Kraken look less threatening after conservative expansion-draft approach

The Kraken passed on most of the available big-name stars and made no side trades Wednesday, demonstrating GM Ron Francis’ aversion to risk.

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Kraken GM Ron Francis (right) picked few big-name players in the expansion draft, but ex-Islanders forward Jordan Eberle (second from left) was an exception.

Kraken GM Ron Francis (right) picked few big-name players in the expansion draft, but ex-Islanders forward Jordan Eberle (second from left) was an exception.

Ted S. Warren/AP

Seattle Kraken general manager Ron Francis developed a reputation for conservatism during a seven-year run as the Hurricanes’ GM.

That same tack — reflected in Carolina through his cautious approach to offseason signings and trades as well as his preference for a strong defense over a strong offense — was evident during the expansion draft Wednesday.

The Kraken always were expected to pass on many of the big-name, big-contract players exposed in the draft, but they passed on almost all of them. Carey Price, Vladimir Tarasenko, James van Riemsdyk, Ryan Johansen, Matt Duchene, Adam Henrique, Max Domi and many others remain with their teams.

Instead, the Kraken assembled a roster that barely eclipsed the $48.9 million salary-cap minimum. That leaves them with well above $25 million to spend the rest of the offseason and a rather underwhelming initial expansion draft class.

For every upper-end player the Kraken did bite on, they made an obscure off-the-board pick elsewhere.

Forwards Jordan Eberle (Islanders), Calle Jarnkrok (Predators), Jared McCann (Maple Leafs) and Yanni Gourde (Lightning), defensemen Mark Giordano (Flames), Vince Dunn (Blues) and Adam Larsson (Oilers) and goaltenders Chris Driedger (Panthers) and Vitek Vanecek (Capitals) should be solid pieces. Eberle, Gourde and Giordano were, in fact, the only players the Kraken took with cap hits over $5 million.

The selections of John Quenneville (Blackhawks), Carsen Twarynski (Flyers), Gavin Bayreuther (Blue Jackets), Kurtis MacDermid (Kings) and Morgan Geekie (Hurricanes) were major surprises, though.

It initially seemed likely that the Kraken had made those picks because of side deals. The Golden Knights made 10 side deals during the 2017 expansion draft, acquiring many of their eventual stars through that process, and the Kraken reportedly were asking sky-high prices in side-deal negotiations leading up to Wednesday. But no such trades happened, per CapFriendly.

The clear focus of the Kraken team assembled so far is keeping the puck out of the net.

Of the 19 skaters they picked who played regularly in the NHL last year, 12 had better defensive than offensive results last season (measuring by even-strength scoring chance rates per minute, for and against).

Only three — Eberle, Gourde and Donskoi — ranked among the top 200 league-wide in scoring-chances-for rate. Five — Jamie Oleksiak (Stars), Haydn Fleury (Ducks), Brandon Tanev (Penguins), McCann and Geekie — ranked among the top 100 in scoring-chances-against rate.

The goaltending should be a strength. Driedger feels ready to be a No. 1 goalie after his breakout year in Florida — he went 14-6-3 with a .927 save percentage. Vanecek also handled starting duties for much of last season as a rookie and, along with Joey Daccord (Senators), provides solid depth.

The full Kraken team hasn’t been assembled, however, and it would be shocking if Francis didn’t weaponize the generous cap space he preserved. The Flyers and Lightning remain desperate to unload large contracts this offseason, and the Kraken could help them out, for a price.

Francis also will be able to supplement his team with the No. 2 overall pick in the draft Friday. That selection will reveal more about his team-building mentality, too. With the Hurricanes, four of his six first-round picks were defensemen.

The Kraken also could be big players in free agency next week — after all, three of their biggest splashes (Larsson, Oleksiak and Driedger) were pending unrestricted free agents. Signing Avalanche captain and pending UFA Gabriel Landeskog, for instance, would instantly alter the Year 1 outlook.

But at least after one day of team-building, the NHL’s newest franchise doesn’t look quite as good — and certainly doesn’t look nearly as aggressive — as expected.

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