The Vegas Golden Knights impossibly raised the bar for future expansion teams by winning the Pacific Division title and reaching the Stanley Cup Final in their inaugural 2017-18 season.
But the Seattle Kraken reinstated the belief that expansion teams would struggle in their first season when they finished last season at the bottom of the Pacific League with 60 points.
One year later, the Kraken has 96 points and is heading into the postseason after clinching a playoff game Thursday night with a 4-2 victory over the Arizona Coyotes.
So how did Kraken manage to turn it around in one season?
GM Ron Francis took advantage of the cap space
Vegas thrived because then-General Manager George McVeigh made several side deals to bring in players with better potential. Ron Francis of Seattle didn’t have that luxury because rival GM had sobered up. He ended up dealing with several veterans before the 2022 trade deadline.
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But this gave him money to spend abroad and he gained access to Andrzej Borakowski, Oliver Bjorkstrand, Justin Schultz and Martin Jones. The improved depth has helped the rest of the veterans like Jared McCann and Jordan Eberle, and the offense has jumped from 29th in the league last season to fourth this season. Claimed off waivers this season, Kraken’s Eeli Tolvanen has made key contributions.
Rookie striker Matty Benners
Benners finished second overall in the 2021 Entry Draft but returned to play his sophomore season at Michigan in 2021-22. He showed promise after his college career ended, scoring nine points in 10 games after arriving in Seattle late last season. This season, he’s scored 20 goals and 50 points (23 goals, 33 assists) and is the NHL’s leading rookie of the year. His presence has allowed the Kraken to slowly bring in 2022 Shane Wright #4 and bring him back into minor hockey.
The Kraken planned to go with Philip Grubauer and Chris Dredger in the nets last season. But Dredger was injured and Grobauer had no one to spell on when he struggled at first. Enter veteran Jones. The goalkeepers nearly spilled, and Grubauer’s goals against average dropped below 3.00. None of the goalkeepers put up amazing numbers, but with the Kraken’s new offense, they don’t have to. But they do enough to win.
What’s next for Kraken?
They will probably finish with first wild card place or maybe third in the Pacific and start the playoffs on the road. But some of their players are very experienced in the postseason. Burakowski (currently injured), Jani Gord, Grobauer, Schultz, Jamie Oleksiak and Eberle are among the players who have won the Stanley Cup or at least made it to the Conference Final.
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