3 Seattle Kraken Who Need To Bounce Back In 2023-2024

For all of the (warranted) discussion about how big of a leap forward the Seattle Kraken took last season, there is still a debate about which players may have more to give in 2023-24.

Many of the Kraken’s players enjoyed career- or near-career-best campaigns, so expecting and planning for some regression would be prudent. Of course, if any of the following three players stepped up their play considerably this season, the team could stave off most of the negative impact of any potential drop-off in quality elsewhere in the lineup.

With that, let’s dive into three names who are in line to have a bounce-back 2023-24 and who could elevate the Kraken to new heights.

Philipp Grubauer, Goaltender

2022-23 Statistics: 39 Games Played (GP) – .895 Save Percentage (SV%) – Plus-4.1 Goals Saved Above Expected (GSAx)

Over the Kraken’s first two seasons of existence, there is arguably no player who has underperformed their salary and expectations more than Grubauer. 

With a contract carrying an average annual value (AAV) of $5.9 million, the 31-year-old is set to be the ninth-highest-paid goaltender during the 2023-24 season. He earned the deal after being named a Vezina Trophy finalist in his last season with the Colorado Avalanche (2020-21) before signing with the Kraken as a free agent.

In return, Grubauer has offered the Kraken very little on the ice, between being injured for long stretches or putting in sub-par performances when healthy. 

Out of the 96 goalies to have played in at least ten games over the past two seasons, he ranks 83rd in SV% (.891) and 96th in GSAx (minus-28.5). He did put up a positive GSAx margin in 2022-23, but it wasn’t to the degree expected of one of the league’s top earners at the position.

Related: 3 Seattle Kraken Prospects Ready for the NHL In 2023-2024

Grubauer’s play could be excused if he played behind an awful defense, but that hasn’t been the case in Seattle, especially in 5-on-5 play. Since joining the league, the Kraken rank third in shots against per-60-minutes and fifth in expected goals, scoring chances, and high-danger chances against per-60. The team’s collective SV% in that time sits last in the entire league, with an elite defensive structure doing very little to rescue Grubauer.

The Kraken don’t have much choice when cutting Grubauer loose either, so they have to ride with his inconsistent displays. He’s under contract for four more seasons, including this one, and carries either a full- or a modified-No-Trade clause for each of those seasons. At this point, the Kraken can only go so far as Grubauer takes them, and the only question is, how far?

Kailer Yamamoto, Forward

2022-23 Statistics: 58 GP – 10 Goals (G) – 15 Assists (A) – 25 Points (PTS) – 16:35 Average Time on Ice (ATOI) 

Turning 25 in September, Yamamoto is running out of time to establish himself as a legitimate top-six forward in the NHL, and even a top-nine role is in question if things don’t change soon.

After two successful stints in the American Hockey League (AHL), he put up 26 points in 27 games with the Edmonton Oilers in 2019-20, seemingly etching himself a spot beside one of the Oilers’ two superstar centers. Since then, he’s scored at a 33-, 41-, and 35-point pace in the three proceeding seasons while also seeing diminished ice time along the way. 

Mix in several disappointing playoff showings and a $3.1 million qualifying offer, and it’s no surprise that the Oilers parted ways with him, with the Red Wings’ buying him out, making him free to sign with the Kraken.

Related: Seattle Kraken Should Target These 3 Unsigned Free Agents

Corey Sznajder’s tracking data paints Yamamoto as a winger capable of retrieving the puck in his own zone and successfully starting breakouts while retaining possession. The Kraken are a team that loves to play fast, and he’s got the skill set to mesh well with the existing forward core.

Judging by how other forwards cast aside by their former teams have fared with the Kraken, another 20-goal, 40-point campaign could be in the cards for Yamamoto. He is only costing the Kraken $1.5 million against the cap in 2023-24, so it’s a near certainty that he will outperform that deal before becoming a restricted free agent (RFA) next summer. As was the case with Daniel Sprong, Seattle would welcome a redemption arc for the nifty winger and continue their tradition of capitalizing on disgruntled forwards.

Jaden Schwartz, Forward

2022-23 Statistics: 71 GP – 21 G – 19 A – 40 PTS – 17:25 ATOI

The final bounce-back candidate is the veteran forward Schwartz, coming off a relatively healthy 71-game season in which he eclipsed 20 goals for the sixth time in his 12-year career.

Owed $5.5 million for the next three seasons, the Kraken expect more from their joint-highest paid forward and second-highest paid skater. Schwartz was signed to help direct and steer a fledgling organization, only two seasons removed from winning the Stanley Cup with the St. Louis Blues in 2019.

Related: Seattle Kraken – Dunn Contract Fair for Both Sides

While Schwartz only missed 11 games in 2022-23, he’s played 75 or more games in a single season on only three occasions over his career. He did flex his playoff experience by tallying 10 points in 14 games as the Kraken reached Game 7 against the Dallas Stars in Round Two, but that cumulative return still leaves you wanting more, especially after only playing in 37 games in Seattle’s inaugural season.

Apart from Grubauer and Schwartz, the Kraken’s cap sheet is fairly unblemished, giving them some leeway with underwhelming play from their biggest earners. Of course, they can (and should) demand more from their cornerstones. For Schwartz, getting another season of 70-plus games of availability would be a win in and of itself. 25 or so goals would be just as sweet, though.

Kraken Poised for Even Better Season in 2023-24

The Kraken set a high bar with their regular-season and playoff success last year, so matching or exceeding those benchmarks could prove to be a tall task. 

As the lone netminder of the trio of bounce-back hopefuls, Grubauer wields the most influence over Seattle’s on-ice results, for better or worse. If he returns to something approaching his Vezina Trophy finalist form from the 2020-21 season, it’s almost impossible for the Kraken not to improve by at least a modest margin.

Yamamoto will join a contingent of offensively minded forwards looking to rejuvenate their stagnating careers, and recent history suggests he’s in the optimal situation to produce.

At 31 years old and with a spotty injury history, Schwartz has the potential to turn into an anchor of a contract for the Kraken. Giving Seattle another five-to-10 goals in 2023-24 would go a long way in making their forward group more formidable.

Though it’s unlikely that all three of the aforementioned players will significantly improve upon their play in 2022-23, even having one see a jump in results or production would be a boon. The Kraken are committing a sizable chunk of cap space to two of the three, so even seeing some return on their investment would be a desirable outcome. Whether or not that happens could determine the franchise’s short-term future.

Data courtesy of Evolving HockeyNatural Stat Trick, and the NHL.

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About Marko Zlomislic 127 Articles
Marko is an aspiring sportswriter with a passion for crafting stories while using a combination of the eye-test and (shudder) analytics, which is complemented by an academic background in criminology and political science. When not covering the Seattle Kraken for Oregon Sports News, Marko can also be found pouring countless hours into various sports video games franchises, indulging in science fiction novels, and taking long runs around his neighbourhood. You can yell at him by following him on Twitter or via email at mzlomislic97@gmail.com. He also regularly produces content for The Hockey Writers.