Kraken begin journey to success at NHL Expansion Draft

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The best part of the 2021 NHL Expansion Draft wasn’t the selection revealed by an octopus at Seattle Aquarium, or the one by a flying fish at Pike Place Market, or the one by a mountain climber atop Mt. Rainier.

It wasn’t the selections revealed by celebrities from Seattle professional sports teams past and present, the Sonics, Storm, Sounders, Seahawks and Mariners, even the ones mispronounced to laughter by Shawn Kemp and Marshawn Lynch.

It wasn’t the thousands of fans at Gas Works Park on the north shore of Lake Union, wearing all kinds of Kraken gear as if the team had been there for years, overlooking more fans in boats and kayaks in the water and the skyline in the distance.

It was the fact that the scene could have been only in Seattle, nowhere else.

The Kraken embarked on their own journey in their own way Wednesday, by necessity and by design, from the players they selected to why they selected them to how they revealed them. Seattle has its own NHL roster for the first time. Time to enjoy the ride.

“There’s a lot of excitement around the city,” said forward Brandon Tanev, whom the Kraken selected from the Pittsburgh Penguins. “There’s a great buzz tonight here at the event, and I think we’re all looking forward to getting this started and getting the ball rolling here.”

 

[RELATED: Expansion Draft selection trackerAnalysis of Kraken roster]

 

The temptation is to compare the Kraken to the Vegas Golden Knights, who have had so much success since entering the NHL as an expansion team in 2017-18.

In a sense, that’s good.

The Kraken had the same expansion draft rules the Golden Knights did, far better than expansion teams of the past, and the Golden Knights have shown what’s possible. Not only have they made the Stanley Cup Playoffs four seasons in a row, they reached the Stanley Cup Final in their inaugural season and the third round the past two seasons.

“You look at the success Vegas had, right?” said defenseman Jamie Oleksiak, whom the Kraken selected from the Dallas Stars and signed to a contract. “I think we can kind of follow the same mold.”

But keep some things in mind:

We view the Golden Knights in hindsight. When they went through the 2017 NHL Expansion Draft, they wanted to be as competitive as possible right away, of course, but most importantly to build for the long term. Owner Bill Foley’s stated goal was playoffs in three years, Cup in six. No one knew how good they’d be, including them.

The Golden Knights also convinced teams to cough up extra players and draft picks to keep them from selecting unprotected players. No one expected that to happen again from the moment the NHL announced expansion to Seattle on Dec. 4, 2018. Apparently, it did not.

“I think last time GMs were more willing to overpay to protect certain assets,” Kraken general manager Ron Francis said. “This time they learned from that, and they weren’t willing to make the mistakes they made last time.”

No trades were announced Wednesday. Asked how many the Kraken had in the drawer when the NHL roster freeze ends Thursday, Francis told reporters, “Probably a lot less than you guys think there might be.”

Video: Top moments from Seattle Kraken expansion draft

The Kraken do have one big advantage over the Golden Knights and the rest of the NHL: space under the NHL salary cap at a time when the cap is flat at $81.5 million.

They did not need to use all of that cap space Wednesday; they need to spend it wisely. They can make trades starting Thursday. The free agent market opens July 28. There will be more opportunities before the season starts, before the 2022 NHL Trade Deadline and beyond.

That’s why they passed on big names with cumbersome contracts and looked for value and flexibility. Who knows what this roster will look like next week, let alone when it is cut to 23 players to start the season, let alone after that?

“We went through our choices, and there were some good players that were out there,” Francis said. “Maybe we weren’t comfortable with the cap hit on some of them, so we tried to draft the best team possible we could and still keep our cap space available to hopefully do some things as we move forward.”

The goal is not necessarily to build the best team possible for the first season. It is not necessarily to match or surpass Vegas’ success, especially in Year One. It is to be competitive as possible while building for the long term, so when the honeymoon period is over, the team is set up for sustained success.

Seattle is a fantastic sports city with passionate fans who get it. The scene Wednesday was just the latest evidence of that. Climate Pledge Arena is sold out and then some, with a long waiting list for tickets, and did you see the jerseys some of the new players modeled? They’re gorgeous. They’re going to sell just fine no matter the names on the back.

Let’s let the Kraken carve their own path and see where it takes them.

“I don’t think we’re going to compare ourselves to Vegas, but I think we’re here to win,” Oleksiak said. “We’re going to do everything we can to win.”

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