Mailbag: Krakens chances for expansion success, underrated NHL players

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Here is the Nov. 25 edition of the mailbag. NHL.com staff writer Amalie Benjamin is pinch-hitting for senior writer Dan Rosen this week. If you have a question, tweet it to @drosennhl and use #OvertheBoards.

 

Do you think the Seattle Kraken will have similar franchise success to that of the Vegas Golden Knights? The actual team they put together and the fan base they create? What do you think Seattle’s biggest challenges will be? — @sammstormborn

I’ve been fascinated by the Kraken as they’ve slowly built their front office and scouting staffs, creating a franchise with a bit of a different look and ethos from some other teams. I think the prevailing thought was that going through the 2021 NHL Expansion Draft and having early success would be much harder for the Kraken than the process was for the Golden Knights, given the lessons other NHL general managers have presumably learned from the 2017 NHL Expansion Draft, which led to the Golden Knights reaching the Stanley Cup Final in their inaugural season in 2017-18. And then the pandemic struck and brought with it a flat NHL salary cap ($81.5 million again this season).

There are a lot of teams with cap issues, which could mean quite a few talented players who otherwise wouldn’t be available now may be, and the Kraken could take advantage. Pair that with the possibility of Seattle hiring the very coach that took the Golden Knights to that Final, with Gerard Gallant available, and the Kraken could have some advantages the Golden Knights did not. 

That being said, it’s hard to predict everything that will happen this season.

As for the fan base, between the natural rivalry with the Vancouver Canucks and the fact that they collected deposits from 35,000 potential season ticket holders with a waiting list of 60,000-plus as of September, I think the Kraken are in a very good place. And that name and logo certainly don’t hurt. 

Put me down as bullish on the Kraken’s chances of being good early on, though it would be a lot to ask of them to be as good as the Golden Knights in their first season. 

 

Do you think having prospects playing games over in Europe will give them an advantage when they come back from training camp over veterans they’re battling for spots? — @spudsusa27

For this one, I think back to a conversation I had recently with Boston Bruins coach Bruce Cassidy. We were talking about Bruins defenseman prospect Jakub Zboril and his potential to be among the players considered for as many as two openings on the left side after Torey Krug signed a seven-year contract with the St. Louis Blues on Oct. 9 and with Zdeno Chara an unrestricted free agent. 

“We watched him early this year in the Czech Republic playing games, he’s more engaged,” Cassidy told me. “So maybe now he’s turned that corner a little bit.”

With teams able to watch and scout their players who are on loan to teams in Europe, as Zboril is to Kometa Brno, they’re able to understand where their games are, how they’ve trained through the time off, and what they could bring to their NHL clubs come training camp. I’d also suggest that it’s a significant advantage for those players, who will come to camp in midseason form. Many of the veterans have been off since September (at best) or March (at worst), with the season start being targeted for Jan. 1. That’s a long layoff, especially for a player with older legs. 

We saw during the Stanley Cup Playoffs that the situation tended to favor teams that were younger and faster, which is where the NHL is going anyway. I would not be surprised to see more prospects unseat veterans in training camp than usual this year, especially those who’ve taken the chance on heading to Europe. 

 

Any update on Zdeno Chara’s FA status? I’m debating whether the radio silence is good or bad? — @bruinsgirl33

I’ve always thought a deal between the Bruins and Chara would get done. My confidence has waned slightly as the days have gone on and there has been no announcement. And yet, I still believe that it will eventually happen. 

I asked Bruins general manager Don Sweeney about it Monday.

“Nope. Same status quo there,” Sweeney said. “Waiting to reconnect with (agent) Matt [Keator] and Zdeno. [Chara] continues to evaluate what the landscape of the League looks like and we’ll see where it goes. We’ve had constant communication, but hopefully we’ve got a target date (for the season start) here at some point in time in the near future and we’ll see what the League determines.”

Ultimately, it makes sense for him to sign with Boston, even if it’s not the slam dunk it once seemed. 

I think the most difficult thing for a return to the Bruins is a change in role. It’s clear Chara is no longer a top-pair defenseman at 43 and, though he still brings value, he won’t play the same number of minutes and in the same situations that he has been, though he remains a monster on the penalty kill.

Though Chara has gotten interest from other teams, he has also said he would like to return to Boston, where he has been the captain since his arrival for the 2006-07 season. He is comfortable in Boston, the Bruins have a chance to deliver him a second Stanley Cup championship — he won in 2011 with Boston — and he has the captaincy, which would be unlikely elsewhere. 

It appears Chara is waiting for more details about this season, the format and dates and other information that is still unknown. And though there’s certainly a chance he will be wearing another uniform this season, my belief is that he’ll be in his customary black and gold. 

Video: Will Zdeno Chara be staying in Boston?

 

Give me five underrated players that currently don’t get enough credit. — @theashcity

I’m not going to claim that these are the five most underrated players in the NHL because there are more than five who are deserving of more publicity, but here’s a handful worth keeping your eye on: Florida Panthers forward Jonathan Huberdeau, Nashville Predators defenseman Ryan Ellis, Minnesota Wild defenseman Jared Spurgeon, Carolina Hurricanes defenseman Jaccob Slavin and Columbus Blue Jackets forward Oliver Bjorkstrand.

OK, now it’s your turn. Who’s your most underrated in the NHL? 

Debate that on your Thanksgiving Zooms. 

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