Seattle Kraken – 3 Storylines To Follow To End 2023-24 Season

The Seattle Kraken’s recent 5-2 loss against the Los Angeles Kings dropped the team’s record to 31-31-13 (75 points in 75 games) and officially eliminated them from contention for a spot in the 2024 NHL Playoffs.

With the loss, the Kraken will be unable to catch the Kings, who occupy the second and final wildcard slot in the Western Conference, and sit 16 points clear (91) with only seven games remaining on the Kraken’s schedule. Los Angeles has also amassed nine more wins in regulation (the first tiebreaker after points), meaning that the Kraken cannot overtake them even if they tie them on points and win the rest of their games before overtime.

Though the Kraken will miss the playoffs for the second time in their three years of existence, not everything is lost on the season.

The team has a stable of prospects in the American Hockey League (AHL), eagerly waiting for their opportunity to shine at the NHL level. Being eliminated from playoff contention would leave the coaching staff and front office free to hand these prospects brief auditions in a stress-free environment.

There’s also the matter of deciding which of the Kraken’s two veteran netminders will be the team’s starter come opening night of the 2024-25 season. Both Joey Daccord and Philipp Grubauer are under contract through at least next season and will likely continue to form Seattle’s goaltending tandem for the immediate future.

One final storyline to follow is the play of their 2021 first-round pick, center Matty Beniers. He has been mired in a sophomore slump after winning the Calder Trophy last season as the NHL’s most outstanding rookie performer. How he develops will significantly impact the organization’s competitive trajectory.

With that, let’s dive into the three key storylines that will define the rest of the Kraken’s season and how they will influence how they move forward as a franchise.

How Will Wright Fare After Being Recalled from the AHL?

As a result of being on the roster of the Kraken’s AHL affiliate (Coachella Valley Firebirds) on the day of the NHL Trade Deadline, 20-year-old center Shane Wright is eligible to play for the Firebirds in the AHL Playoffs. It could prove to be another extended run as Coachella Valley looks to avenge their Game Seven loss in last season’s Calder Cup Final. They currently rank second overall in the league standings by points percentage (PTS%) and look to be on a crash course for a rematch with the Hershey Bears, who lead the AHL in wins and PTS%.

Before then, however, Wright was called up from the American Hockey League to reward him for a strong first full professional season (20 goals and 43 points in 56 AHL games) with NHL minutes. He scored his second career goal in his first game back (he already played three games with the Kraken earlier this season) and could make his case for a regular NHL role with a standout postseason.

Wright ranks fourth among Firebirds skaters in goals and fifth in points this season and looks much more comfortable after bouncing between the NHL, AHL, OHL, and World Juniors last season. According to AHL Tracker, Wright ranks fairly high compared to AHL skaters age 23 and younger (minimum 15 games played this season).

StatisticWrightRank
Goals2013th
Goals Per Game0.3616th
Points4318th
Points Per Game0.7722nd
Primary Points3416th
Primary Points Per Game0.6117th
Shots Per Game2.6421st

Comparing Wright (who turned 20 three months ago) to 23-year-olds with multiple seasons of professional experience under their belts isn’t all that fair. When the age cut-off is restricted to 21, Wright moves into the top 10 of each category except for points per game. 

It bears repeating that players in the 2021 and 2022 draft classes had an entire season or two of development stolen from them because of the COVID-19 pandemic and that stalled or uneven progress should be expected.

Wright has yet to perform at the level of a player once considered the consensus first-overall pick in his draft class, but there is no reason to believe that he won’t be an impact player in the NHL at some point and could be as soon as next season.

With the season winding down and the AHL playoffs on the horizon, don’t be surprised if the Kraken give 20-year-old Ryan Winterton (33 points in 55 games with the Firebirds) and 21-year-old Logan Morrison (40 in 60) an extended look.

Which Goaltender Plays Better Down the Stretch?

Much of what has underlined the Kraken’s struggles over their brief existence can be tied back to the underwhelming play of their goaltenders, particularly that of Grubauer since he became the team’s de facto number-one goalie in the summer of 2021.

The German goaltender was signed to a six-year, $35.4 million contract as a free agent that offseason. Grubauer’s contract carries an average annual value (AAV) of $5.9 million, which makes him the seventh-highest-paid goalie to have played in at least one NHL game this season.

