The 2022-23 NHL season shifts into gear this week, officially marking the start of the Seattle Kraken‘s second year in existence. Before the start of last season, I highlighted several lessons that the Kraken could learn from previous expansion teams while drawing attention to the fact that new franchises were rarely successful in their first year. In fact, only two expansion teams since 1991 cracked 80 points in year one, and only the Vegas Golden Knights even qualified for the playoffs (Stanley Cup Finalists).
The struggles experienced by expansion clubs is well documented and not entirely surprising. However, less attention is paid to what those same clubs accomplished in year two, with a full campaign under their belts and a tangible foundation to build momentum.
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Unlike other professional sports leagues such as the NBA or NFL, a significant single-season turnaround in the NHL is nearly impossible. Teams in other sports either revolve around one prominent figure (the quarterback in football) or have star players play almost the entire game (basketball). Rebuilds in hockey are more of a slow burn, and organizations often wait years to reap the rewards of their poor play and, subsequently, high draft position.
Still, the Kraken were one of the busiest teams during the 2022 NHL Offseason by securing the services of several notable names via the draft, free agency, and trades, including Andre Burakovsky, Oliver Bjorkstrand, and 2022 fourth-overall pick Shane Wright. Judging by the nature of their personnel changes and the history of expansion clubs in their second years, the Kraken should see marked improvement over their disappointing 2021-22 debut showing.
Year Two a Mixed Bag for NHL Expansion Teams
A simple – but unrefined – method of gauging a team’s success is comparing their point totals yearly. The following table shows the first and second seasons of every NHL expansion team since 1991 and the difference (in points) between those two initial campaigns.
|Team||First Two Seasons||Points – Year 1||Points – Year 2||Difference|
|San Jose Sharks||1991-93||39||24||-15|
|Tampa Bay Lightning||1992-94||53||71||+18|
|Mighty Ducks of Anaheim*||1993-95||71||63||-8|
|Columbus Blue Jackets||2000-02||71||57||-14|
|Vegas Golden Knights||2017-19||109||93||-16|
* Year two point-pace prorated to 82 games due to the 1994-95 half-season lockout
For the ten teams to have joined the league since the early-1990s, their second seasons were a mixture of significant improvement or somewhat stalled development. Five teams improved on their inaugural points total, four of which added 10 points or more to their debut total. However, just as many teams saw a decline in year two, and three dipped by 10 points or more. Most were coming from historically awful seasons, so some improvement should have been expected. Still, their collective histories tell a somber tale of mediocrity broken up by isolated cases of inspiring success.
Despite submitting two of the worst seasons in NHL history (who could blame them), the Sharks rebounded in their third year, jumping all the way up to 82 points and qualifying for the playoffs. However, they would not eclipse 80 points in a season again until the 1998-99 campaign.
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The Senators first qualified for the playoffs in their fifth season (1996-97) and bowed out in the first round, but started a streak of reaching the postseason every year until 2008-09.
The Lightning are easily the most successful of the most recent spate of expansion franchises. They’ve won three Stanley Cups, including back-to-back titles in 2020 and 2021. That stretch of success followed a miserable run in which the franchise only won a single playoff round in their first 11 NHL seasons.
Not only were the Panthers the second-most successful expansion team by points, but they qualified for the playoffs in three of their first six seasons and reached the 1996 Stanley Cup Final (lost to the Colorado Avalanche). Their expansion siblings in the Anaheim Ducks joined them as one of four modern expansion teams to exceed 70 points in their first season and made two Cup Final appearances within their first 15 seasons (lost in 2003; won in 2007).
Despite forming a respectable group from the outset, the Nashville Predators failed to win a playoff round until 2010-11, their 12th year in the NHL. Their expansion cousins in the Atlanta Thrashers collected only one playoff appearance (and no playoff wins) before being moved to Winnipeg to become the Jets ahead of the 2011-12 season.
Although enjoying a solid debut season, the Blue Jackets would not pass the 70-point threshold again until 2005-06 and have won only one playoff round in their existence. Of course, that victory is one of the most surprising in league history, sweeping the Lightning, who were coming off a season in which they amassed the fourth-most points (128) in NHL history.
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The Wild enjoyed steady growth over their first two campaigns but were the league’s biggest surprise during the 2002-03 season. On top of seeing a 22-point improvement in the standings, they made it to the Western Conference Final and toppled the 105-point Avalanche – filled with future Hall-of-Famers – in a memorable first-round conquest.
There is perhaps no expansion team in any sport with as special an inaugural season as the Golden Knights, losing in the Stanley Cup Final after a 109-point regular season. They’ve hit 80 points in every season so far and currently reside alongside the top Western Conference contenders for the 2022-23 campaign. Their daring approach to roster construction goes against what has historically been the norm in the NHL, but the Kraken are taking a steady approach to building a future Stanley Cup champion. Whether that’s the right decision has yet to be determined.
Steady Progress the Goal for The Kraken in Year Two
Judging by the varied results of the NHL’s most recent expansion teams, improvement in the standings should be the primary goal for the Kraken heading into year two. More than half of the teams were within 10 points of their inaugural total in either direction, and exactly half took a step forward. A significant minority claimed a playoff spot in their second season but missing the postseason again shouldn’t be seen as a failure.
Many organizations went through extended spells of being excluded from playoff contention, so another season or two should be interpreted positively. Missing out means higher draft lottery chances and more opportunities to build the prospect pipeline, although the Kraken’s offseason suggests their sights are set higher.
Dom Luszczyszyn of The Athletic projects the Kraken to finish with around 87 points and saw them end up with 83 to 93 points “in 50 percent of [his statistical model’s]simulations”. Another figure in the advanced stats community known as JFresh placed Seattle in the range of 85 points and sixth in the Pacific Division. The Dallas Stars earned the final wildcard spot in the Western Conference last season with 97 points, so the various Kraken projections put them on the fringes of the playoff race.
In any case, the Kraken look poised to earn the second-highest second-year points total of the ten expansion franchises to join the NHL since 1991. It may not be the Stanley Cup Final, but baby steps still represent forward progress. Considering the underwhelming history of the league’s expansion clubs, that should be seen as a win in its own right.
Data courtesy of Hockey Reference.