By any conceivable measure, the Seattle Kraken have enjoyed a wildly successful start to the 2022-23 season, especially in comparison to their underwhelming debut last season.
As of this writing, the Kraken sit third in the Pacific Division with a record of 20-12-4 but second according to points percentage (PTS%). Their 44 points in 36 games represent a 100-point pace over 82 games which would be a 40-point improvement over their 60-point campaign in 2021-22.
That difference would be the biggest year-over-year improvement since the Pittsburgh Penguins enjoyed a 47-point jump between the 2005-06 and 2006-07 seasons. Even if they slow down in the back half of the year, the Kraken should still improve considerably over their dismal showing in Year One of the Kraken experience.
What else will define Seattle’s performance in 2023 beyond greater success at the team level? A potential division title? A heated battle in the crease? The possibilities are endless.
A new year brings many questions to the forefront, so what better time than now to throw out some guesses at how the rest of the season plays out? Here are four Kraken-related predictions for the second half of the 2022-23 campaign, which run the gamut from the mildly tepid to the painfully spicy. Let’s dive in.
Prediction #1: Kraken Finish Second in the Pacific Division
Yes, I know – way to be daring with the first prediction. As I mentioned earlier, the Kraken currently sit third in the division on raw points but second by PTS% with several games in hand on the Los Angeles Kings. They’re also within striking distance of the division-leading Vegas Golden Knights, but it’s difficult to argue that the Kraken are the better team on the whole.
The Kraken’s upcoming schedule presents the opportunity to keep building on their auspicious start to the campaign and ride the momentum to a playoff berth.
Counting their game against the Toronto Maple Leafs on January 5th, eight of the Kraken’s 13 remaining games in January will come against teams currently outside of the playoff picture. Included among those 13 fixtures are a pair of games against the Calgary Flames and Edmonton Oilers, the two teams right behind the Kraken in the division. Come out with a winning record across those 13 games – and preferably wins against their division rivals – and a playoff spot becomes all the more assured.
The second spot in the division will be heavily contested between the Kraken, Kings, Flames, and Oilers. Yet, the Kraken’s combination of defensive structure and balanced scoring should keep them ahead of their biggest competitors as the season progresses. Assuming that my second prediction comes true, second place in the Pacific should be a slam dunk.
Prediction #2: Kraken Acquire a Top-Six Forward at the Trade Deadline
For all of the Kraken’s early success, adding to their offensive firepower should be one of their main priorities as they approach the NHL Trade Deadline on March 3rd.
Sure, they rank fourth in the league in goals scored per 60 minutes (3.51), but some of that is due to the second-highest team shooting percentage in the NHL (11.9%). It’s hard to see that level of conversion continue, especially as the roster lacks a true star forward capable of consistently outperforming their expected totals. Further, the team sits in the bottom half of the league regarding the rate at which they generate shots and scoring chances.
According to CapFriendly, the Kraken will have accrued just over $5 million in cap space by the deadline – here’s a quick explanation of how that’s possible. That’s enough space to add one of several forwards who should be available at the deadline.
The Kraken only have Joonas Doonskoi ($3.9 million) coming off of the books next season, so any acquisitions will have to be made with next year’s cap space in mind. For that reason, any trade discussions should be centered around pending unrestricted free agents (UFAs).
Of the forwards most likely to be available, Bo Horvat, Andrei Kuzmenko (Vancouver Canucks), and Vladimir Tarasenko (St. Louis Blues) are several names who could move the needle for a Kraken team searching for an offensive uplift. Given that the Canucks and Blues are currently on the outside of the playoff picture, it may be easier to pry those players out of their current locales.
Prediction #3: Jones Is the Kraken’s Starting Goalie in the Playoffs
This prediction is more of an indictment of a $5.9 million man Philipp Grubauer than a celebration of anything Martin Jones has accomplished this season. It also assumes that the Kraken have qualified for the playoffs, which, according to my earlier prediction, is more likely than not at the turn of the new year.
After putting in one of the most disappointing performances last season, Grubauer has been underwhelmed relative to his status as the ninth-highest-paid goaltender in the NHL. He owns a .881 save percentage (SV%) and has allowed 1.8 more goals than expected (GSAx), ranking 58th and 44threspectively out of 64 goalies to have played in at least ten games this season. Simply put, that represents one of the worst returns on investment in the NHL in recent memory.
In comparison, the veteran Jones has been an improvement on Grubauer, if only by a slight margin. The 32-year-old is currently sporting a .890 SV% and has allowed 1.7 GSAx over 26 games this season, with the 51st and 43rd-best marks among qualified goalies. At this point, the difference between the pair is minuscule, and Jones comes out ahead due to total games played and Grubauer’s early injury troubles.
That the Kraken’s goaltending situation has been in such flux over their first two seasons of existence is puzzling. According to Natural Stat Trick, they grade out as one of the NHL’s best defensive teams at 5-on-5 over the past two campaigns:
|Statistic (Per 60 Minutes)||Kraken (2021-23)||NHL Rank|
|Scoring Chances Against||26.1||5th|
|High-Danger Chances Against||10.6||7th|
|Expected Goals Against||2.4||5th|
Although a lot can change in the 40-plus games still to be played, I’m making this prediction on the team’s pattern of starts since Grubauer returned from injury on November 19th. Jones holds a slim lead in starts over that time (10-9) and, despite posting marginally worse numbers than Grubauer, boasts a record of 8-1-1 compared to the 3-6-0 carried by his teammate.
Whether going with Jones is the right decision is a separate debate altogether, but there is little doubt that he holds the upper hand at the moment on perception alone.
Prediction #4: Sprong Leads the Kraken in Goals
This prediction is the perfect mix of realism and just a pinch of hopefulness. At the moment, Daniel Sprong ranks third on the Kraken with 11 goals in 29 games but second in goals per game. The 25-year-old winger is also sporting an 18% shooting percentage (SH%) this season, third among regular Kraken skaters. When he’s gotten the opportunity, he’s made sure that the puck finds the back of the net with regularity.
However, there are two significant roadblocks preventing this prediction from reaching actualization: Jared McCann’s sizeable lead and Sprong’s infrequent deployment.
After leading the Kraken with 27 goals in 2021-22, McCann is once again pacing the team in scoring, tallying 17 goals in 33 games so far this season. Apart from already outstripping him by seven goals, McCann sees the ice much more often than Sprong in all situations, obviously giving him more opportunities to add to his total.
Although McCann only ranks eighth in average time on ice (ATOI) among Kraken forwards at just over 15 a night, Sprong has seen just under 11 in comparison. McCann is also Seattle’s second-most frequently used forward on the power play. Sprong isn’t far behind as he only sees 30 seconds fewer on average compared to McCann, but every minute counts when it comes to the team scoring leaderboard.
All things considered, this prediction is the least likely to come to fruition, but what’s the point in only prognosticating sure things?
2023 Promises Newfound Success for the Kraken
No matter how the rest of the season plays out, the Kraken’s future outlook is undoubtedly brighter than at any point in the franchise’s very brief existence.
A first-ever playoff spot is within arm’s reach, and the organization is slowly building a robust prospect pool which should pay dividends as the Kraken become more competitive over the next few seasons. Could this season be the foundation for a future Stanley Cup championship run in the near future?
Check back at the end of the regular season to see which of these midseason predictions and my preseason predictions come true and which were embarrassingly off base. I’m sure there will be much more of the latter.