Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me.
That pretty much sums up my feelings towards the Seattle Kraken, the NHL’s newest expansion franchise who will be hitting the ice for their inaugural season in 2021-22.
Seattle had a puzzling Expansion Draft and doesn’t appear to boast a particularly strong roster, which is strange given some of the high-quality talent that teams around the league left available to them this summer. But nobody expected the Vegas Golden Knights to be any good in 2017-18 and they marched all the way to the Stanley Cup Final in their first season, so the Kraken shouldn’t be taken lightly.
Expansion Draft and Off-Season…
When we look back on the 2017 Expansion Draft, we see quite a few teams who got absolutely fleeced by the Golden Knights.
For example, the Florida Panthers sent Vegas two-thirds of a second line, Jonathan Marchessault and Reilly Smith, in order to protect defenders like Alex Petrovic from being selected. Also, the Columbus Blue Jackets paid a first-round pick in order for Vegas to take David Clarkson’s contract and William Karlsson, who wound up exploding for 43 goals in the team’s first season.
Teams either wised up their second time around or Seattle just wasn’t interested in doing business, because the Kraken didn’t pull the trigger on a single side deal at their Expansion Draft. They just selected 30 players and called it a day.
What made Seattle’s Expansion Draft odd is the number of players they took as simply punt selections while better players were on the table.
From the Flyers, Seattle selected Carsen Twarynski, a player who was recently placed on waivers, rather than a proven veteran like James van Riemsdyk or Jakub Voracek. It was the same thing with Columbus, as Seattle took Gavin Bayreuther, a career AHLer who they immediately let go back to the Blue Jackets in free agency, while Max Domi was on the table.
Seattle’s selections weren’t all bad, though. They managed to build a very solid blueline with an interesting blend of veterans like Mark Giordano and Adam Larsson along with interesting young talent in Vince Dunn, Haydn Fleury, and Jeremy Lauzon. They also made a few slam-dunk moves up front, such as grabbing quality veterans Yanni Gourde and Jordan Eberle.
When free agency rolled around, Seattle’s decision to leave some veteran talent on the table at the Expansion Draft started to make a little bit more sense.
With their boatload of open salary cap room, the Kraken made a few big splashes in free agency. They added 2021 Vezina finalist, Philipp Grubauer, to be their starting goaltender, and they inked a pair of quality forwards, Jaden Schwartz and Alexander Wennberg, to multi-year deals.
These are bigger free-agent stabs than the Golden Knights made in 2017, but, still, it’s weird that Seattle couldn’t pull the trigger on a single side deal in order to stockpile some draft picks. I mean, Philly paid a second-round pick to move Shayne Gostisbehere’s contract to Arizona. Wouldn’t making that same move have been better than selecting Twarynski?
What to Expect in 2021-22…
It’s difficult to say if the Kraken can have an inaugural season as good as the one the Golden Knights had, but there’s one thing we know for certain — these are two very, very different teams.
When Vegas entered the league, one of the things they had going for them was a deep offence full of good-not-great forwards who were fast and could score goals. What they lacked was any kind of veteran blueline, as their only regular defender over the age of 27 was Deryk Engelland. The Golden Knights also had a more enigmatic situation in net, as Marc-Andre Fleury lost his starting gig in Pittsburgh after a ho-hum season and there wasn’t a legitimate backup beyond him.
With Seattle, there isn’t anything near the scoring depth that Vegas had up front. The Kraken have Eberle, Schwartz, and Gourde as players who have proven they can score at the NHL level, and not much after that. On the flip side, Seattle has built a very strong blueline in front of what appears to be an excellent goaltending tandem.
Former Norris Trophy winner Giordano will lead the way alongside a defensive rock in Jamie Oleksiak, while Larsson, another shutdown specialist, should thrive playing next to puck-mover Vince Dunn. Young defenders like Fleury (both Cale and Haydn), Lauzon, and Dennis Cholowski will be pushing for playing time and give Seattle depth in the event of an injury.
In net, Seattle has given themselves quite a bit of insurance with a pair of capable goalies who can shoulder a load if the other one struggles. It’s impossible to predict how a goaltender will do in a new setting, but both Grubauer and Chris Driedger were very good last season, and it’s unlikely that both will implode at the same time. Grubauer should be the ace here, but Driedger is no slouch.
One key area where Seattle might come short of Vegas, though, is coaching. Gerard Gallant did an excellent job getting the most out of his cast of misfits, which was ideal for a brand new team full of players with chips on their shoulders. Dave Hakstol isn’t at all the same coach or motivator and his four years in Philadelphia weren’t anything to write home about.
I don’t see Seattle capturing the same magic that Vegas did but I also don’t see them being a weak team either. This is a team with a very strong blueline and goaltending duo that could be very, very hard to score on. The key will be finding players to score goals. If Seattle can do that, they’ll be a playoff team in their first season.
- Pacific Division Preview: Calgary Flames
- Pacific Division Preview: Vancouver Canucks
- Pacific Division Preview: L.A. Kings
- Pacific Division Preview: San Jose Sharks
- Pacific Division Preview: Anaheim Ducks