As we approach the end of the year, PHR continues its look at what teams are thankful for in 2022-23. There also might be a few things your team would like down the road. We’ll examine what’s gone well in the early going and what could improve as the season rolls on for the Seattle Kraken.
Who are the Kraken thankful for?
The second-overall pick in the 2021 NHL Entry Draft and the first pick in the history of the Kraken, Beniers has had a quick rise to success, and stardom, in the NHL. The recently-turned 20-year-old currently sits third on the team in points with 24 and fourth amongst Kraken forwards in average time-on-ice, playing 17:13.
Impressive as Beniers’ offensive game has been thus far, looking a little deeper at his numbers beyond just points, shows how impressive the rookie is. Coming into tonight, Beniers currently holds a +6 rating along with a 56.5 Corsi and 56.2 Fenwick, albeit with far more offensive-zone starts than defensive.
One might also expect a player of this age and experience to be fairly irresponsible, but for Beniers’ 16 giveaways in 31 games this season, he’s countered with 17 takeaways. Perhaps you’d think that surely he wouldn’t be throwing his body around much in his first full season, but Beniers also comes into today with 37 hits. You also wouldn’t be blamed for thinking a 20-year-old who plays physical hockey would definitely have piled up plenty of penalty minutes, putting his team on the penalty kill over and over. That’s also not the case with the beyond-his-years forward, who has a grand total of two penalty minutes over those 31 games.
Beniers still has plenty to work on and is a few years away from entering his prime, but when looking for reasons why Seattle was able to have such a quick turnaround after a disappointing inaugural season, at the top of the board is this rookie sensation.
What are the Kraken thankful for?
A quick turnaround
When the expansion Vegas Golden Knights reached the Stanley Cup Final in their first season, it got many prospective new franchises (their potential owners, especially) excited at the prospect of adding a team in their city too. Seattle was fortunate enough to receive the next expansion team, but their inaugural season provided the disclaimer on Vegas’ success to all future expansion franchises: results may vary.
The Kraken finished 30th overall in the NHL in their first campaign, ahead of only the Arizona Coyotes and Montreal Canadiens. While the franchise probably doesn’t appreciate being compared to the Golden Knights every step of the way, one would assume they were hoping for a comparable first season. That, of course, didn’t happen, though the team did receive a nice consolation prize: the fourth-overall pick and the opportunity to select Shane Wright.
Good as Wright is, and will be, Seattle knew it needed to flip the switch after last season and did plenty to address the situation this offseason, highlighted by adding Andre Burakovsky in free agency and acquiring Oliver Bjorkstrand from the Columbus Blue Jackets. Beniers’ breakout, along with a resurgence from Jordan Eberle and newfound success from Daniel Sprong in the bottom-six also aided Seattle’s turnaround, the team currently sitting third in the Pacific Division entering the day.
Now in their second season and the weight of last season’s poor performance off their shoulders, the group can continue to focus and push for the playoffs as just another one of the NHL’s 32 teams, a good situation for players, coaches, management, ownership, and fans of any team, including the newest.
What would the Kraken be even more thankful for?
Average (or better) goaltending
Quality goaltending was more or less impossible for the Kraken to find last season. None of their three goaltenders, Philipp Grubauer, Chris Driedger, or Joey Daccord, recorded a save-percentage over .900 and only Driedger’s goals-against average, 2.96, was below 3.00. Keeping the puck out of the net is a team effort, however it’s reasonable to suspect that had Seattle received at least league-average goaltending, they may have been competitive for a long stretch of last season.
Entering 2022-23, if the team wanted to turn things around, it appeared they would need the goaltending situation to improve in a big way. Interestingly, the team has turned things around in a major way, however the goaltending hasn’t improved all that much. Grubauer’s play has in fact deteriorated even further, though the newly-signed Martin Jones is having somewhat of a rebound.
Jones, 32, has shouldered the load for the Kraken thus far, getting into 22 of the team’s 31 games, posting an .889 save-percentage and 2.91 goals-against average. Those numbers aren’t much better than anything else Seattle has seen, but they also don’t tell a complete story. After a strong start, Jones has trailed off a little in the past couple of weeks and was impacted by an outlier 9-8 win over the Los Angeles Kings on November 29th, where he recorded 27 saves on 35 shots.
While Jones’ numbers are an improvement, they aren’t exactly good either. If Seattle wants to succeed and make a run not only at the playoffs, but in them, the internal goaltending performance will need to improve significantly. With $11.4MM tied up in goaltending for this season, there isn’t much room to make an immediate upgrade at the position. Even after this season when Jones and his $2MM come off the books, the team still has Driedger signed for another year at $3.5MM AAV and Grubauer signed for another four years at $5.9MM AAV.
Bringing in a new netminder in the offseason wouldn’t necessarily be impossible, but would be difficult given their commitments. Even then, adding a goaltender with a strong pedigree is great, but they would need him to perform like it. After all, the team signed a goaltender with a strong pedigree before last season: Grubauer.
What should be on the Kraken’s holiday wishlist?
A puck-moving defenseman
Some Vezina-quality goaltending would probably top the list in Seattle, but as we explained, that’s not as easy as it sounds. After that, the Kraken could certainly benefit from a defenseman who could get their strong crop of snipers the puck in key areas, especially on the powerplay.
The Kraken could more realistically address this need in-season, with a few options available. The team currently has just under $1.2MM in salary cap space, which should get better as the deadline approaches. Perhaps the biggest name in this category would be Anaheim Ducks defenseman John Klingberg, who could have been a fit for the Kraken in free agency. Klingberg ultimately signed a one-year, $7MM contract with the Ducks where he, like his team, hasn’t been at his best. Still, the talent is there and the last-place Ducks are expected to move the blueliner for an asset before the deadline approaches.
Another option could be Shayne Gostisbehere of the Arizona Coyotes. The 29-year-old, who is set to be a free agent this offseason, had a fantastic comeback in 2021-22 with 51 points in 82 games and is well on his way to repeating upon that success with 21 points in 31 games this year. Considering Arizona’s struggles, Gostisbehere’s performance appears that much more impressive and putting him in a situation like Seattle with a number of talented point-producers could serve to grow his production that much more.