Through the first half of the 2022-23 season, the Seattle Kraken have been one of the NHL’s most surprising teams. With a record of 22-12-4, the league’s latest expansion club is on pace to make more than a 40-point improvement on their debut season, one of the greatest year-over-year jumps in recent memory.
A sturdy defensive structure has been a constant over the Kraken’s first two seasons. According to Natural Stat Trick, Seattle ranks seventh or better in terms of shots (SA), scoring chances (SCA), high-danger chances (HDCA), and expected goals (xGA) against per-60-minutes at 5-on-5 over the past two seasons.
The Kraken’s abysmal goaltending has sabotaged their success at stifling opposing attacks (they rank last in team save percentage over that time), but that shouldn’t take away from their defensive excellence.
So, how have the Kraken managed such an impressive turnaround with essentially the same results when it comes to defense and goaltending? In simple terms, they’re finally converting at an above-average clip, becoming a much more formidable outfit at both ends of the ice while being able to outscore their goaltending woes.
Just saying that they’re scoring more often doesn’t tell the whole story, however. Through complementary offseason additions and the emergence of some young players, the Kraken have significantly diversified their offensive profile – let’s go under the hood of the Pacific’s newest challenger.
Kraken Offense Benefitting from Diversified Attacking Strategy
The biggest change and the greatest driver of the Kraken’s success this season has been a surprisingly potent attack. They rank first in 5-on-5 goals for per 60 and third in all situations, representing a huge jump from last season when they ranked 28th leaguewide in both departments.
Using 5-on-5 numbers gleaned from Natural Stat Trick, the Kraken have produced a greater volume of shots and chances while simultaneously increasing the quality of those looks:
|Rank||2021-22||Statistic (Per-60-Minutes at 5-on-5)||2022-23||Rank|
Rather than being firmly entrenched in the bottom third of the league in terms of offense, the Kraken have inched closer to the league average in most respects. In tandem with their pre-existing strength defensively, the group now appears much more well-rounded regarding their two-way game.
Even so, it’s easy to just point at their rates and call it a day, but just doing that ignores the process and strategy behind their improved fortunes. Fortunately, Corey Sznajder’s invaluable tracking data helps us to identify and visualize trends on the micro-stat level which contribute to a team’s success, or lack thereof. Here is a sample of such statistics from Sznajder’s 2022-23 dataset, demonstrating how the Kraken are creating their chances this season:
|Rank||2021-22||Statistic (Per-60-Minutes at 5-on-5)||2022-23||Rank|
|17th||1||High-Danger Shot Assists||0.67||26th|
|16th||2.59||Zone Entries Leading to Scoring Chances||2.46||7th|
Like last season, the Kraken have been an enthusiastic forechecking team that likes to physically dominate their opponents by cycling in the offensive zone. Seattle has transformed into a more threatening club in transition, partially driven by offseason additions like Andre Burakovsky and Oliver Bjorkstrand, who are comfortable navigating the puck through the neutral zone.
Center Matty Beniers, named one of the initial 32 All-Star Game participants, has fashioned most of his chances off the rush. His 13 rush shots per 60 pace the Kraken and grade out as one of the highest rates among NHL forwards. Burakovksy and Daniel Sprong rank second and third on the team, respectively, using their speed and elusiveness to thrive in transition.
Further, Beniers also leads the team in controlled entries per 60 (I.e., with possession of the puck), with Burakovsky and winger Jordan Eberle also ranking within the NHL’s upper quartile in that regard.
Interestingly, Jared McCann – who leads the team with 19 goals – is one of the best forwards at turning clean entries into scoring chances. He’s slightly above average in terms of the rate at which he completes controlled entries but ranks 15th among all forwards with 6.1 entries leading to scoring chances per 60 at 5-on-5.
Some players can generate a ton of zone entries but struggle to carve out opportunities once they enter the zone. For example, the Minnesota Wild’s Kirill Kaprizov ranks eighth in terms of controlled entries per 60 but sits below league average when it comes to converting that neutral zone flash into actual chances. He’s still a great player, as he ranks 10th in goals (23) and 13th in points (46) this season, but it shows that neutral zone success is more than just carrying the puck into the offensive zone.
Analytical research has suggested that scoring chances created off the rush are more likely to result in a goal than any other type of chance. Of course, that’s not to say teams should exclusively try to attack in that manner or that more patient cycle play has no utility. Yet, it follows that giving goaltenders and defenders less time to react is preferable to the steady zone defense often applied against the cycle.
In either case, Seattle’s new faces have shaped the Kraken into a more versatile and, thus, more capable of adapting to different defensive schemes. For a team that is more reliant on balanced scoring throughout the lineup than on one or two stars, such flexibility is music to head coach Dave Hakstol’s ears.
Kraken Improved, But Still in Need of Reinforcements
Judging by their underlying numbers, the Kraken have made undeniable strides in bolstering their scoring ranks compared to last season. They’re generating a slightly higher rate of shots and chances by placing a greater emphasis on creating offense in transition.
Yet, the Kraken have, most crucially, enjoyed greater finishing luck and found the back of the net much more often. When combined with their status as an elite defensive unit at 5-on-5, they’ve emerged as one of the strongest teams in the Pacific Division this season.
However, the Kraken’s goalscoring must be considered with an eye towards their potentially unsustainable finishing luck. They sit second in the league in all-situations SH% at 12.3%, first in 5-on-5 SH% (10.9%), and sixth in powerplay shooting (17.1%). Finishing ability is a real skill, but SH% on a team level generally regresses to match the team’s ability to generate scoring opportunities.
In that sense, the Kraken own below-average 5-on-5 chance creation, which doesn’t bode well for their ability to maintain an elite scoring clip in the long term. They boast several capable scorers, but none who most would consider among the best in the league. As such, the focus should be on adding skaters who can improve the underlying process and lift the Kraken’s offensive floor.
The 2023 trade deadline is less than two months away, so all eyes will be on general manager Ron Francis as he decides where to steer his fledgling franchise. The Kraken are an interesting mix of established veterans and promising youngsters, with an average age of 28.9 (10th in the NHL) across the roster. Players like Beniers (20 years old) and newly-acquired winger Eeli Tolvanen (23) are foundations for the future, but a majority of the team’s key figures are 27 or older.
Consequently, the Kraken shouldn’t mortgage the future given that fostering long-term success will be key in growing and capturing fan interest in the market; yet, their age profile makes the decision more complicated than it appears at first glance.
Is there a way to deftly walk that particular tightrope and take advantage of a Pacific Division in flux outside of the Vegas Golden Knights? Seattle’s management group is about to get a crash course in long-term planning, and deciding on their short-term priorities should be the first course of action in that process – fun times ahead.