Hadyn Fluery walks off stage after being introduced as a new player with the Seattle Kraken during the NHL expansion draft on July 21, 2021, in Seattle. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)

Hadyn Fluery walks off stage after being introduced as a new player with the Seattle Kraken during the NHL expansion draft on July 21, 2021, in Seattle. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)

Patterson: Can Kraken match success of Golden Knights? Maybe

Seattle’s roster may be as talented as the initial Vegas roster, but lacks additional future assets.

OK Seattle Kraken, whadaya got? Is it going to be Viva Las Vegas time in the Pacific Northwest, or did we just go bust after hitting on a hard 16?

The dust has settled on last week’s expansion draft, the free agency tidal wave has passed, and we now have a pretty good idea of what the Kraken, the NHL’s newest franchise, will look like when they begin play in October. That leaves everyone asking one question:

Are these Kraken as good as Vegas was?

The Vegas Golden Knights, who joined the NHL as an expansion team in 2017, emerged from their expansion draft with a team that won 51 games, finished first in the Pacific Division and advanced all the way to the Stanley Cup final. The Golden Knights blew up the expansion playbook and set a new standard for what expansion teams in major professional sports can achieve.

Given Seattle operated under the exact same expansion draft rules as Vegas, the expectation in Krakenland has always been that Seattle could be something similar. So is the roster Seattle general manager Ron Francis assembled capable of following in Vegas’ footsteps and being an immediate contender?

It’s not out of the realm of possibility.

I think Seattle should be pretty good. Up front the team is nothing special, but Wednesday’s free-agent signings of Jaden Schwartz and Alexander Wennberg, along with expansion draft selections Yanni Gourde, Jordan Eberle and Jared McCann, give the Kraken just enough firepower up front to keep opposition defenses honest. Defensively the team looks solid with a top four of Mark Giordano, Adam Larsson, Jamie Oleksiak and Vince Dunn. And the goaltending is top-notch with Vezina Trophy finalist Philipp Grubauer paired with the up-and-coming Chris Driedger. This is a roster that will win games, especially in a Pacific Division filled with teams at various stages of the rebuilding process.

But although Seattle and Vegas built expansion teams that look similar on paper, the way they went about it was starkly different.

Seattle augmented its team through free agency. Before the expansion draft Francis talked about the value of salary-cap space. Well, he’s spent a lot of it. The Kraken signed three unrestricted free agents prior to last week’s expansion draft (Driedger, Larsson, Oleksiak) and added three on Wednesday’s first day of free agency (Grubauer, Schwartz, Wennberg).

This is unprecedented. Unrestricted free agents who warrant interest around the league don’t sign with expansion teams, because why would anyone who has choices sign on with a team starting from scratch? Look at Vegas in 2017. The only NHL UFA the Golden Knights were able to land was defenseman Deryk Engelland, and that was because he was a 35-year-old journeyman who wasn’t wasn’t in demand and happened to reside in Las Vegas.

But Vegas’ incredible success as an expansion franchise showed players what’s possible, and they clearly are no longer averse to joining a first-year team. Seattle can thank the Golden Knights for that. And while Seattle may have overpaid a bit for some of their UFAs, prioritizing cap space gave Francis the ability to do that.

Vegas, on the other hand, was built through side deals. The Golden Knights made a slew of side deals during their expansion draft, both to lay off specific unprotected players and to provide salary-cap relief to other teams by taking on troublesome contracts. Thanks to those moves Vegas ended up netting eight additional draft picks, including two first-rounders and four seconds, as well as four prospects, two of whom (defenseman Shea Theodore and winger Alex Tuch) were major contributors to the expansion season and remain high-impact players for the Golden Knights today. Not a bad war chest to begin a franchise with.

And those side deals? Some of Vegas’ best players (the first line of William Karlsson, Jonathan Marchessault and Reilly Smith in particular) were selected specifically so the Golden Knights wouldn’t pick other players.

The Kraken? They didn’t make a single side deal during their expansion draft. Some have blamed Francis for holding out for too much. Personally, I give credit to the league’s other general managers, who learned from the mistakes of 2017 and chose not to repeat them.

One could claim that it’s a wash, that although Seattle and Vegas took different paths, they ended up in the same spot. But there are two things that give me pause, preventing me from saying the Kraken are going to be as good as the Golden Knights.

The first is age. Vegas’ opening-night lineup in 2017 had an average age of 26.95. That doesn’t include the then-22-year-old Theodore and then-21-year-old Tuch, who weren’t in the lineup that night. Seattle’s projected opening-night lineup has an average age of 27.70, nearly a full year older. That means there’s much less chance of Seattle players breaking out in a big way, the way Karlsson did when he jumped from six goals as a 24-year-old with Columbus to 43 goals as a 25-year-old with Vegas.

