As of December 1st, the Seattle Kraken have played through over a quarter of the 2021-22 NHL season, posting a discouraging record of 8-13-1 – good for 17 points and for the team to rank 26th in the overall league standings. It’s safe to say that struggling to keep pace with the playoff contingent was not in the franchise’s plans given how the Vegas Golden Knights fared in their inaugural season, but all is not lost. In spite of a group of anchors threatening to capsize the campaign, several key contributors have kept the Kraken afloat. Let’s embark on an all-too-early award ceremony, where superlatives are handed out to well-deserving candidates. First up is the team’s MVP thus far – forward Jared McCann.
Quarter-Season MVP – Jared McCann
This category boasts a number of noteworthy nominees with Jordan Eberle leading the team in goals (11), Jaden Schwartz holding the scoring lead (17 points), and Yanni Gourde offering a spark with his two-way dominance. Yet, Jared McCann has tallied 14 points in 17 games as the team’s primary scoring outlet and simultaneously acted as a defensively responsible compass.
Beyond leading the team in points-per-game (.82), McCann is second in goals (10) due to scoring on nearly a third of his shots, extending his hot streak from last season where he posted an already high 15.1 percent shooting clip. His efficiency is off the charts as McCann ranks first in goals-per-60, seventh in assists-per-60, and leads the Kraken in points-per-60. In terms of making the most of his minutes, McCann is unmatched among his teammates.
The most telling descriptor of his sizeable impact is the discrepancy in the Kraken’s underlying metrics when McCann is off or on the ice. According to MoneyPuck, the difference between Seattle’s share of chance-quality at five-on-five with McCann on the ice (51.3%) and when he’s on the bench (44.9%) is the largest on the team. This suggests that his success is not necessarily being driven by strong linemates or lucky finishing; he’s a big reason for their territorial victories.
Biggest Disappointment – Philipp Grubauer
This was by far the easiest category for which to decide upon a winner. After being awarded a hefty six-year, $35.4-million contract to backstop the Kraken, much was expected of a Vezina Trophy nominee honored just several months earlier. What’s transpired has been unexpected.
Among all goalies to have featured in at least one game this season, Grubauer has allowed the most goals above expected (12.7) in the NHL. What makes this so shocking is that Seattle is an otherwise solid defensive outfit, ranking ninth in expected goals against per-60 at five-on-five. They’re not bleeding dangerous scoring chances, but their biggest financial investment has failed to hold up his end of the bargain, sending the club into a vicious spiral in the early going.
To put a positive spin on the issue, there is almost no way Grubauer continues to post historically terrible results and should revert to somewhere around his career save-percentage (SV%) of .918, a far cry from the ignominious .890 SV% he’s currently sporting for the Kraken. Here’s to better puck luck!
Biggest Surprise – Brandon Tanev
If you scour Seattle’s scoring leaderboard, you will find several usual suspects, but one name, in particular, raises some eyebrows among consistent consumers of NHL hockey. Brandon Tanev, he of startled headshot fame, is fifth on the Kraken in scoring (13 points) and has potted eight goals in addition to his playmaking exploits.
His conversion rate is running slightly hot as he’s nearly doubled his career shooting percentage of 11.3%, but he’s firing shots on goal at the most prolific rate of his career which gives him a buffer for any regression on the finishing front.
Outside of his surprising offensive output, Tanev has continued to be his usual, physically dominant self without the puck, leading the team in hits while posting the second-best relative expected goals share behind McCann. His $3.5-million cap hit is still a bit rich for my blood, but he’s playing at a level more commensurate with his salary this season. Head coach Dave Hakstol clearly trusts him, and Tanev is repaying the favor and is currently on pace to blast past his career-high of 29 points in 2018-19 with a 48-point pace thus far.
Most Looking Forward To – Can the Kraken Goalies Rebound?
For this next category, it’s crucial to understand that Seattle’s porous concession rate (30th in goals against per game) is almost entirely due to the capitulation of its netminders, rather than inherent flaws in their defensive strategy as I briefly touched on in the biggest disappointment section.
The Kraken hover around 50% in shot- and chance-share, which is in direct conflict with their abysmal 40% stake of actual goals. No matter what you think of Hakstol, the personnel, or the game plan, that sort of discrepancy is almost guaranteed to minimize to some degree in short order. If it does, expect Seattle to return to the precipice of the playoff race. That’s a big if, to be fair.
Next Kraken Milestone: Mid-Season
The first quarter of the Kraken’s inaugural season has been rockier than expected but with 60 games still left to play, an inspiring run of form could see the franchise catapult itself into a fluid playoff conversation. Check back in at the mid-season mark to evaluate whether the early conclusions were indicators of things to come or merely a blip on the radar.