The Seattle Kraken make all kinds of sense as a Noah Hanifin trade destination
Photo credit:Steven Bisig-USA TODAY Sports
By Mike Gould3 months ago
At times, it’s been a bit difficult to parse through all the whispers and narratives surrounding Noah Hanifin as he heads into what might be his final summer as a Calgary Flame.
Last week, Ryan Leslie seemed to indicate on Sportsnet 960 that Hanifin has a great affinity for the city of Calgary and could be tempted to remain with the Flames beyond the duration of his current contract, which carries a $4.95 million cap hit through the end of the 2023–24 season.
And perhaps that’s true. At this time of year, it can be anyone’s guess as to what qualifies as “real” versus “rumour.”
But, as Flames fans know all too well, it can also be dangerous to bank on any notable player re-upping with this team until they’ve actually put pen to paper. Hanifin is one of seven notable Flames set to become an unrestricted free agent in 2024, and it’s practically guaranteed that they won’t all be back.
During his introductory press conference, Flames general manager Craig Conroy talked at length about the principles of asset management and emphasized the importance of dealing with those seven pending UFAs this summer. He made it very clear that the Flames have no interest in going down the same road they followed Johnny Gaudreau and Matthew Tkachuk down in 2022.
Hanifin might just have the highest trade value of that entire group. He’s a 26-year-old defenceman with an imposing frame, great speed, a ton of NHL experience, and a strong track record when handling big minutes. He’s steady, but not super flashy.
Over his five years in Calgary, Hanifin hasn’t scored too many highlight-reel goals. He’s been a reasonably productive top-four defender commanding a reasonable salary. Even if Hanifin hasn’t necessarily lived up to his pedigree as a top-five pick, he’s hardly been a disappointment.
Maybe this doesn’t exactly sound like a ringing endorsement, and that’s the thing: for what he is, Hanifin is ultimately replaceable. And there’s a decent case to be made that the Flames could trade Hanifin for a sizeable package, sign a replacement in UFA for less money, and come out significantly ahead.
It looks like that outcome might just be in the cards. The Athletic‘s Pierre LeBrun reported late last week that Hanifin is “likely headed for a trade,” and it sure would make sense for all this to be resolved by the end of the upcoming 2023 NHL Draft — especially if the Flames are looking to recoup some picks in a deal.
Earlier this week, FlamesNation‘s Robert Munnich laid out a few different proposals involving Hanifin and the Buffalo Sabres, Detroit Red Wings, and Vancouver Canucks. You can find that article right here.
But for our purposes, we’re going to do something a little bit different a fixate on one specific potential destination: the Seattle Kraken.
They’ve got the picks
It doesn’t make a whole lot of sense for the Flames to approach a Hanifin deal from the standpoint of wanting to make a “hockey trade.” By and large, teams have overwhelmingly coveted packages of futures when selling defencemen in the past, and cap space is an asset in and of itself.
Sure, the Flames might be tempted to take a contract back to facilitate and/or sweeten any Hanifin deal, but that sort of piece shouldn’t be the focal point — and Conroy surely knows it. If he pulls the trigger on a Hanifin deal over the next two weeks, you can bank on the Flames getting at least one top-60 pick in return. They could probably get two.
Seattle has the picks to put together a competitive offer for Hanifin. Kraken GM Ron Francis drafted Hanifin back in 2015 during his tenure with the Carolina Hurricanes, and he’s helped guide the Kraken slowly but surely rise in the Pacific Division ranks. They’re at the point where it makes sense to start pushing in some chips.
Hanifin should be an appealing target for the Kraken in multiple ways. For one, he addresses an area of need: Hanifin would instantly slot in as Seattle’s No. 2 left-handed defender behind Vince Dunn. Also, because of his age, Hanifin makes sense both as a win-now and a long-term piece. It’s easy to envision Francis quickly signing his old draft pick to an eight-year extension.
Seattle only has two defencemen — Jamie Oleksiak and Adam Larsson — signed beyond next season. Vince Dunn will make it three when he re-signs. But the Kraken very much need another cornerstone player on defence, particularly with their two most expensive guys back there both on the wrong side of 30. It just makes sense.
