In isolation, the Seattle Kraken’s 2-1 loss in Game 7 to the Dallas Stars represents a disappointing end to their 2022-23 campaign. They came within a single game – a single goal – of advancing to the Western Conference Final in only their second season of existence as a fully-fledged NHL franchise. No one is ever guaranteed a berth in the league’s final four or beyond, so failing to capitalize on such a glorious opportunity can leave quite a bitter taste.
With Seattle’s playoff run now in the rearview, I can revisit my preseason predictions to simultaneously evaluate my prognostication skills and review the Kraken’s second season of existence. So, let’s dive in.
Prediction #1: Beniers Wins the Calder Trophy as NHL’s Rookie of the Year
Although the NHL’s annual award night won’t take place until June 26th, I’m ready to claim a pre-emptive victory regarding my first prediction.
Kraken center Matty Beniers – the second overall selection in the 2021 NHL Entry Draft – built upon the foundation laid by his exciting nine-point, 10-game showing after concluding his NCAA career. Beniers tied for the rookie lead in goals (24), finished second in assists (33), and paced all NHL freshmen in overall production (57 points in 80 games). As a result, he was named a Calder Trophy finalist at the conclusion of the regular season.
Related: How The Seattle Kraken Qualified For The 2023 NHL Playoffs
Beniers didn’t rely on the power play to pad his statistics either, as his 46 even-strength points outstripped Matias Maccelli (second with 36 such points) by 10. In terms of usage, head coach Dave Hakstol entrusted Beniers with a decent amount of responsibility as the American pivot led all rookie forwards in average even-strength ice time (14:27 minutes per game).
Despite his offensive flair, there are areas in which Beniers can improve ahead of next season. He rarely featured on the penalty kill (he averaged 18 seconds per game), and his struggles in the faceoff circle leave much to be desired (his 42.2% win rate ranked 26th among all rookie forwards).
Still, there is much to be optimistic about Beniers’ rookie campaign. He demonstrated poise beyond his years and immediately stepped into the lineup as a reliable offensive contributor with only 10 NHL games under his belt before this season. In 2023-24, the sky is the limit.
Prediction #2: Kraken Clinch Their First-Ever Playoff Berth
It’s safe to say that I was going out on a limb with my second preseason prediction, given that the Kraken were coming off of an underwhelming 60-point debut campaign.
Yet, the Kraken rode an injection of offense via their offseason acquisitions of Andre Burakovsky (39 points in 49 games) and Oliver Bjorkstrand (45 points in 81 games), as well as finding gems in Daniel Sprong (21 goals in 66 games) and Eeli Tolvanen (16 goals in 48 games) to augment their existing core of Beniers, 40-goal man Jared McCann, Jordan Eberle, Yanni Gourde, and Jaden Schwartz.
It’s hardly the most enviable collection of attacking talent around the NHL, but it was enough to bolster a club already buoyed by a foundation of strong 5-on-5 team defense.
Even disappointing efforts from their goaltenders didn’t hamper their regular season exploits. Martin Jones (.887 save percentage in 48 games) and Philipp Grubauer (.895 SV% in 39 games) were far from impressive. Still, they improved on an abysmal team netminding effort in 2021-22 and helped the Kraken fashion an expansion team record 40-point turnaround from Year 1 to Year 2.
The Kraken finished the 2022-23 regular season with a record of 46-28-8 (100 points), which was good enough to claim the Western Conference’s first wildcard spot. Though they were fortunate to face an injury-riddled Colorado Avalanche squad in Round 1, they slayed the defending Stanley Cup champions without the services of McCann after he missed most of the series due to injury.
There is no way anyone can claim that the 2022-23 season was not a major success in the eyes of the Kraken brass. A historic year-over-year improvement coupled with a second-round playoff appearance in only the franchise’s second season of existence is something other organizations can only imagine in their dreams.
Prediction #3: Dunn Makes First All-Star Game Appearance
If the Kraken were to take any notable step forward as a franchise, the impetus for change would always weigh heavily on Vince Dunn’s shoulders.
The 26-year-old blueliner reaped the rewards of an increased role with the Kraken in 2021-22, setting career-highs in assists (28) and points (35). With an improved supporting cast around him, Dunn obliterated his previous career benchmarks in 2022-23 by tallying 14 goals, 50 assists, and 64 points in 81 games.
All three totals were new personal bests and placed him 12th in goals and 10th in assists and points among all NHL defenders this season. More impressively, he ranked second in 5-on-5 production (13 goals and 42 points) without the benefit of playing alongside any truly elite stars.
Beyond his elevated offensive production, Dunn took on a greater workload regarding the Kraken’s transition game and posted strong shot- and scoring chance-shares at 5-on-5. He did this while ranking 11th among all defensemen in average even-strength ice time and 22nd in all-situations usage.
Despite Dunn’s star turn, he was not named to the NHL All-Star Game largely due to the league’s illogical voting rules, which require that at least one player is chosen from each of the NHL’s 32 teams.
Technically, that means that my prediction did not come to fruition. Yet, I would argue that Dunn was undoubtedly one of the NHL’s top-15 defenders this season, with a dark horse case for a spot in the top 10. Let’s go by the spirit of my prediction and call it a day.
Verdict: Yes and No
Prediction #4: Grubauer Finishes Top-Five in Vezina Trophy Voting
What can I say? You can’t win them all! Grubauer came to the Kraken with high expectations, given his status as a Vezina Trophy finalist just the season before. Those expectations were only amplified by the six-year deal worth $5.9 million annually (AAV) he signed as a free agent, putting him among the NHL’s top 10 earners at the position.
Instead of performing at the standard suggested by his salary, Grubauer’s debut season was a disaster by all measures. He posted a 3.16 goals-against average (GAA) and a .889 SV% in 55 games, with both marks ranking within the league’s bottom third.
Though an injury kept Grubauer sidelined early this season, he still played 39 games and improved his GAA (2.85) and SV% (.895) in 2022-23. Also, according to MoneyPuck, Grubauer allowed only 0.7 goals more than expected (GSAx), which was a considerable improvement on his league-worst mark last season of minus-33.7 GSAx.
Despite the tangible improvement, those results resemble numbers belonging to an average NHL backup goaltender, not one of the highest-paid netminders in the league. Teams can – and have – achieved success while trotting out a league-average player in the crease, but don’t expect him to earn any Vezina votes in the meantime.
What Can the Kraken Accomplish in Year 3?
Despite the Kraken’s sizeable turnaround and unexpected playoff outing, it’s important to note that success is not necessarily linear, particularly in the NHL.
Whether it’s due to statistical regression, injuries, or plain old bad luck, seeing a team take a step back after a season of outperforming expectations is fairly common around the league. Even the supposed up-and-comers (think the Edmonton Oilers or Toronto Maple Leafs) have found themselves stranded at familiar playoff checkpoints.
Still, with the right moves and continued development in all aspects, the Kraken can once again qualify for the playoffs and take another crack at the Stanley Cup. For now, let’s bask in the positive atmosphere in Seattle – it’s the least that the city and greater region deserve.
Data courtesy of Hockey Reference, Natural Stat Trick, and the NHL.
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