The Seattle Kraken have a number of key decisions to make this week around who they will be selecting to form their first ever team. The 30 players that they select have to meet a number of criteria, as we broke down earlier here, and more importantly, will need to develop into a cohesive unit that can be at least somewhat competitive in their first season.
For the Calgary Flames, it seems unlikely that they will be as lucky as they have been in the past. It does not feel like a Deryk Engelland type of selection this season, and the Flames instead will almost certainly be losing a more substantial piece of their team. While many think the pick could be Captain Mark Giordano, there are some incredibly strong arguments against this selection as well. Let’s break down the pros and cons of each of the major pieces that could be selected by the Kraken.
For the Kraken, the best case scenario if they select the Flames’ captain is he is their top line defenceman who can play 20+ minutes a night each and every night while also playing on their first power play and their first penalty kill units. Worst case scenario, he is a decent second pairing defenceman who plays mostly power play and penalty kill minutes while leaving the heavier minutes to someone else. Either way, this is a win in the eyes of the Kraken.
On top of getting a core leadership guy, the Kraken also acquire a potential trade chip for the deadline next year. If they end up not being a playoff contender in a very weak Pacific Division, the Kraken could move Giordano to a contender in exchange for picks or prospects. While his contract value is high, if Seattle can retain salary, he would be an instant upgrade to any team’s defence going into the postseason. This feels like a no-brainer for the Kraken.
The downside for the Kraken is he is going to be 38 years old when the season starts, and has already taken a substantial step backward since winning the Norris Trophy just two years ago. What one more year of Giordano aging will do to his abilities on the ice is anyone’s guess, but he likely is reaching the end of his career. The one-team man will likely be looking to retire shortly, and while he will be good for one season, his cap hit of $6.75 million is hefty.
If the Kraken think that they want to make a splash next season, Giordano may be their guy, but for the Flames who will be fired up going into this season, losing their captain will be a big loss both on and off the ice. With the price to keep him rumoured to be both a first- and third-round pick, the Flames should be unwilling to mortgage their future to retain the services of their captain. That being said, if that price went down to what the Flames think that they could get for him at the deadline next year, it may be worth exploring the option.
Expected to be one of the steals of the 2015 NHL Draft when the Flames picked him in the second round, Oliver Kylington‘s path to the NHL has been blocked by a number of key pieces ahead of him. As such, he has languished in purgatory between the AHL and the press box, not a great spot for a young defenceman. Seattle could be the life raft that he needs to reinvigorate his career.
For the Kraken, they get a highly mobile defenceman with strong offensive upside and high potential. He clearly is way too good for the AHL, and likely needs to just see NHL action to improve. If the Kraken are looking to build into the future, Kylington could be a piece to build around for a number of years. His price tag is also very enticing, and wouldn’t put any kind of strain on the Kraken’s financial position.
Kylington is also a highly marketable player for a Kraken organization that has placed diversity and inclusion at the forefront of its values. With them partnering with organizations like Black Girl Hockey Club to hiring the first Black radio play-by-play announcer in Everett Fitzhugh, bringing in an excellent Black defenceman seems like just one more reason that Kylington would be a fit.
While Kylington was highly touted in his draft year, and the Kraken are highly analytics focussed, the question becomes how highly does he project? Now 24 years old, Kylington has yet to find his way to being an NHL regular, and has been unable to usurp undrafted college free agent Connor Mackey for minutes at the highest level. This does not bode well for the Kraken who would be taking on a good deal of risk in this move.
On top of that, he is a pending RFA who will need a new contract, which won’t be hard to fill, but he likely won’t net the Kraken much if he needs to be traded. When compared to the potential trade upside for Giordano, even if Kylington has a massive year this year, it feels unlikely that he would net them the same level of return.
Kylington is the second best option on paper with some unique upside, but for the Kraken, it is more likely that they go another way.
The difference between a team and a group of players is the common belief in a mission and a vision, and in order to transition from the latter to the former, you need someone to instill the beliefs in the group. Milan Lucic would be that player. A proven leader in the NHL, Lucic would be the type of player who would set the tone early in the locker room and develop the organizational culture that the Kraken need to succeed right away. This is one intangible that every team needs.
On top of that, he has proven in Calgary that he can still play. Lucic put up 23 points in 56 games, good for eighth on the team. He has also been a prime playoff performer for the Flames, putting up six points in 10 games in 2019–20, tied with Elias Lindholm and Mikael Backlund.
From a cap perspective, the hit is large. Lucic carries a $5.25 million cap hit this season and next, which includes a full no-movement clause. However, his actual cash owed is nine million, which is a substantial saving for owners. While this is still more than they would pay Giordano if selected, they would also have Lucic on their team for an extra year to help set the tone in the room.
