The tortoise and the hare, one of Aesop’s fables, is one of the first stories I remember from my childhood.
No doubt, many others do as well. But in case you grew up under a rock or at the top of a secluded mountain, the story goes like this — an overconfident hare mocks a slow tortoise and the tortoise challenges the hare to a race. The hare takes a commanding lead and stops for a nap while the tortoise, slowly, but steadily, reaches the finish line first.
Although no story is, as the saying goes, a tale as old as time, this one is pretty close.
And it came to mind this past week as the Seattle Kraken began putting together its roster for its inaugural season, which, depending on your level of tolerance, could be considered either good or bad news.
It’s safe to say thus far, Seattle has taken the tortoise’s path; and I can’t entirely blame the franchise’s front office for going that route.
This year’s expansion draft was always going to be different than the one that took place four years ago when Las Vegas entered the league. Contrary to the comments you see on web articles, general managers are smart. They weren’t going to get fleeced again; they weren’t going to panic or overpay desperately in side deals to keep players they had to expose in the process.
Still, I think it’s fair to say that many hockey writers and commentators were surprised by the lack of fireworks surrounding the expansion draft. I would count myself as one of them.
Only a fortune teller can say whether or not that strategy will pay off, but I do see a method to the madness here.
The COVID-19 pandemic has ensured the salary cap will state flat at $81 million for at least the next couple of years. Cap space and flexibility has been crucial to leveraging beneficial trades, and it allows the Kraken to grow slowly, rather than take on too many big contracts, of which other teams wish to rid themselves. But it also may require more patience.
No one expects Seattle to do what Las Vegas did in its first year — win the Pacific Division and march all the way to the Stanley Cup Finals. But in a weak division, I do think it’s fair to expect Seattle to be in the playoff hunt.
I don’t think the roster is there yet, but there is still plenty of room for Seattle to add talent and retain that precious cap space. There’s no doubt the roster needs more skill and scoring, and they certainly could take big swings at a top player, such defenseman Dougie Hamilton, who is considered the top player at his position on the free agent market. He’s under 30 and in the prime of his career.
There are certainly things I would have done differently.
I would have liked them to take James Van Riemsdyk from Philadelphia instead of Carsen Twarynski, and I don’t just say that because I saw him play high school hockey in New Jersey many years ago. Van Riemsdyk isn’t a star player by any means, but he’s a big presence in front of the net and has consistently produced as a good second-line option everywhere he’s played. His $7 million cap hit would have come off the books in just two seasons.
I’d also have to say I’m not entirely impressed with Seattle’s draft choices outside of Matthew Beniers and Ryan Winterton. They went way off the board in the second round, picking a defenseman who was ranked No. 192 among North American skaters by the NHL’s Central Scouting Bureau and went undrafted in his first year of eligibility. Even if they liked him, I can’t help but think he would have been available later in the draft. If they wanted to take a risk, Finnish forward Aatu Raty, the No. 3 ranked European skater, was sitting there available.
But there were praise-worthy moves as well.
Beniers was the perfect pick to start a franchise. He’s a highly reliable, skilled two-way center who isn’t the flashiest player around, but always seems to make an impact on the game.
Bringing aboard goaltender Chris Driedger in the expansion draft was one of their best picks. Driedger has the chance to be a quality goaltender in the NHL and was only expendable because the Florida Panthers had an emerging star in Spencer Knight, who recently led the United States to gold at the 2021 World Junior Championships.
The Kraken were able to build a solid foundation — they’ve got a roster that will play hard, physical hockey and do it with a lot of energy. But there is definitely more work to be done to turn the team into a contender.
Let’s hope it turns out as well for them as it did for the tortoise.