Now, get this. The Kraken have three second-round picks this year — Toronto’s, Winnipeg’s, and their own — and all of their first-rounders for the next three years. Just looking at 2023, Seattle possesses picks No. 20, 50, 52, 57, and 84 in the first three rounds.
The Kraken already made four second-round selections in 2022. They’ve also supplemented their pool with a few shrewd undrafted UFA signings in Tye Kartye, Logan Morrison, and Ville Petman. At this point, they can afford to spare a couple of picks for the betterment of their NHL roster.
Speaking of which …
They’ve got the prospects
The Flames sure could use another high-end defence prospect. Jeremie Poirier and Ilya Solovyov showed real signs of progression in 2022–23, but the Flames’ prospect pool still lacks that true blue-chip guy on the point.
But what if they could get Ryker Evans …
The Kraken selected Evans in the second round (No. 35 overall) of the 2021 NHL Draft, their very first as an NHL club. He was a bit of a surprising pick at that spot — he turned 20 less than six months later — but he’s since established himself as one of the very best defence prospects in hockey.
Evans, who is from Calgary, recorded six goals and 44 points in 71 games as a rookie defenceman with the AHL’s Coachella Valley Firebirds in 2022–23. The five-foot-eleven lefty has added four goals and 22 points in 24 playoff contests to help the Firebirds reach the 2023 Calder Cup Final.
Given the choice, Seattle would likely prefer to part with one of its 2023 second-round picks over Evans in any deal, and it’s not hard to understand why. Evans more than makes up for his smaller stature with his strong skating ability and terrific offensive instincts. He might even be able to challenge for NHL games as soon as next season.
Seattle’s prospect pool goes far beyond one player. The three forwards the Kraken selected in the 2023 second round — Jagger Firkus, Jani Nyman, and David Goyette — would all be excellent additions to the Flames’ ranks, as would Tye Kartye, who made an impact with Seattle in spot duty during their 2023 playoff appearance. There’s a lot to like.
They’ve got the cap space
Seattle is currently projected to have a shade over $20 million in cap space for the 2023–24 season with 15 players under contract. Their lone restricted free agent of major consequence is Vince Dunn, who could command north of $6 million yearly after his breakout 64-point performance in 2022–23.
After that, the Kraken will still need to agree to terms with RFAs Morgan Geekie, Daniel Sprong, Will Borgen, and Cale Fleury, but they really shouldn’t cost that much at all. Assuming the Kraken intend to be a cap team in 2023–24, they should have more than enough space to make a significant addition (or two) this summer.
One potentially complicating factor is Chris Driedger’s contract. The former Calgary Hitmen goaltender has shown promise at various points during his NHL career but missed most of the 2022–23 with a torn ACL and was relegated to AHL backup duty upon his return to action in late February.
Driedger has one year left on his deal at a $3.5 million cap hit, although Seattle was able to save a little money last year by burying his contract in the AHL. Daily Faceoff‘s Frank Seravalli recently reported that the Kraken have been looking to shed Driedger’s contract outright.
Driedger could feasibly return to the NHL as a backup or tandem goaltender next year, but his deal is a little rich for the Flames to absorb (and, either way, they have no room for another goaltender). But, if it would convince Seattle to part with more assets, could the Flames take Driedger’s contract back in a Hanifin deal for the purposes of buying him out or flipping him elsewhere with retention?
The good news is that Driedger’s buyout is pretty palatable, offering $3 million in savings for the 2023–24 season and a $1.5 million charge in 2024–25. Sure, the Kraken could probably just incur those charges themselves, but might it not be easier to pay the Flames to absorb the costs? They’d certainly have to make it worth Conroy’s while. (Editor’s note: This is basically what happened with the Eddie Lack trade to Calgary years ago, where the Flames accepted Ryan Murphy in the trade with the understanding they would buy him out so Carolina didn’t have to.)
A basic framework …
This is prime trade proposal season, and we’re not about to be left out of all the fun. So, just for kicks, and with an eye to all the preceding information, here’s a rough sketch as to what a Hanifin deal with Seattle before the draft might look like.
To the Kraken: D Noah Hanifin (1 year x $4.95 million; no extension in place)
To the Flames: 2024 1st (lottery protected), 2023 2nd (No. 52), D Ryker Evans, G Chris Driedger (1 year x $3.5 million)
Let us know in the comments what you think.
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