Discourse within the hockey world is often needlessly hyperbolic as one minute the team is destined for a pleasant, candle-lit dinner with the Stanley Cup, and then in the next, fans are moaning about their club’s imminent relegation to the American Hockey League; they are fanatics after all. Luckily, I am here to provide some much-needed levity and rationality to the discussion in offering my three bold predictions for the Kraken’s inaugural season.
Chris Driedger Takes Over the Kraken Net
Through sheer determination, Chris Driedger wrestled the number one job from a much more handsomely compensated net-minder and steering the team to a playoff spot. What is this a crossover episode?
Last season, Driedger stepped in for a flailing Sergei Bobrovsky and navigated choppy waters with enough ease that the Florida Panthers could finish second in a difficult Central division which also featured the defending champions Tampa Bay Lightning and rapidly ascendant Carolina Hurricanes.
Now, Grubauer is three years younger and has many fewer miles on his odometer, so you might be questioning how exactly I envision Driedger outstripping the giant German. For starters, Grubauer was hampered by injury troubles, missing parts of the 2019-20 regular season before being knocked out of the Conference Semi-finals. I should note that he played 39 out of 56 of the Avalanche’s games last season and would’ve accrued more starts if he wasn’t placed in COVID protocol in April. Still, a previous injury tends to flare up at the most inopportune moments.
On the ice, Driedger has been one of the league’s best goalies over the past three campaigns, despite an extremely small workload compared to his statistical contemporaries. Among goalies who have played at least 2000 minutes since the start of the 2018-19 season, his .931 save percentage and goals against average (2.07) rank first in the NHL across that time span according to Natural Stat Trick, although he has played the fewest total games of all of the qualified goalies.
Moving past the surface and into the underlying numbers, Driedger still grades out very favorably among his peers. He is 13th in cumulative goals saved above average (evaluates how many goals a net-minder prevents compared to the league average goalie) since 2018-19, even though he’s only made the 69th most appearances during that time.
Further, a heavy workload does not faze Driedger. His ability to stop dangerous chances near the crease (sixth in high-danger save percentage with a .838 mark) is a good indicator that his performance will not suffer behind a run-and-gun offense.
Grubauer also ranks among the NHL’s best in these metrics finding himself in the 10-15 range, but Driedger bests him in each category. The danger is that Driedger’s performance in limited minutes will lead to a harsh regression when entrusted with more playing time, which is a real risk when any player is challenged to exceed their previous capabilities. They don’t call them bold predictions for anything.
The Kraken Finish Second in the Pacific Division
Compared to the Driedger prediction, this one is a little tamer as the weaker competition within the Pacific Division has set the Kraken up nicely to legitimately challenge for a playoff spot in their inaugural campaign.
Although this method might be a bit rudimentary as many teams have significantly reshuffled their rosters, it helps evaluate how the Pacific teams fared last season. When combining the records of the seven other clubs from last season, we end up with an average record of 26 wins, 25 losses, and 5 overtime losses, good for 57 points. Over a full 82-game season, this average results in a total of 83 points.
This would not have been enough for a playoff spot in last season’s West Division which contained 4 of the 7 other teams currently in the Pacific, including the Anaheim Ducks, Los Angeles Kings, San Jose Sharks, and Vegas Golden Knights. In fact, only two of the seven teams qualified for the 2021 postseason. That was last season, though, and several teams overhauled their lineups in anticipation of a lighter schedule this time around.
The Canucks added Oliver Edman-Larsson and Conor Garland while losing veteran defensemen in Nate Schmidt and Alexander Edler; the Oilers are betting on the experience that Duncan Keith and Zach Hyman possess to guide the team to the promised land, the Kings are hoping that the additions of Philip Danault and Edler can insulate their numerous high-end prospects, and the Flames waved goodbye to captain Mark Giordano and snagged Cup winner Blake Coleman to add more rugged scoring talent to their lineup.
There were transactions aplenty, although most of the Pacific clubs appear to have only slightly improved or failed to be net-positive when considering the totality of their offseason moves. Proponents of advanced statistics project the Kraken finishing second in the division, although several of the aforementioned teams are within a hair of Seattle. As such, I stand by my prediction.
Vince Dunn Leads the Kraken In Scoring
I couldn’t go the whole column without giving out a hot take, could I? This one requires some context, so bear with me. The lack of offensive defensemen on the roster combined with the limited scoring talent up front means there’s a chance someone unexpected breaks out to lead the Kraken in scoring.
Despite his considerable experience as a team’s top defenseman, Mark Giordano is nearing retirement and posted his lowest average time-on-ice (22:57) since 2009-10 while losing his spot on Calgary’s first power play unit to Rasmus Andersson. That’s where Vince Dunn is ready to shine.
For the St. Louis Blue’s, Torey Krug was the lone blueliner to accrue more minutes than Dunn on the man advantage. Still, it was the younger Dunn who scored at a higher clip, posting 5.83 points per 60 minutes (12th in the NHL among defensemen who played at least 50 minutes on the power play), while also leading the Blues in individual scoring chances created per 60 minutes.
The Kraken forward group, unlike the eponymous mythical monster, does not strike fear into the hearts of their opponents, with only two having ever scored more than 20 goals in a single season. On top of that, two of their main forwards in Jaden Schwartz and Yanni Gourde have some injury history, with Schwartz never completing a full 82-game season and Gourde likely not featuring until after the new year while recovering from offseason surgery.
If Dunn is immediately handed the reigns to the Kraken power play, this prediction looks less reactionary and more visionary by the minute.
Let’s Get Kraken
There you have it, my three boldest predictions for the Kraken’s first season. I eagerly anticipate being wrong on all three counts and revisiting what went wrong once the regular season concludes next spring. Until then, enjoy the ride!