As part of his Wednesday article on the Kraken’s trade deadline impact, The Athletic’s Pierre LeBrun reported that the Kraken will complete their $650 million payment to the league by late April, which LeBrun noted is just a little later than Vegas four years ago. The Kraken’s expansion draft is more than three months away and the team doesn’t start play until October, so on the surface it may seem that there’s no issue with that timeline. What’s the hurry? Well, it may be putting the Kraken at a competitive disadvantage.
As present as they are in all the league’s affairs, the Kraken aren’t an official NHL franchise just yet. They have a GM, a logo, a soon to be finished arena, and employees, but they won’t officially join the league until the last payment closes. Once they become an official franchise, the Kraken can then begin signing free agents and making player transactions like every other team in the league.
While the Kraken won’t need a full roster of players until October, college free agent season has already begun and teams are currently in the process of negotiating with players who have completed their NCAA season. Josh Dunne, Mike Hardman, and Jordan Kawaguchi signed with teams right away while Matt Kiersted, who according to some is the top college free agent of this year’s class, was signed by the Florida Panthers just two days ago. Coveted free agents like Akito Hirose (younger brother of Red Wings forward Taro Hirose) and Michigan goalie Strauss Mann remain unsigned, but probably not for long. Because their final payment isn’t complete, the Kraken are forced to sit on the sidelines while other teams scoop up these players.
What kind of players are the Kraken missing out on? College free agents don’t tend to be superstars, and can be very hit-or-miss. Torey Krug, Kevin Hayes, Justin Schultz, and Tyler Bozak stand out as recent college free agent success stories. However for every Krug or Hayes, there are several Jimmy Veseys. Jimmy Vesey, who signed a bonus-laden contract with the New York Rangers in 2016 after much fanfare, never lived up to expectations and has found himself on the waiver wire this season. Ultimately, the median outcome for a college free agent is somewhere between useful depth player and career AHLer. This year’s college free agent class doesn’t feature a can’t miss player like some other years, but there are several intriguing options like Hirose and Mann that could be good additions to the Kraken’s prospect pool. The bottom line is, if there is a college free agent that Ron Francis likes, right now he can’t sign him- and that’s a problem.
I know that finances are always a tricky subject and that applies even more so during a pandemic. But the delay in the Kraken’s final payment to the league is now costing them a chance at players that could contribute to their success. This will be a situation to continue to monitor, as even more free agents, those currently playing Canadian junior hockey, will start to sign with teams soon. Hopefully the Kraken will close their final payment as soon as possible.