Oh, what a difference a year can make. People change, expectations shift, failures and successes occur. Regardless of the job, the industry, the people, or anything, the only constant in life is change. Some change happens slowly, over the course of many months, years, trials and tribulations. In the world of professional sports, teams typically need multiple years worth of time to change their fortunes. That’s why teams rebuild, because it takes more than one or two pieces to take a bad team and make them good. Sometimes, though, things happen rather quickly. For Seattle Kraken fans, the turnaround from last year to this year has been just that.
Seattle Kraken Turnaround their Franchise in Year Two
One year ago, the Kraken ended January 12th with a seventh-consecutive loss. That streak climbed up to nine before they finally snapped it. The exact opposite can be said today; with a huge win on the road against the Boston Bruins, they ended January 12th with a seventh-consecutive win. That victory marked the Bruins’ first home loss in regulation on the season. So when you see their 19-1-4 home record, remember that “1” in the middle came courtesy of the Kraken.
The longest losing streak to-date in 2022-23 for Seattle clocked in at just three games. Granted, that has happened three times thus far. But in 2021-22? Seattle weathered three separate four-game losing streaks. And a six-game losing streak. And a seven-game losing streak. Oh, plus that nine-game losing streak mentioned above. They only won three games in a row one single time, near the very end of the season. But this year, the Kraken already boast a five and seven-game winning streak, as well as the current seven-game streak they ride into play Thursday.
Now, beyond the fun streak facts, the comparisons get more substantial and interesting. Over their full inaugural season, Seattle finished 27-49-6. That included a brutal 11-27-3 road record, as well as a 14-36 against Western Conference clubs. With 41 games remaining on their schedule, Seattle needs only two more wins to match last season’s total. They already eclipsed their road win total by four too, and have another 20 contests away from home to continue running that total up. And against the West, they stand 13-6-4. Typically teams look to build upon performances from a season ago, but this level of turnaround has the Kraken looking immensely better than anyone anticipated.
Kraken Look Playoff-Bound in Sophomore Season
One year ago, the Kraken finished 29th overall in the league-wide standings. That put them in the lottery for the top draft pick, though they wound up selecting at fourth overall. They sported an abysmal .366 points percentage and a -71 goal differential. Their goaltending finished dead last in the league with a .880 team save percentage, and their offence scored the fourth-lowest goal total on the season. Combine bad goaltending with bad offence and their finish at the bottom of the league came as no surprise.
However, after a few key additions this off-season, the team looks entirely different. Perhaps the most important newcomer is Matthew Beniers. Yes, he played a handful of games at the end of last season, but 2022-23 technically counts as his rookie season. He looks destined for the Calder Trophy, as the league’s Rookie of the Year. He holds a double-digit lead over all other rookies in scoring, except for Mason McTavish. But even McTavish sits almost ten points back, and with far less appealing advanced statistics.
Beniers sits second in team scoring, behind Andre Burakovsky. The Swedish-Austrian has also joined the team as a new face this season, with nearly a point-per-game scoring pace. Then, fourth line winger Daniel Sprong keeps making the most of his ice time, with 25 points in 33 games despite averaging just 11:07 in icetime per game. Eeli Tolvanen, a recent waiver claim, already accumulated six points in his first seven games, as he fits right in nicely with his new team. Those pieces all accumulate in the massive turnaround the Kraken have displayed thus far.
What this Means for the Future
The Kraken got a taste of Beniers at the end of last season, and they looked so much more competitive with him in the lineup. That taste likely drove General Manager Ron Francis to splash in free agency more than he initially planned. Yes, there were holes to be filled in the lineup either way. But it’s hard to say how much money he would have locked up in free agent signings. After all, they had a lottery pick and slummed at the bottom of the standings. A rebuild approach wouldn’t have surprised anyone.
But between Burakovsky, Justin Schultz, and Martin Jones, as well as the acquisition of Oliver Bjorkstrand via trade, Francis added $15.9 million to the books annually. He extended Jared McCann mid-season last year, who now carries a $5 million cap hit. The squad sits just $1.1 million under the league salary cap, but every player’s salary falls below $6 million annually. With players on injured reserve too, they actually hold $5.1 million in deadline cap space, should they desire to add more this season.
Basically, this team looks destined to keep improving for the foreseeable future. They have the cap flexibility to award raises to players as needed, or to bring in new faces around the core. If any weakness can be found, it remains between the pipes. Philipp Grubauer and Martin Jones keep piling up wins, but they’re not sporting great numbers. They’re benefitting massively from the team’s scoring surge, something that might be much tighter in a playoff series. Chris Driedger may return before the end of the season, but he fared just as poorly as Grubauer a year ago too. With all the goalies already signed in Seattle, a move this season feels unlikely. But this summer, that looks like the position with the most need to address for the Kraken.