The start of the 2021-22 NHL regular season is just under a week away, ratcheting up the hype for the Seattle Kraken’s inaugural campaign to new heights. After looking at the team’s season schedule, I’ve pinpointed five noteworthy games to circle on the calendar.
Kraken Franchise Debut – Oct. 12 vs. Vegas Golden Knights
The franchise’s first official game – what more needs to be said? Beyond the excitement of finally seeing the expansion outfit hit the ice, the team will have an early opportunity to evaluate how it stacks up to one of the Western Conference’s heavyweights in the Golden Knights. A convincing victory would go a long way in setting an optimistic tone for the rest of the season. How poetic would it be to begin a magical run against the same team which rode their ragtag group of outcasts to a Stanley Cup Final appearance in year one? No matter how you slice it, the journey starts here.
Battle of Cascadia – Oct. 23 vs. Vancouver Canucks
This early encounter with the Canucks is dually significant – it represents the franchise’s home opener and the first entry in the rivalry with their geographical neighbors in the Pacific Northwest. Ongoing construction on the arena means that the team must endure a demanding road trip to start the season (five games in eight nights) before returning home to battle Vancouver. A divisional battle means valuable points are up for grabs, and a raucous crowd will do their best to power their team to victory. If the Kraken’s preseason opener was any indication, the Canucks are in for a rough evening at Climate Pledge Arena.
The Reigning Stanley Cup Champs – Nov. 26 vs. Tampa Bay Lightning
Tampa Bay may have suffered a sizeable reduction in roster depth this past offseason, but the Cup-winning core is still intact. The threat of potent offensive weapons in Nikita Kucherov, Brayden Point, and Steven Stamkos remain, meaning that the Kraken defense still faces a significant challenge in keeping the defending champions at bay. Although a thorough beating at the hands of the Lightning is a real possibility (especially on the road), a strong showing would solidify the Kraken’s confidence in their long-term project. Unfortunately, Tampa’s expansion sacrifice in Yanni Gourde will miss his first opportunity to reunite with his former team because of his ongoing recovery from offseason surgery.
Mark Giordano’s (Second) Return – Dec. 23 vs. Calgary Flames
I’m cheating a bit with this one. Former Flames captain Giordano celebrated a triumphant return to the Saddledome in last week’s preseason matchup with Calgary, scoring a goal three minutes into the game, prompting the home crowd to chant his name. For a player who made nearly 1,000 appearances over 14 seasons for the franchise, every visit is a special one. This fixture raises the stakes in being a tussle for crucial points in the divisional playoff race, and the game’s importance suggests this will be a less cordial affair than Giordano’s initial homecoming.
Potential Playoff Tiebreaker – April 29 vs. San Jose Sharks
Truthfully, I could have picked a more enticing opponent than the Sharks, who should battle for draft lottery positioning rather than challenge for a playoff spot. However, Seattle’s final regular season contest carries extra meaning, with the relative weakness of the Pacific division promising to create a tight race for two of the division’s three automatic playoff berths, as Vegas likely tops the Pacific with ease. The encounter with San Jose follows a string of games where the Kraken will face fellow playoff hopefuls in the Minnesota Wild, Dallas Stars, Canucks, and Los Angeles Kings. The last game could determine if the franchise is given the chance to emulate the postseason success of their expansion cousins, with several teams projected to challenge for the playoffs. If this is the case come the end of April, buckle up.
Let’s Get Kraken
No matter how the final standings shake out, 2021-22 marks a well-overdue return for the NHL, renewing a storied legacy of professional hockey in Emerald City. Although the novelty of being a new franchise ensures a warm honeymoon period, every game on the schedule promises to be an enthralling affair for patient fans of the Kraken. Enjoy it, Seattle.