There is no need to sugarcoat it, Lucic brings a lot of intangibles to the table, but he has been luckier than he has been good for the Flames. He has scored more goals than his expected goals would suggest he should, and at some point those numbers are due to come back to normal. He is also 33 years old with a couple more seasons under contract, and given the way he plays, he could fall victim to Father Time sooner than later. With a full no-movement clause, this contract could become a lead balloon very quickly.
As great as the intangibles would be, he just doesn’t quite fit the bill for the Kraken.
Derek Ryan was a glue guy for the Flames this season. While he was primarily a bottom-six centre, he added much needed stability to the bottom group, and was the piece that made that group substantially better. With a rotating cast of players, Ryan was the one staple that kept the group together, which shows the value that he brings to any organization.
On top of that, while he is a UFA, his contract likely will be less than the $3.125 million dollars he earned this past year, making him a good budget signing for the team. The Kraken, like every team, need strong bottom six players if they want to be competitive, and Ryan—the Washington-born skater—gives them that in spades.
A bottom line guy with no contract? No thanks. As good as Ryan is, the Flames have better players available to select from, and with Ryan as a UFA, the Kraken can offer him a deal in free agency to stay with them once the draft is over. With players under team control available, it doesn’t make sense to take Ryan, who might want to play in Seattle anyway and can be had in free agency.
Remaining players under contract
The Flames have two more skaters available that are under contract and available in the Expansion Draft: Byron Froese and Brett Ritchie. Leaving aside the former who—while a great AHLer—is likely destined to be just that, Ritchie is a strong energy guy, who could bring grit and tenacity to the bottom line. Given that Ritchie, a pending UFA, was the player that the Flames opted to re-sign, the Kraken may see something in him that many fans do not.
This however is unlikely as they have a strong analytics focus, and will rather go for a player with more offensive upside than the former second-round pick.
The Kraken could also opt to go a different direction, selecting one of the Flames’ four available RFAs: Glenn Gawdin, Justin Kirkland, Dominik Simon, Matthew Phillips, or Tyler Parsons. Gawdin has shown he can be a reliable two-way centre at both the AHL and NHL levels. He likely is the Flames’ most NHL-ready prospect in the system, and is almost certainly going to spend a good chunk of the season with the big team next year. A cheap depth option in a flat cap era, Gawdin could be a piece that the Kraken eye simply for his versatility and price tag.
It almost certainly won’t be either Simon or Kirkland, as neither have shown much in the way of promise at the NHL level to this point. While Simon was expected to be the answer on the right side of Johnny Gaudreau and Sean Monahan, that clearly did not happen.
Parsons is an intriguing redemption story. Someone who has suffered numerous injuries over the course of his career, but was once a Memorial Cup winner and a top prospect of the Flames, Parsons could be a nice piece down the road, but with his history of injuries, he likely isn’t the pick, especially with how many better goalies are available to be selected.
Finally, Matthew Phillips spent the year being the Heat’s top scorer, and is on track to be in the NHL next season. He got into his first game at the end of last season, and looks to be ready for more soon. With the cap and his performance, it would be impossible to rule him out of the selection process, but it seems unlikely. If the Kraken are looking to win-now and then build up a prospect pool down the road, Phillips probably does not give them enough to justify a pick. This is good news for the Flames, who clearly really like the diminutive right shot winger.
The Flames also have seven players left exposed as UFAs: Josh Leivo, Zac Rinaldo, Buddy Robinson, Michael Stone, Nikita Nesterov, Alex Petrovic, and Louis Domingue. Nesterov is already in the KHL, Domingue was the Flames’ taxi squad guy last season and with the number of netminders available, he likely won’t be the selection. Stone could be a fit, but he is likely not better than Giordano for them, in spite of him likely earning just around the league-minimum.
The remainder are not quite good enough to justify selecting now given the Kraken could simply offer them a contract in free agency should they choose.
What does it come down to?
It seems to come down to either Giordano or Kylington. There are valid arguments for both players to be selected but if experts are to be believed, the Flames will be losing their captain in this year’s draft. While Giordano is 37 years old and has taken a step backwards compared to his late-blooming prime, the impact that he has both on the ice and off it is still enormous. He is a net-positive player, and someone that the Flames can rely on at both ends of the ice night in and night out.
The Kraken will get an established leader, and the type of player who will make them a better team and a better franchise. While there is still time for the Flames to make a deal, expect there is a good chance that the Flames will say goodbye to their longest tenured player when the Kraken make their selections.