UPDATE: MAY 15, 2023 AT 9:25 PM
Did you feel it? The excitement of the Seattle Kraken playing playoff hockey? The thrill of having a successful team? The energy that a good hockey team can create? The feeling in the building when overtime angst erupts with sudden death victor’s jubilation?
ESPN’s Clark: How the Seattle Kraken got this far without big stars
The Kraken provided all of these things throughout its second season and probably a whole lot more. Yes, they fell in the Western Conference semifinals to a Dallas Stars team that was a better opponent over a full series. But this season has been huge for their growth.
They have accomplished some great things this year.
1. The Seattle Kraken has a coach.
Head coach Dave Hakstol has a system that works if players buy in, and he got them to do it. They played hard, they played smart, they were resilient and they found ways to maximize their talent – often beating teams with more marquee stars. I thought Hakstol improved his game in his second season, and he managed to trust and develop young guys in the process.
2. They have the stuff of a core around which to build.
Of course, it starts with Matty Beniers, who has proven himself up to the rigors of a full NHL season and the responsibility that comes with centering a first line. He was dynamic on both sides of the ice and should go into next season with more strength, more understanding and more stamina. But it’s clear that newcomers Oliver Bjorkstrand, Eeli Tolvanen and Andre Burakovsky have proven to be excellent signings adding to the veteran group that includes Jared McCann, Jordan Eberle, Yanni Gourde and Adam Larsson. Jaden Schwartz was much better this season (arguably their best playoff player), and I thought Vince Dunn also joined that list with significant growth this season.
3. They succeeded without giving up future resources.
The Seattle Kraken still have 10 picks (yes, 10!) in the upcoming draft, including a second-round pair, and they haven’t yet traded from the young stock of players they’re developing in the AHL or at the juniors.
4. The Seattle Kraken franchise has established its legitimacy.
They’re a team to be taken seriously, not a fad with a clever nickname and cool gear. They’ve shown the rest of the NHL that they’re for real, and that could add to their ability to grow and improve. They beat defending champion Colorado Avalanche in the first round, led a very strong Dallas team to seven games and hopefully learned what it means to take it to the next level. As Gourde said after their last game, “We’ve built something here this year.” It’s a huge accomplishment.
5. They are an integral part of Seattle’s sports landscape.
After a disastrous first season that saw canceled/rescheduled games and very little promotion of their TV product, the Kraken generated more buzz this year, and I’m told the ratings have improved. They do all the right things in the community – teach young children the game and spark interest. My own daughter plays weekly at their Northgate resort, and they even offer to buy the first batch of gear for any kid who wants to try it out. Learning to understand the sport should help this community engage.
It’s been one hell of a successful season! And now? What are they doing to build on it?
Well, before you can answer that question, you have to try this one: are they likely to be better next year or step back?
The optimist will say they have a salary cap, draft picks and a few young players willing to contribute. The pessimist will say that they have probably surpassed their talent level this season and still have questions in net (despite Philipp Grubauer’s excellent playoff run). They play in a very good division with a major star power and still lack a true scorer/power play presence that can make this unit work.
Seattle Kraken general manager Ron Francis probably understands both sides of that equation, and I would expect him to be aggressive this offseason. He resisted any desperate trades at the deadline and instead let his team grow without sacrificing the future. They’ve proven to be very capable, so now he has to give them the horses to push even further.
I’m already looking forward to next season!
The Seattle Kraken’s first inning of the playoffs ends in a 2-1 loss to the Stars in Game 7