a $16 million, four-year deal to become the pick from the Edmonton Oilers, and Oleksiak got $23 million over five years.
Veteran Mark Giordano from Calgary was thought to be a possible option for flipping, but seemed unlikely when he walked on stage and pulled on the Kraken home jersey.
Giordano, 37, has the biggest cap hit of any player the Kraken selected but could soon wear the “C” when they open their inaugural season.
“It feels a little bit different today, but it’s been crazy last day or so,” Giordano said. “This is the first time in my career I’ve ever been drafted, so thank you to the Kraken and I’m happy to be here.”
As far as other players selected, the Kraken got their goaltender in late-blooming Chris Driedger, and veteran forwards Jordan Eberle and Jared McCann. Seattle took Tampa Bay forward Yanni Gourde but he’ll miss the first month of the season at least following shoulder surgery.
Seattle also passed on big-money goaltender Carey Price fresh off backstopping Montreal to the Stanley Cup Final, choosing instead to sign Driedger to a $10.5 million, three-year contract.
“When I kind of came to terms, I had no clue who my goalie partner would be,” Driedger said. “I’m kind of just betting on myself in that situation. In the NHL there’s going to be competition wherever you go.”
Price’s cap hit of $10.5 million — annually — for the next five seasons, plus the 33-year-old’s questionable injury history, led to Seattle passing on him.
“Any time you see a name like Carey Price available, you have to consider it,” Francis said.
Seattle also took goalies Vitek Vanecek from Washington and Joey Daccord from Ottawa. Driedger and Vanecek combine to cost less than half of Price.
Eberle, one of a handful of players on site, called it a “new challenge.”
“You don’t get many opportunities to be part of a new franchise,” said Eberle, who came from the New York Islanders. “Any time you get that opportunity to bring the Cup to a city that’s never had it before, it’s pretty special.”
Seattle had the Stanley Cup once before in 1917 when the city’s team was the Metropolitans.
It’s up to Francis and the Kraken to try to bring it back, and the expansion strategy seemed to mimic the Golden Knights making some off-the-board picks rather than taking big stars.
“I have a tremendous amount of faith in Ron Francis’ ability to build a team,” Driedger said. “He knows what he’s doing.”
Boston defenseman Jeremy Lauzon will go down in the record books as Seattle’s first expansion draft selection. Kole Lind from rival Vancouver was the 30th.
“A great list of guys here,” Oleksiak said about Seattle’s initial roster. “It’s a new team team and it offers a lot of opportunities for guys and it’s going to be a lot of fun.”