Although the Seattle Kraken’s season ended several weeks ago, the 2023 NHL Playoffs raged on until earlier this week. With a resounding 9-3 victory in Game 5 of the Stanley Cup Final, the Vegas Golden Knights captured the first championship in franchise history, only six seasons after first joining the league for the 2017-18 campaign.
As the hockey world waves goodbye to another NHL season, the question remains: What valuable lessons can the Kraken take from the meteoric rise of the Golden Knights?
In short, a combination of aggressive roster construction, effective lineup optimization, and a sound structure at even strength helped the Golden Knights buck the trend of expansion teams trudging through years of disappointment before achieving notable on-ice success. With that, let’s dive into each point and identify how the Kraken can best emulate their expansion cousins.
Lesson #1: Acquire Star Players by Any Means Necessary
Acquiring star players is the quickest way to alter the trajectory of success for any NHL team, and the Kraken should leave no stone unturned in their pursuit of legitimate elite talent.
While traditional means such as free agency (short-term) and the entry draft (long-term) are viable avenues, the Kraken must also explore securing star players through trades. It’s one of the hallmarks of the Golden Knights’ existence, but also something easier to imagine than emulate.
In the competitive landscape of the league, bold and strategic trades have the potential to transform a team’s fortunes overnight. Seattle’s management should be proactive in identifying potential trade targets, scouting players who could fit their system, and be ready to pounce when the opportunity presents itself.
A cursory look at the Golden Knights’ roster shows how general manager Kelly McCrimmon followed this strategy to fruition. In center Jack Eichel and winger Mark Stone, the team twice won sweepstakes for disgruntled stars looking for a way out of their previous markets. Injuries and a lack of team success contributed to them wanting out, but it doesn’t change the fact that Vegas leaped at the chance to acquire game-changing talent.
Of course, the Kraken must be willing to part ways with a certain caliber of assets to acquire said star players who can elevate the team’s ceiling. While this aggressive approach may carry risks to the team’s long-term future, the potential rewards are immense – ask the Golden Knights.
By being proactive, shrewd, and persistent in the trade market, the Kraken can bolster their roster with sorely-needed star talent. The front office has successfully mined diamonds-in-the-rough or rescued rehabilitation projects on multiple occasions (Eeli Tolvanen, Daniel Sprong, Jared McCann, etc.), so they should have no problem surrounding said talent with adequate depth pieces.
Lesson #2: Put Players in Position to Succeed
Without the aforementioned superstars driving the bus, achieving on-ice success heavily depends on the Kraken placing players in appropriate roles within their lineup.
A key aspect of maximizing a team’s potential is recognizing and capitalizing on each player’s strengths and weaknesses. Seattle’s coaching staff should (and has) assessed the skills and playing styles of each individual to determine their optimal role on the team.
By placing players in positions that align with their abilities, the Kraken can foster a harmonious and productive on-ice dynamic. This entails utilizing skilled playmakers in offensive roles, deploying defensively responsible players in critical situations, and trotting out physical and gritty players to generate energy and disrupt opponents.
Of the many different candidates, Sprong is one of the best examples of a current Kraken player being used appropriately, given his strengths and weaknesses. He’s an offense-first player who receives fourth-line usage and occasional reps on the power play. He can leverage his shot with the man-advantage and doesn’t have his defensive weaknesses exposed too often against weaker competition.
The Golden Knights have a similar player in winger William Carrier, who, like Sprong, is among the league leaders in goals and points per-60-minutes at 5-on-5 due to his low usage.
Of course, Vegas was built on a foundation of misfits and castoffs, including original members in Carrier, William Karlsson, Reilly Smith, Jonathan Marchessault (named the playoff MVP), Brayden McNabb, and Shea Theodore. These were all players pushed to the margins in their previous locales but flourished once handed more responsibility.
Kraken players like McCann, Sprong, Tolvanen, and Vince Dunn are all examples of this phenomenon and suggest the organization’s professional scouting department is among the league’s best. Of all the lessons listed, this is the one the Kraken seem to have absorbed most fully.
Lesson #3: Implement a Strong Defensive Structure
Finding success in the NHL often hinges on a solid defensive structure, and the Kraken have established themselves as a formidable team by prioritizing defensive excellence at even strength. While their goaltending may have occasional vulnerabilities, building a strong defensive foundation can help insulate those shortcomings and create a more reliable defensive unit overall.
The Golden Knights used five different netminders this season, and apart from trade deadline acquisition Jonathan Quick, none posted a save percentage (SV%) below .915. Adin Hill submitted a .932 SV% in 16 games throughout the team’s Cup run after featuring in both the NHL and the American Hockey League (AHL) for three organizations (including Vegas) before the age of 27. Before this season, few would have pegged Hill as the goaltender-of-record for the Stanley Cup champions.
According to Natural Stat Trick, the Golden Knights allowed the fourth-lowest rate of high-danger chances against per-60-minutes (HDCA/60) at 5-on-5 in the playoffs. They ranked ninth (just behind the Kraken) during the regular season. This reality allowed them to run a revolving door of goalies due to injuries and see little drop off in overall team performance.
By constructing a sturdy defensive lineup and implementing a well-drilled defensive structure, the Kraken can solidify their even-strength play, compensate for any goaltending inconsistencies, and continue to establish themselves as a tough team to break down. They’ve done well in this regard through the first two seasons, so the road to success is within sight.
Kraken Following Similar Path to Golden Knights
The Golden Knights’ journey to the 2023 Stanley Cup serves as a lesson for all NHL teams aspiring to reach the pinnacle of success. Their unwavering commitment to strategic roster construction, lineup management, and territorial dominance provides a blueprint for all.
As the Kraken head into Year Three of existence, emulating the Golden Knights’ success by taking heed of the lessons imparted by their playoff run should be their main priority. To their credit, the Kraken have already displayed promising signs of becoming a force in the NHL and can build off an already robust base of success.
The Kraken may not win the Stanley Cup next season or the season after. Still, the Golden Knights have established that immediate success is a feasible development for modern expansion franchises. The Kraken must demonstrate that the 2022-23 season was not a fluke and that they, too, can capitalize on the opportunity presented to them by the NHL’s current system.