Despite the sizable cap commitment and a Vezina Trophy nomination for his play during the 2020-21 season, Grubauer has severely underperformed relative to his salary over his tenure in Seattle.

Grubauer’s .895 save percentage (SV%), 2.97 goals-against average (GAA), and minus-3.7 goals saved above expected (GSAx) all rank in the bottom third of qualified goalies in the NHL this season (minimum ten games played). He’s consistently tracked among the worst goalies in all three marks since becoming a member of the Kraken and has provided an underwhelming return on investment for the front office.

Related: Seattle Kraken Should Use Rest Of 2023-24 Season To Build For 2024-25

On the other hand, the 27-year-old Daccord has unexpectedly emerged as a steady primary option. Before the 2023-24 campaign, the journeyman netminder had only appeared in 19 NHL games split across four seasons, including playing five games for the Kraken in both 2021-22 and 2022-23.

Daccord has started 43 out of Seattle’s 75 games in 2023-24 – (20th) among all goalies this season – and sits in the top 10 for SV%, GAA, and GSAx among all goalies to have played in at least ten games this season.

Working in Daccord’s favor going forward is that he is only owed $1.2 million against the cap through the end of next season. Grubauer’s hefty deal runs through the 2026-27 season, meaning he will likely remain on the books unless he plays well enough to entice other teams to take on his contract.

Daccord doesn’t boast an established track record of success that would guarantee him a starting role next season, but his play in 2023-24 has earned him the first shot at the gig come opening night.

Can Beniers Begin to Reverse His Sophomore Slump?

As has been well-documented, Beniers has experienced a fall from grace since winning the Calder Trophy last season after he ranked second on the Kraken in goals (24) and fourth in points (57) as a rookie.

Despite a recent uptick in production since the start of February (seven goals and 14 points in 25 games), Beniers’ decreased scoring output has put him on pace to fall well short of last season’s totals. He’s only tallied 13 goals and 33 points through his first 70 games of the season, representing an 82-game pace of 15 goals and 38 points.

Beniers is not a lost cause by any means, as his reduced offensive totals look to mostly be a by-product of an unsustainably unlucky run of shooting from both him and his teammates.

The young center’s individual (10.7%) and on-ice (9.2%) shooting percentages in all situations have dropped significantly from last season’s marks of 16.2% and 12.9% respectively. 

The argument can be made that both he and the Kraken as a whole last season were converting at a clip that would be nearly impossible to maintain year-over-year (they ranked second in the entire league). Still, Beniers’ underlying shot- and chance-generation numbers have seen a similar slip, so it appears as though he has more to do than just hope that the percentages regress in his favor.

The sophomore slump is an all-too-familiar phenomenon across every major sport, and Beniers is no different from any number of rookie sensations. How he bounces back to end the year and start the next one could dictate his legacy and long-term future in Seattle. 

Kraken Must Start Planning for 2024-25 Season

At this point, the 2023-24 season is a write-off. After enjoying a 40-point jump in the standings from their debut to their sophomore season, the Kraken are on track to give nearly half of that away by season’s end.

The Kraken can point to an enviable stash of prospects (they ranked 12th in The Athletic’s farm system rankings) that should only grow with five picks over the first three rounds of the 2024 NHL Draft. Their own 2024 first-round pick will likely fall into the top 10, giving them a slim opportunity to win the right to pick first via the draft lottery rules.

Getting a taste of playoff action (and actually winning a series) makes pivoting towards a minor re-tool more difficult to take for both the organization and the fanbase. Still, the short-term pain is worth the long-term gain.

Data courtesy of AHL Tracker, Evolving Hockey, and the NHL.

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About Marko Zlomislic 128 Articles
Marko is an aspiring sportswriter with a passion for crafting stories while using a combination of the eye-test and (shudder) analytics, which is complemented by an academic background in criminology and political science. When not covering the Seattle Kraken for Oregon Sports News, Marko can also be found pouring countless hours into various sports video games franchises, indulging in science fiction novels, and taking long runs around his neighbourhood. You can yell at him by following him on Twitter or via email at mzlomislic97@gmail.com. He also regularly produces content for The Hockey Writers.