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NHL Burning Questions: Seattle Kraken

Adam Proteau looks at the biggest questions surrounding the Seattle Kraken, such as their improvement in their sophomore season, the ability of the defense, and whether the goaltending can bounce back.
Seattle Kraken

This is the newest edition of THN.com’s Burning Questions series, an ongoing feature where we ask three crucial questions about each NHL franchise. In today’s file, we’re posing Three Burning Questions for the Seattle Kraken.

THREE BURNING QUESTIONS FOR THE KRAKEN IN 2022-23:

1. The Kraken couldn’t be much worse than they were last season, but how much of an improvement is fair to expect this year? 

Nobody projected the Kraken to pull a “Vegas” and run to the Stanley Cup Final in their first season, and Seattle proved those projectors correct, posting a 27-49-6 record – the third-worst in the NHL in 2021-22, ahead of only Montreal (22-49-11) and Arizona (25-50-7). That should provide you with an indication of how much of a project this Kraken team still is. They’re not a player or two away from threatening anyone in the Pacific Division, let alone a Cup frontrunner like Colorado. It’s going to take more time.

That said, Seattle GM Ron Francis did some positive work this past summer, and the Kraken are almost assuredly going to be better this season. He got a first-line winger – former Blue Jackets mainstay Oliver Bjorkstrand, who scored 28 goals last season – at a very reasonable salary cap hit of $5.4 million for each of the next four seasons, and at the criminally low trade price of one third-round and one fourth-round pick in the 2023 NHL Entry Draft. He signed unrestricted free agent Andre Burakovsky (who had 22 goals for the Avalanche in 2021-22). He lucked out at the 2022 draft, landing elite center Shane Wright with the fourth-overall selection. Wright is only 18, but he has the skills to make it on Seattle’s roster, which isn’t actively teeming with depth at the top-skill level.

All of which is to say, yes, the Kraken should be a tougher team to play against this season. They likely won’t have enough horsepower to push them past Pacific rivals in Anaheim, Vancouver, Anaheim, and Vegas to vault into a playoff berth, but they might surprise some people by finishing ahead of one of the aforementioned four teams and developing faster than they’d developed in their inaugural year.

2. Will Seattle’s defense corps be more of a concern this year? 

The Kraken had the league’s fourth-worst offense (at an average of 2.60 goals-for-per-game) last year, but their defense corps isn’t all that much better, ranking ninth-worst at an average of 3.46 Goals-Against per game. As it goes with virtually every expansion team, there must be an improvement at all levels, but with Francis’ moves to improve their forward group this season, Seattle’s blueliners may be under more pressure to elevate their games. And they don’t have the depth of talent to do so.

To that end, Francis added only journeyman D-man Justin Schultz to their top-two defense pairings, and the 32-year-old Schultz is not going to move the needle into the right place; he averaged only 16:55 in Washington last season, and asking him for big-time minutes is a bad ask. Ultimately, there’s no savior on the horizon for Seattle’s ‘D’-corps in 2022-23, but that’s true for many NHL teams. Teams usually don’t trade top-tier blueliners. You either land an elite defense prospect high in the draft, or you develop one in your system, and that latter challenge is on the Kraken until further notice.

3. The Kraken are locked in with a new goalie duo of the returning Philipp Grubauer and new acquisition Martin Jones – is this the right move by Francis? 

The Kraken’s goaltending will once again be left to Grubauer for the most part, and once again, it’ll likely be a two-thirds/one-third split of games between Grubauer and his backup respectively. Last year, Grubauer and Chris Driedger posted almost identical individual stats – the 30-year-old Grubauer had a .889 Save Percentage and 3.16 Goals-Against Average in 54 games, while the 28-year-old Driedger had a .899 SP and 2.96 G.A.A. in 27 games – but Driedger will miss the first few months of the season recovering from knee surgery.

To fill in for Driedger, Francis signed journeyman Martin Jones to a one-year, $2 million contract. The 32-year-old has seen better days, putting up a 3.42 G.A.A. and .900 SP with Philadelphia last season. Jones may play better by not playing in a high-pressure market like Philly, but he can’t be expected to take the starter’s job away from Grubauer, nor post career bests in his individual numbers. Much pressure will be on Grubauer to rebound from a down season, and after that, with due respect to Jones and Driedger’s knee, it’s slim pickings in net for the Kraken.

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