SEATTLE (AP) — Despite all the excitement and anticipation leading up to the first puck drop, the Seattle Kraken’s inaugural season ended up looking like almost every other NHL expansion season of the past 30 years.
Comparisons to the latest expansion team, the Golden Knights, were inevitable and the high bar set by Vegas in winning the Western Conference in its first season all but ensured that Seattle’s first outing was going to be disappointing on some level.
Maybe not so disappointing.
There have been injuries and illnesses – concern over COVID-19 cases nearly derailed the first game in Vegas. The goalkeeper was mediocre at first, the defense leaked at times and the score was up and down. The Kraken were regularly competitive and rarely outmatched. But it took nearly three months for Seattle to successfully execute coach Dave Hakstol’s system consistently.
“Sometimes we watch two periods and we play amazing, we control the game. And then we have a time lapse and everything falls apart a bit,” said goalkeeper Philipp Grubauer. “So we have to find structure and trust in each other and make sure we are consistent enough next year.”
Seattle finished the season 27-49-6, including a miserable nine-game losing streak in December and January and an 11-game losing streak in 12 games in February and March. Making the playoffs was an afterthought even before the All-Star break.
But there were signs of promise over the past six weeks. Seattle has gone 10-12-0 in its last 22 games, and while that wasn’t a game-winning mark, it gave the Kraken something they think they can carry into next season.
“I think we showed ourselves and others that we were out of place against a lot of these teams,” defender Jamie Oleksiak said. “Some nights we were right in the game, and I think we showed we could skate with some of the best. And I think we’ve seen progress throughout the year.
The Kraken has seen several players have career years when given the opportunity to have a bigger role.
The biggest escape came from forward Jared McCann, who led Seattle in goals (27), points (50) and was rewarded with a five-year contract extension. Defenseman Vince Dunn had a career-high 28 assists and earned a spot on the power-play units. Ryan Donato scored 16 goals and played on the first line at the end of the season. Defensemen Adam Larsson and Carson Soucy each recorded career highs in goals with eight and 10, respectively.
SEIZE THE GUARDIAN
The goaltender was expected to be one of Seattle’s strengths along with the combo of Grubauer and Chris Driedger. But injuries and defensive issues early in the season created a weakness that took months to stabilise.
Grubauer’s 3.16 goals-against average was the highest of his career. Driedger wasn’t much better at 2.92.
Seattle could move forward with the pair for next season and hope a year in the system leads to better results. The Kraken could also be looking to make a move — most likely with Driedger — with promising young goaltender Joey Daccord coming off a stellar season for Charlotte in the AHL.
SNAPSHOT OF THE FUTURE
Seattle got a glimpse of the future with the 10 games that Matty Beniers, the first draft pick in franchise history, played at the end of the season. Beniers was an immediate upgrade to Seattle’s offense and showed why he was the No. 2 overall pick in last year’s draft.
Beniers has scored a point in nine of the 10 games he has played, including three goals. He played on the first line with Donato and Jordan Eberle, and seemed at home on the NHL’s biggest stage.
Seattle also signed second-round defenseman Ryker Evans to an entry-level deal, allowing him to be on the roster heading into next season. The Kraken also have the third-best chance of landing the No. 1 pick in the NHL Draft lottery next week.
Seattle will have significant roster stability and salary cap space for next season. The team has just three unrestricted free agents – Riley Sheahan, Victor Rask and Derrick Pauliot. Seven others are restricted free agents, highlighted by Donato.
The Kraken have budgeted $23 million in cap space and draft capital, making it likely this will be an offseason of additions to the roster.
“The way we have to win, the way we’re going to win is to find the right identity. I think we’ve found that,” striker Yanni Gourde said. executions, but we have the recipe, we know what to do.”