The second is assets. All the additional draft picks and prospects Vegas acquired during the expansion draft gave the Golden Knights the kind of stash with which they could dramatically improve their team. Vegas didn’t do a lot of trading that first season. But one of those first rounders the Golden Knights acquired during the expansion draft was used on a player (Nick Suzuki) who was the centerpiece of the trade that brought in Max Pacioretty the following year, and the other acquired first rounder was used on a player (Erik Brannstrom) who was the main piece in the deal that netted Mark Stone two years later. Those two are now the wingers on one of the league’s best lines.

So while Seattle’s and Vegas’ initial teams may be similar in ability, the Kraken roster may not have the same growth potential, and Seattle definitely doesn’t have the same kind of resources available to continue upgrading their roster the way Vegas did. Francis is going to have to work a lot harder — or get a lot luckier — to turn Seattle into a perennial contender the way Vegas has been in its first four seasons.

So my suggestion: Be excited about this Kraken team. It’s going to be competitive right out of the gate, and in what’s expected to be a weaker division Seattle could be a playoff team.

But make sure to temper your expectations. Vegas caught lightning in a bottle, with the rest of the league working blind with the new expansion rules. The league was better prepared this time around, so it isn’t fair to expect the Kraken to match the Golden Knights’ accomplishments.

Follow Nick Patterson on Twitter at @NickHPatterson.

Talk to us

More in Sports

Seattle Mariners' Abraham Toro, center, is greeted by Julio Rodriguez, right, and Cal Raleigh, left, after Toro hit a single to score Marcus Wilson with the winning run during the ninth inning of the team's baseball game against the Oakland Athletics, Saturday, July 2, 2022, in Seattle. The Mariners won 2-1. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)
Late fireworks lead Mariners over Athetics

Justin Upton homers in the eighth and Abraham Toro hits walk-off single to give Seattle a 2-1 victory.

AquaSox's manager, Louis Boyd, Funko Field at Everett Memorial Stadium in Everett on July 28, 2019. (Kevin Clark / The Herald)
AquaSox can’t hold early lead, fall to Emeralds

Andy Thomas hits two home runs in Everett’s 6-3 defeat.

Kevin Clark / The Herald

***Silvertips Special Sections*****
Yan Khomenko signals for substitution Sunday night at Xfinity Arena in Everett, Wa on September 6th, 2015

Sports:  Silvertips Special Section
Shot on: 09/06/15
Silvertips add pair in CHL import draft

Everett selects Czechian forward Dominik Rymon with pick 57 and Swiss goalie Tim Metzger 117th overall.

FILE - UCLA guard Jaime Jaquez Jr., right, tries to get by Southern California forward Isaiah Mobley during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game on March 5, 2022, in Los Angeles. UCLA and Southern California are planning to leave the Pac-12 for the Big Ten Conference in a seismic change that could lead to another major realignment of college sports. A person who spoke to The Associated Press on Thursday, June 30, 2022, on condition of anonymity because the schools' talks with the Big Ten have not been made public said the schools have taken steps to request an invitation to join the conference. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill, File)
UCLA, USC leaving Pac-12 for Big Ten

The two schools announce they will be exiting the Pac-12 in 2024 in a major blow to the viability of the conference.

Silvertips’ Niko Huuhtanen and Giants’ Jaden Lipinski fight for the puck during the playoff match up against the Vancouver Giants on Saturday, April 23, 2022 in Everett, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
Silvertips will look to replace Huuhtanen in CHL import draft

The standout forward who scored 37 goals this past season recently signed a professional contract to play in Finland.

The roof-top sign for Climate Pledge Arena is shown next to the Space Needle, Wednesday, Oct. 20, 2021, ahead of the NHL hockey Seattle Kraken's home opener Saturday against the Vancouver Canucks in Seattle. The historic angled roof of the former KeyArena was preserved, but everything else inside the venue, which will also host concerts and be the home of the WNBA Seattle Storm basketball team, is brand new. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)
Seattle to host NBA preseason game between Blazers, Clippers

Seattle Mayor Bruce Harrell declined to comment on any recent conversations with NBA officials about expansion to the city.

Evergreen Speedway remains closed due the stay-at-home order while NASCAR will run it's first race since the pandemic began on Sunday. (Kevin Clark / The Herald)
Community roundup: Evans tops podium at Mark Galloway Shootout

Also, EvCC athletes named All-American, Tulalip native signs with MLB organization and more.

Seattle Seahawks running back DeeJay Dallas (31), wide receiver Cade Johnson (88), and wide receiver Aaron Fuller (13) walk off the field after NFL football practice Wednesday, June 8, 2022, in Renton, Wash. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)
Seahawks announce training camp registration date for fans

Fans must register through the team’s website starting Wednesday at 10 a.m.

AquaSox's manager, Louis Boyd, Funko Field at Everett Memorial Stadium in Everett on July 28, 2019. (Kevin Clark / The Herald)
Marte’s big night lifts AquaSox over Emeralds

The top Seattle Mariners prospect homers and drives in four runs in Everett’s 10-6 win.

Most Read