Inside the NHL
The Kraken tail-spinning toward the bottom of the NHL standings has sparked an interesting debate just over a month into the team’s first season.
Namely, should our Kraken expectations be the same as previous sad-sack NHL expansion teams before the Vegas Golden Knights came along four years ago? Like the Nashville Predators from 1998-99, or the Minnesota Wild from 2000-01? We’ll leave the 1992-93 Ottawa Senators and 1974-75 Washington Capitals out of the discussion, because it’s a little early to get that outrageous with comparisons.
But should the Kraken’s 4-10-1 record and .267 winning percentage be something local fans laugh about and eventually dismiss as the cost of being an NHL team? ? Should they be prepared to wait five or 10 years like NHL Expansion Squad fans before Vegas?
Sorry, but it’s just me Kraken.
Sure, once Vegas made the Stanley Cup Finals its first 2017-18 season, there were concerns that a lot of casual fans here might expect something similar. It was perfectly reasonable for the team to downplay the suggestion that they could repeat what Vegas did, and I honestly can’t seriously suggest to anyone familiar with the NHL that this could happen.
And that’s why this whole argument about treating the Kraken like a typical expansion team is fraudulent. Life is not a series of extremes, and expectations can be the middle ground.
For one, the Kraken not playing for Lord Stanley’s mug next spring shouldn’t automatically rule out hopes of being a .500 team. And looking at Kraken signed goalkeepers Philipp Grubauer and Chris Drigger – who allowed almost two goals in a game last season between them – and then added solid defenders, 3-2 and 2-1 winning a bunch of games. The possibility is perfectly reasonable.
Mind you, not every game.
But I’ll guarantee that general manager Ron Francis and his analytics crew ran the numbers and had an excellent chance of winning as they lost and remained in contention in a weak division through March and even April.
No one could have imagined that the Kraken are sitting nine points away from the playoffs after just one month. You’d be laughed out of any room — but, most important, Kraken’s executive suite — had you come up with the .267 suggested winning percentage in mid-November.
Don’t take my word for it. Here’s what Francis said this week: “I think we definitely realized going into the season that we’re going to be a competitive team. I think from the start of the season we’ve played a few games where I thought we had a Or you’ve found a way to lose instead of getting two points. And when you drop six or eight of those points, you’re in a different position than the one you’re sitting in now.”
Yeah, take those points away and you’re out nine instead of one or two as one might have reasonably expected. So let’s stop the Kraken being like previous NHL expansion teams and leave this squad off the hook so easily.
Look, no one wants to go into town about putting up wanted posters for Grubauer, Jordan Eberle, i.e. Gourde, Jaden Schwartz, Mark Giordano, and anyone else in Kraken uniforms. They are just as known to local sports fans and dismayed about the turn of events as anyone.
But he’s also not a pissed-off hockey player. They are a major professional sports team that has failed to meet base-level expectations record-wise.
Accepting that part out loud doesn’t make anyone less of a fan of Kraken. In fact, having expectations in a team and accepting disappointment when they are not met is a sign of sophistication within any fan base.
It’s still relatively early. Kraken can add a target here or there, make a few cheap shorts and quickly convert losses into wins. Advanced analytics suggests just as much as common sense.
But comparing Kraken to pre-Vegas expansion teams is wrong.
Those awesome teams are worth little compared to the $650 million Kraken paid as franchise fees and the $500 million for Vegas.
One advantage of the price tag was getting favorable expansion terms so that they would not suffer for as long as previous expansion franchises. Speaking with future Kraken owners David Bonderman and Jerry Bruckheimer for the first time in February 2018, the two explained that the expansion rules would enable their team to compete immediately.
In the bad old days of NHL expansion, new teams were picked from the bottom of the roster. Nowadays it’s mid-roster and higher.
James van Rimsdyk and Jacob Vorasek both tied for the Philadelphia Flyers lead last season, and the Kraken could take either. He took on Eberle, a proven goal-scorer from the New York Islanders. Think the 1979-80 Winnipeg Jets had that chance?
Certainly, Francis didn’t swing side deals made by Vegas, which gives Kraken fewer chances and draft picks to use in trades with immediate effect. But the lack of side deals doesn’t explain the sub-.300 start.
This team was made better and it needs to get better.
NHL rules nowadays allow virtually any team to try to get out of contention before January. With overtime and single-digit parity for defeats so prevalent, elite franchises constantly complain that it’s impossible to separate from mediocre teams.
So Kraken getting so much negative isolation so quickly is concerning.
Forget the wacky theories they’re “tanking” to secure the top draft next summer. The NHL lottery system does not guarantee top-five picks, no matter how bad your previous season. Kraken’s ownership isn’t going to take away a respectable profit early on, with their $650 million franchise fee being paid off on the occasion of Lucky Cum Draft Day.
Let’s also not forget that everyone involved with the Climate Pledge Arena and Kraken ventures believes the NBA franchise is coming soon. Meaning, Kraken is likely to have two or three seasons to go before a reborn Sonics franchise can reinvent itself locally to share its limelight.
So there is pressure on Kraken to do more. The plan was never to spend five years building the tank and building up to .500 hockey.
This team always had high hopes. If they are not eventually met, it will be time to evaluate why and who is to blame, as the Kraken were never considered the 1999–2000 Atlanta Thrashers, nor the 1972–73 Islanders.
So let’s stop pretending they are. And show some respect by expecting more from the players.