There are a lot of questions one can draw from the start the Seattle Kraken have had to their inaugural season in 2021-22.
With the NHL’s 32nd franchise having been in the works for several years prior to their debut, expectations were high for the Kraken as they entered a lucrative market, with a forced and favorable expansion draft hand.
With the NHL having reaped the benefits from the Vegas Golden Knight’s beginnings, as the franchise has quickly become a perennial Stanley Cup contender, the Kraken were expected to partly follow in their footsteps with the cards already in their favor.
Having forked over a record $650 million franchise fee, it was clear the NHL was going to make sure the Kraken’s ownership group got their return on that investment. Unfortunately, that just hasn’t happened, and when I say that hasn’t happened, I mean that really hasn’t happened. There’s no beating around the bush here, the Kraken have been, for the most part, absolutely dreadful this season. I had my worries about Ron Francis when he was named as the Kraken’s first General Manager, after a less than successful run with the Carolina Hurricanes.
Francis’s reluctance to make big name moves and over-fixation on stockpiling cap space and draft stock ultimately shot the Hurricanes in the foot as they struggled behind a less than stellar offense and a complete overworking of Cam Ward in goal. Head coach Dave Hakstol I thought at least had promise with his hardman approach a la Gerald Gallant, and it was made clear that the Kraken would have a number of franchise players to pick from to give their team that competitive edge from the get-go.
Vladimir Tarasenko, Carey Price, Max Domi, Josh Bailey, James Van Riemsdyk, and Brendan Lemieux were just a few of the many talents the Kraken had at their disposal, with each of these players bringing reliable, proven pedigrees as established NHL talents. While Tarasenko and Price brought their own share of concerns due to injuries, it was expected that Francis would take at least one of these star players to build his team around.
He did not.
Instead, Francis chose to (surprise, surprise) focus once more on stockpiling cap space and draft stock, as nearly all of the Kraken’s picks were leaked on Twitter hours before the actual Expansion Draft. It was a fittingly awkward beginning as the draft itself droned on and on with the TNT anchors clearly being incredibly, if not entirely unfamiliar with what the sport of hockey actually was. In the end, it was a rather unfortunate foreshadowing of the road that laid ahead for the Kraken, even with the selection of players such as Jordan Eberle, Chris Driedger, and former Norris Trophy winner Marc Giordano as team captain. Free-agent acquisitions such as Phillip Grubauer and Jaden Schwartz again made it seem as though Francis knew what he was doing all along, and that the Kraken would at least be able to put up a fight for a playoff spot, instead of directly contending for the Stanley Cup from the get-go like with the Golden Knights.
However, that hasn’t happened, and again, when I say that hasn’t happened, that really hasn’t happened. With an 11-23-4 record this season, the Kraken are fourth last in the NHL, second last in the Western Conference, and dead last in the Pacific Division by a near 10-point margin. Only the Arizona Coyotes, Ottawa Senators, and Montreal Canadiens rank below them, and even then, it’s by single digit margins. Now, admittedly, much of the Kraken’s struggles have stemmed from difficulties arising from the NHL’s ongoing situation with the Covid-19 Pandemic, which has again swept across league wide, and led to the usual bizarre roster decisions and inconsistent performances that so many teams have struggled with. The Kraken are no exception, and both Francis and Hakstol have made a point of this when trying to downplay Seattle’s less than ideal start.
The Seattle Kraken have ultimately elected to go down with the ship as they sit fourth last in the entire NHL early in their inaugural season in 2021-22.
Even still, though, as I mentioned in some of my writings on the Canadiens, Covid-19 is still only part of the equation when it comes to why certain teams have struggled, and again, the Kraken are no exception. Francis has made a point of defending the Kraken’s goaltending struggles and overall lack of chemistry within the roster, but even then, some blame has to be administered towards the current GM when trying to explain how the heck the Kraken got here in the first place.
Nearly everything Seattle hoped would work out regarding their roster just hasn’t, and the few occasional bright spots the team has had have been drowned out by the numerous struggles, bad stretches, and current 1-8-1 record over their last 10 games. Grubauer was coming off a Vezina Trophy contending season with the Colorado Avalanche last season and took a lucrative deal from the Kraken to be their goaltender of the future. However, with a horrendous 8-15-4 record, 3.31 GAA (yes, really) and .882 SVP, Grubauer has more resembled the shaky, unconfident once backup he was in his beginnings in Colorado and with the Washington Capitals.
Driedger hasn’t fared much better in spot starts as he deals with injury troubles, and Seattle has little else to turn to besides unproven AHL starter Joey Daccord, who just simply isn’t ready for consistent NHL minutes. Up front, the Kraken have managed to bolster a few solid performances from their few established talents but have been left out to dry most nights and haven’t been able to get their game going consistently. Eberle, Jared McCann, Yanni Gourde, Schwartz, and even late free-agent pickup Ryan Donato are on pace for solid campaigns but can’t seem to escape the basement dwelling moniker the Kraken, as a team, have been stuck with over the course of this season.
It makes me wonder how exactly Seattle would have fared had Francis not taking such a cautious approach with the team, and it’s that same cautious approach that has largely tanked fan attendance and now, their overall performance. As many fellow analysts and journalists have pointed out, stockpiling cap space only works if your team can at least be competitive and exciting from the get-go, to build a fanbase and make it so said stockpiling is financially viable going forward. Pointless business lectures aside, the Kraken have been anything but competitive and exciting, and it’s already hurt the team in the immediate future.
Will things get better as this 2021-22 season wears on? It seems unlikely. It’s clear Grubauer is having yet another off-year, and it seems as though there’s little for the Kraken to do but just play it out and hope he can rebound as he did in Colorado. The Kraken do have pieces that could potentially set them up for a solid NHL future down the road, but, in my opinion, said future just isn’t a possibility with Francis’s now ridiculous reluctance for big name moves running the show.
As this NHL season continues into the All-Star Game and beyond, it seems as though Francis, Hakstol and the majority of the Kraken roster have elected to go down with the ship and build for the future. However, if things continue the way they have in 2021-22, it doesn’t seem like there’ll be much left, to rebuild this ship to release a hopefully better, and more contending, Seattle Kraken.