With only seven games remaining in their inaugural NHL campaign, the members of the Seattle Krakeneagerly await the end of the regular season. For several reasons, the franchise has not had much, if any, on-ice success this year, sitting dead-last in the Pacific Division and 30th in the overall standings. Whether their stumbles are due to expensive gambles gone wrong or a skeleton crew of NHL-caliber forwards, it’s been rough sailing for the organization in every respect. Without further ado, let’s dig into why the team will fail to emulate their expansion cousins in the Vegas Golden Knights and miss the playoffs in their first season.
High-Priced Goaltending Falls Flat
No team got a worse return on their goaltending investment than the Kraken this season. Their tandem of Philipp Grubauer ($5.9 million average annual value – AAV) and Chris Driedger ($3.5 million AAV) was supposed to be the x-factor, fortifying a team identity centered around defensive accountability. Instead, the duo contributed to an NHL-worst .881 team save percentage (SV%) and a porous 3.45 goals against per game (24th in the league).
A frequent rebuttal that I’ve seen thrown around is that, of course, expansion teams are supposed to stink at the outset – it’s only natural that the net-minding follows suit. That conveniently ignores the fact that despite their unsavory goal differential, the Kraken were one of the best defensive outfits at 5v5 this season.
Seattle has conceded the third-lowest rate of shots against (SA/60), the fifth-lowest clip of scoring chances against (SCA/60), and the sixth-lowest rate of expected goals against (xGA/60). Given that the team entered the season painfully short on attacking talent (more on that later), it’s no surprise that they committed to playing a stingy style. Despite their emphasis on insulating their goalies, Grubauer and Driedger performed well under expectations.
One of the most telling publically-available metrics available to evaluate goaltenders is goals saved above expected (GSAx). It illustrates exactly how many goals a given goalie has saved while accounting for their workload, using xG as a proxy for the quality of chances they face over the course of the season. Per Evolving Hockey’s xG data, Grubauer (114th) and Driedger (80th) both finished within the bottom half of cumulative GSAx this season. The Kraken would have been better off sticking a shooter tutor in net. Goaltending is the area in which the team can see the most improvement, hopefully acting as the rising tide to lift the rest of the team’s figurative boats.
Kraken’s Limited Forward Group Struggles to Create Offense
Fans and pundits alike bemoaned the Kraken’s lack of scoring depth after the expansion draft proceedings, especially after the team passed on several expensive but talented options. Although they added winger Jaden Schwartz in free agency, their collection of forwards was one of the least intimidating in theory, and that played out in practice just the same.
The Kraken finished 27th in 5v5 goals per-60-minutes (GF/60), 29th in shots per-60 (SF/60), and 30th in expected goals (xGF/60). Regardless of whether your chosen barometer is quality or quantity, Seattle wasn’t threatening in either case.
Forward Jared McCann leads the Kraken in goals (26) and points (44), with the latter total being the lowest mark for a player leading their team in scoring in the league. Seattle boasts no other 20-goalscorers, although Jordan Eberle (18) and Yanni Gourde (17) could conceivably hit that mark before the end of the season.
As for Schwartz, he’s missed 38 games this season, and the Kraken have only enjoyed a 23-point return on the first year of his $5.5 million AAV contract, which runs until the conclusion of the 2025-26 season. His injury history was already a concern prior to this year, and it’s unfortunate to see issues continue to crop up. For a player about to hit the wrong side of 30, his contract should worry general manager Ron Francis and perhaps bring added caution into his free-agent forays this offseason.
Like with their goaltending, the only way is up for the Kraken’s often plodding offense. A full season of rookie Matty Beniers, whoever the team picks in the first round of the 2022 Entry Draft, and any free-agent signings should be enough to lift the squad into the middle of the pack.
Kraken’s Ineffective Special Teams
NHL teams often spend around a quarter of any given game either on the power play or on the penalty kill, making special teams an integral part of their success or misfortune. In the case of the Kraken in 2021-22, it was much more of the latter. The following table provides a quick overview of the team’s performance in terms of overall efficiency, chance and goal generation, and prevention.
|Seattle Kraken||NHL Rank|
The Kraken currently rank within the NHL’s bottom-third in all six of the most pertinent special teams’ categories. Their suboptimal displays are in part influenced by the two issues, with their offense and goalies underperforming their already low expected rates. A change in personnel should stir up a change in results, but it’s no surprise that the team has struggled this season.
To demonstrate just how important special teams can be, let’s turn to this year’s New York Rangers. By all measures, the Rangers struggle to control the run of play at 5v5, owning less than stellar shares of shot attempts (24th) and xGF (21st). Yet, they’ve managed to outscore their problems on the backs of a Hart Trophy-caliber campaign from goalie Igor Shesterkin and a strong power play. Their 25.5% conversion ranks fifth in the NHL this season and is a major reason why the team is on the verge of clinching the Atlantic Division title rather than treading water in the wildcard race.
Sustained excellence at even strength is more desirable, to be sure, but the impact that special teams can have should not go understated.
2022-23 Promises To Be Better Season For the Kraken
An unfortunate combination of shockingly poor goaltending, an unremarkable assortment of offensive talent, and stagnant special teams collectively plunged the Kraken to the depths of the NHL standings in their first season of existence. The anticipated progression of several young players and an expected return to form for historically competent goaltenders should give Seattle a fighting chance at a first-ever playoff spot in 2022-23. Chins up Kraken fans; this is only the beginning of a special undertaking in the Pacific Northwest.