Just a little before 12:30pm PT on a Tuesday afternoon, general manager Ron Francis stepped down from the podium to don his mask and prepare for a pretty big upcoming event.
“Dinner with the family tonight and a zoom call with my daughter since she won’t be here,” said Francis.
Celebrating his 59th birthday, the Kraken general manager spent an approximate 22 minutes with members of the media following Tuesday’s practice, at one point playfully accepting a drop in with CEO Tod Leiweke for a birthday greeting.
Before and after the drop-in, the Kraken big picture, tied into the current spot 24 points out of the playoffs with 27 games to play in their inaugural season, is getting closer to taking further shape with the NHL’s pending annual big events. The trade deadline on March 21, this summer’s NHL Draft, and subsequent free agency period are all ahead in the next four months.
“At this point you look at your team and there’s pieces you want to keep you believe are core pieces, and then if teams are calling on other pieces, you have to have those discussions and see what the offers are,” said Francis.
“If there’s a move that makes sense you go ahead and do it.”
Francis said the Kraken have identified a long term core to build around and a plan heading into the trade deadline and after the season. Players such as Jordan Eberle, Jaden Schwartz, Yanni Gourde, Brandon Tanev, Jamie Oleksiak, Adam Larsson, and both goaltenders Philipp Grubauer and Chris Driedger are all committed to contracts extending into 2023-24 or beyond.
Among the pending restricted free agency corps – players this summer who technically will be free to sign with other teams but will command automatic compensation to the Kraken in return – Jared McCann has vocalized his desire to stay.
So far, McCann has seized his window of opportunity, hitting a career-high 21 goals.
“He’s lived up to the expectations,” said Francis. “He’s scoring a lot of goals for us. He’s got a heck of a shot. We’ve used him in the middle, used him on the wing, so we’re really pleased with him.”
“One way or the other we’ll get something done with him I’m sure.”
Including defenseman Mark Giordano, who Francis confirmed he has spoken with regarding his future toward the pending trade deadline, the Kraken currently have a total of six pending unrestricted free agents, part of a projected group of contracts set to expire that mount up to nearly $28 million in salary cap space, potentially freed to dip into the free agent market this summer.
Francis said the flexibility of options include the green light “from day one” to spend to the $81.5 million cap limit, while opening the door for additional deals involving usage cap space as a third party broker to help with cap space limits for other teams, or if there’s a deal for a contract another team needs to trade, “we’re open for business in that angle.”
“Our plan is certainly to be aggressive again in free agency this summer,” said Francis.
Making room for center Matty Beniers, the second overall pick in last summer’s NHL Draft, also comes into play with next year’s cap mathematics. The Hingham, Mass. native has enjoyed a decorated college season as a sophomore alternate captain at national power Michigan, emerging as the program’s leading scorer with 37 points in 30 games while earning invites to both the World Juniors and Winter Olympics for the United States.
If Beniers signs a three-year, entry level deal this season immediately following the conclusion of the Wolverines campaign, his potential to fortify the Kraken lineup with an all-around, elite level skill set is projected to provide an immediate boost – his projected ceiling has been compared to future Hall of Famers Patrice Bergeron or Jonathan Toews.
The Kraken though would see the clock immediately start to tick on his contract for this year counting as the first season, a process Francis said, “is part of doing business in this world with high draft picks,” giving headway to two full seasons before the contract would expire.
Should Michigan reach the NCAA title game, their season will conclude no later than April 9.
“You have a Matty Beniers coming, you’re going to have another higher pick coming this year,” said Francis. “In two to three years, these guys are going to have their second contracts and those demand a lot of money.”
TYE KARTYE SIGNS
Francis broke news during his meeting with the media that left winger Tye Kartye, an undrafted training camp invite this past September currently with the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds of the Ontario Hockey League, signed a three-year entry level deal with the Kraken with 18 games to go in his final major junior season.
It’s been a robust one for the 20-year old forward, breaking out with a 33-goal campaign, tied for third in the league for goal scoring. Potentially a candidate to join the Kraken AHL affiliate next season, the Coachella Valley Firebirds, he’s operated as a power play trigger man with a Greyhounds leading 17 goals while operating in the program’s 1-3-1 power play scheme in the “bumper” position – one that involves a high level of hockey sense.
“He’s having a good year down there,” said Francis. “We’re not just trying to find a few players, we’re looking to fill 25-plus players in Palm Springs.”
Kartye lead Sault Ste. Marie with nine game winning goals and in shot percentage (19.4).
KRAKEN PRACTICE LINEUP, MAR. 1: