Before we get down to the nitty-gritty, I’d like to wish all of our readers a Happy New Year; may 2022 bring you nothing but happiness and personal success! Speaking of personal success, the three Seattle Kraken players on this list of bounce-back candidates have struggled through the first half of the 2021-22 season, contributing to the Kraken’s disappointing place in the standings, sitting 29th out of 32 teams. Now, let’s dig into which players are hoping that the turn of the calendar brings them, and the team, more favorable fortunes in 2022.
Philipp Grubauer, Goaltender
Although hockey often falls prey to ruthless swings in fortune, no one could have predicted Philipp Grubauer’s implosion in the Kraken net this season. In luring the German net-minder to Seattle with a hefty six-year, $35.4-million contract ($5.9-million average annual value), the Kraken believed they had wrangled the cornerstone piece of their defense. Instead, Grubauer has struggled immensely over the first third of the campaign, posting results befitting a minor-league call-up rather than a former Vezina Trophy finalist.
Grubauer owns an unsightly record of 7-13-4 in 25 games, underlined by an equally as cringe-inducing .882 save percentage (SV%) and a 3.30 goals-against average (GAA). His SV% ranks second-worst among goalies to have played in at least ten games this season, and his quality-adjusted statistics don’t fare much better either.
According to MoneyPuck, Grubauer has the worst goals saved above expected (GSAx) with -22.8 (expected goals minus actual goals) this year, ten more than the next worst net-minder (Kevin Lankinen has –12.8). Regardless of the perception around his performance last season behind a Stanley Cup contender in the Colorado Avalanche, that’s well below the German’s heady expectations.
Making matters worse is the fact that the Kraken are not a poor defensive team by any measure. Seattle ranks highly in the rate at which they concede shots (fourth in the NHL), scoring chances (first), and expected goals (fourth) during five-on-five play. Head coach Dave Hakstol has implemented a robust preventative structure to insulate his goalies; Grubauer just hasn’t performed at the level expected of someone of his caliber.
Fortunately, Grubauer’s career SV% of .917 offers a sliver of hope that he should find his game, even if he settles for something resembling a league-average mark. Now, that remains an inadequate return on Seattle’s sizeable financial investment, but it’s a start. Further, the Kraken follow an effective defensive strategy, limiting the number of offensive opportunities thrown in their goaltenders’ direction at one of the stingiest rates in the league.
Together, those two facts indicate that a brighter future beckons for Seattle and the luckless Grubauer. Breathe easy, Kraken faithful, better times are ahead.
Joonas Donskoi, Right Wing
In keeping with this column’s underlying theme, Joonas Donskoi is yet another Kraken player to underperform this season. The Finnish forward enters 2022 with a remarkable stat line – producing zero goals and 14 assists for 14 points on the year.
Although his playmaking ability remains, Donskoi has been among the NHL’s most snake-bitten skaters. Despite generating almost five individual expected goals (ixG) in all situations, the former Avalanche winger has failed to convert on any of his scoring chances. Just how severely has Donskoi undershot his expected total? Of the 891 skaters to have stepped foot on NHL ice in 2021-22, Donskoi ranks sixth-last in goals scored above expected according to MoneyPuck – an astounding feat.
Who’s the unluckiest finisher, you ask? That would be Alexander Radulov of the Dallas Stars, scoring 6.3 goals fewer than expected, according to MoneyPuck. Unlike Donskoi, however, Radulov has at least scored this season (only once, but the point stands), stranding Seattle’s expansion selection from the Avalanche on a lonely island of statistical outliers.
This is the part where I try to draw out some positives, but Donskoi’s underlying numbers don’t scream prime bounce-back candidate. Here are his per-60-minute rate stats in several offensive categories at five-on-five over the past three seasons.
|Individual Scoring Chances/60||7.29||9.04||5.07|
While his abysmal conversion streak shouldn’t last for much longer, Donskoi isn’t creating his own opportunities at the same pace as in previous years. It appears as though he’s slowed down considerably, leading one to assume that a trying 2022 is in the cards for one of the NHL’s most snake-bitten skaters.
Adam Larsson, Defenseman
His average 5v5 ice-time of 19:13 per night demonstrates Hakstol’s unwavering faith in the Swedish blueliner and his defensive impact (80th among 201 defensemen in 5v5 xGA/60; 71st in high-danger chances against per-60) ranks just outside a top-pairing output.
For Adam Larsson’s renown as a defensive stalwart, he’s struggled to help transition the play from defense to offense, relinquishing possession of the puck more frequently than his teammates. Of the six Kraken defensive pairs to have played a minimum of 75 minutes together, the bottom three by share of expected goals (xGF%) all feature Larsson. Overall, Larsson ranks 191st out of 201 defensemen (minimum 200 minutes at 5v5) in xGF% (42.5%), well off of the Kraken’s team stake of just under 48 percent.
To make matters worse, Larsson has played the most 5v5 minutes on the team this season (634), functioning as Hakstol’s go-to solution to neutralizing the opposition’s best players. While he’s fulfilling what’s expected of him defensively, he’s a black hole possession-wise. Much of that could likely be attributed to Seattle’s lack of offensive weapons, but that doesn’t soften the blow.
Pairing Larsson with a more dynamic partner (like Vince Dunn, perhaps?) could allow the former Edmonton Oilers defender to focus on his strengths while letting someone else transition the play – seems like we’ve hit the new year’s resolution part of the column.
What Does 2022 Have in Store for the Kraken?
The historical precedent set by previous expansion franchises in their inaugural season gives the Kraken a smidge of leeway this season. Other than the Vegas Golden Knights, no modern expansion team (post-1970) has qualified for the playoffs during their first season in the league. Rather, several clubs submitted among the worst single-season performances in NHL history, presenting Seattle with a rather modest bar to clear for their opening bow as a major-league franchise.