We’re getting into crunch time when it comes to defining the field for the 2023 NHL Playoffs, and surprisingly, the Seattle Kraken – they of a meager 60 points last season – still control their destiny heading into the final two weeks of the season.
With last night’s 8-1 win against the Arizona Coyotes, the Kraken’s record improved to 42-26-8, good for 92 points over 76 games. Currently in the first Western Conference wildcard spot, they hold a three-point lead over the Winnipeg Jets in the second and final wildcard slot.
They own five- and eight-point leads on the Calgary Flames (77 games played) and Nashville Predators (76 games played) as the two closest postseason hopefuls games.
Despite the team’s impressive 32-point turnaround from 2021-22 – the biggest second-season jump by an expansion team in NHL history – things could have been even rosier for the Kraken.
Through February 1st, the Kraken ranked seventh in the NHL by points percentage (PTS%) with a mark of .643 over the first 49 games of the season with a record of 29-15-5. Since then, Seattle’s record of 13-11-3 has seen them slip into the wildcard discussion while their division rivals seem to be hitting their stride at the most important time of year.
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The Vegas Golden Knights, Los Angeles Kings, and the Edmonton Oilers have all rocketed past them in the Pacific Division standings, ranking second, third, and fifth in PTS%, respectively, since the beginning of February.
As a result, the Kraken lag seven points behind the third-place Oilers with a game in hand but won’t have any more opportunities to directly take points off of them for the rest of the season.
According to Tankathon’s estimation, the Kraken own the fifth-easiest schedule over the remainder of the campaign, with a pair of pivotal matchups against the division-leading Golden Knights looming large on the schedule.
Though the Flames are one of four teams with an easier remaining schedule, the Kraken’s multiple-point cushion and games in hand, coupled with the fact that the Predators have the toughest schedule, still puts them in a favorable position in terms of qualifying for the playoffs.
As a result of their win against the Coyotes, Seattle’s likelihood of making the playoffs improved to 99.3% from 98.1% the night before, according to MoneyPuck’s model.
After Monday night’s slate, the Flames’ chances went from 29.6% to 30.5%, while the Predators’ odds halved from 3.4% to 1.5% after a disappointing 5-1 loss at the hands of the Dallas Stars.
Even if the playoffs are all but confirmed for the Kraken, there are still plenty of mysteries to solve over the rest of the season. Like: which team will earn the notoriety of being Seattle’s first-ever opponent in the playoffs? At this point, it’s anyone’s guess.
Kraken’s Potential First-Round Opponent Still Unclear
Though still not a mathematical certainty, the Kraken are very likely to finish in one of the West’s two wildcard places, with The Athletic’s Dom Luszczyszyn putting the Kraken at over 90% to finish fourth in the Pacific.
A wildcard berth carries with it a first-round playoff date with one of the West’s two division winners, with the higher-ranked division winner facing the lower-ranked wildcard team and vice versa.
If the playoffs started today, the Kraken would draw the Stars as the lower-ranked of the division leaders. In three games played against each other in 2022-23, the Kraken own a 1-1-1 record in the season series with a minus-3 goal differential across those games.
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Adding to the uncertainty is that the West divisions are far from decided, even this late into the season. The first- and third-place teams in the Pacific (three points), and the Central (two), are within a hair of one another.
The results of those races (as well as the one for the overall Western crown) mean that the Kraken could potentially line up opposite any of the Golden Knights, Kings, Oilers, Stars, Minnesota Wild, or the defending Stanley Cup champions in the Colorado Avalanche.
Regardless of who they draw, the opening series won’t be easy. Since February 1st, all six of those teams rank 13th or higher in PTS%, and all but the Stars rank seventh or better. There is nothing better than clinching the franchise’s first-ever playoff berth and being gifted with one of the hottest teams in the league.
Story of the Kraken’s 2022-23 Season Yet to Be Written
Although we’re firmly in the stretch run of the NHL regular season, there is still a lot to play for around the league across both the Eastern and Western Conferences.
Of the four divisions, only the Atlantic is sown up as far as playoff seeding goes. The Boston Bruins recently locked up the Presidents’ Trophy after ensuring that they would finish with the most points in the regular season.
Even for a Bruins team 18 points ahead of the second-overall Carolina Hurricanes, a historic chase for the NHL’s single-season points record adds intrigue where there might otherwise be a sense of simply playing out the final string with nothing on the line.
The Toronto Maple Leafs and Tampa Bay Lightning already know that the two will engage in a rematch of last year’s heated seven-game conflict, although the home-ice advantage is yet to be decided.
For everyone else, division titles, home-ice advantage, and simply qualifying are up for grabs, making each successive game just as, if not more important than the last. If that’s not a prerequisite for a riveting end to the campaign, I don’t know what could be.
For all the (well-justified) handwringing about the NHL’s current playoff format, feelings of real jeopardy and numerous high-stakes affairs should ensure that the general public stays locked in until and beyond April 14th.
The only question remains: will the Kraken be among the clubs joining their already qualified brethren?