In a press conference early Wednesday afternooon at the Kraken Community IcePlex, the Seattle Kraken announced a three-year contract extension for General Manager Ron Francis. The Hockey Hall of Fame honoured NHL player turned manager put together a team that advanced just one win short of the Western Conference Final in the franchise’s 2nd year.
“”We came here to try and build a championship team,” Francis said after humbly and uncomfortably listening to accolades from Kraken co-owner Samantha Holloway and club CEO Tod Leiweke. “We talked about the goals we had as a group and we wanted to accomplish not only in the NHL being as competitive as quickly as we could, but also in drafting and developing from the ground up to get sustainable over time. So that’s still our goal. We want to be a successful organization. We want to win championships and we’re going to continue working until we accomplish it.”
The “to do” list is piling up for Francis as it does for most NHL general managers this time of year. The club still needs to decide on its final goaltending tandem for next season, presumably at the moment Philipp Grubauer and Chris Driedger who are both under contract. However, that’s not etched in stone if they decide to move a bit of money in Driedger’s deal while keeping or finding a different replacement for this past season’s back-up Martin Jones.
They have decisions and deals to make or break with unrestricted free agents (UFA) Jones, defenseman Carson Soucy, and forward Ryan Donato. Mostly minor-league goalie Joey Daccord is also an unrestricted free agent. Might he end up the NHL back-up for much less than Driedger’s $3.5-million NHL cap hit?
There’s another half dozen minor league UFA’s including a few with NHL playing time, including forwards John Hayden and Jesper Froden and defenseman Gustav Olofsson.
In the restricted free agent (RFA) department, the big spotlight is on 26-year-old defenceman and the club’s 2nd-leading scorer Vince Dunn. The top pair blueliner is due a hefty raise, likely sniffing the $7-million per mark, while being arbitration eligible. That process can be expensive for a club and one would expect a long-term deal gets settled before it comes to that.
Morgan Geekie, Daniel Sprong and aging prospect Kole Lind are among the other RFA’s with arbitration rights.
Hurricanes To Kraken
Francis went from being the Carolina Hurricanes Director of Hockey Operation in 2011, to General Manager in 2014, to briefly being the President of Hockey Operations in 2018 before being relieved of his duties by new ownership. He joined the Kraken a year later on July 18th, 2019.
When asked what the biggest surprise was since taking over for an expansion team, Francis responded, “Covid”.
The response was humorous but he wasn’t kidding. It added to the challenge of hiring staff and getting other projects completed. He’s came through it with flying colors.
With the additions last off-season of Jones, Andre Burakovsky, Oliver Bjorkstrand, Justin Schultz and the emergence of previous 1st-round NHL Draft pick Matty Beniers, the Kraken improved by 40 points from their inaugural season, defeated the defending Stanley Cup champion Colorado Avalanche in Round-1 of the 2023 Stanley Cup playoffs and came within a goal of sending Game-7 of the 2nd-round against the Dallas Stars to overtime.
The farm system features similar depth, with the American Hockey League affiliate Coachella Valley Firebirds still alive in the Calder Cup playoffs and leading the Milwaukee Admirals 2-games-to-1 in the western conference final.
For all of the above, Francis will be getting paid by the Kraken for his exploits through the 2026-’27 season.
“Hopefully this is where he finishes his career,” Leiweke said.