The Seattle Kraken have had a brutal season. And that's a good thing.
The Kraken currently sits 31st in the NHL this season, one point ahead of the Montreal Canadiens with a game in hand. Contrast that to the Vegas Golden Knights, who went all the way to the Stanley Cup final in its debut campaign, and it's easy to get discouraged.
Except, Seattle is winning in its own way: the long-term game.
The Golden Knights went all in early, and they've committed to that ever since. They've moved numerous draft picks and assets over the past few seasons to keep them in contention, with the most recent star pickup being Jack Eichel earlier this season.
But when the pain starts to set in -- and that might be soon -- the wounds will be throbbing.
Seattle? They'll be headed in the other direction.
When the Kraken picked its roster, it was built with the idea of moving pending UFAs and other players with more immediate trade value. Mark Giordano, Marcus Johansson, Mason Appleton, Jeremy Lauzon, Colin Blackwell and Calle Jarnkrok were all easily tradable assets that the team seemed to capitalize on. And given their already low spot in the standings, it's not like they're due for a freefall. In a way, it's been a blessing that the team's two goaltenders, Chris Driedger and Philipp Grubauer, have been so bad this season because it prevented them from taking themselves out of a good lottery position.
The Kraken have an incredible 25 draft picks over the next two season. Twenty-five. Most teams have an average of 14. That includes four second-round picks this year and three the next year. While it's very unlikely the Kraken will use all 25 picks, they'll be useful trade assets. Or, heck, maybe they'll actually capitalize and build one of the deepest prospect groups we've seen in a long time. Ron Francis isn't messing around here, clearly.
And just ignoring the plethora of picks as a whole, the Kraken have managed to make its team much worse -- but that'll make them better when it matters.
The NHL draft always has some quality talent at the top each year, but scouts love the 2022 and 2023 draft. Shane Wright is the top prospect this year, while Connor Bedard looks like a whiz kid for 2023. Both are viewed as franchise-changing talents, and in the case of 2023, many believe Matvei Michkov is just as capable of being the top player chosen. The talent pool runs deep in both drafts, and much deeper than the first few drafts provided the Vegas Golden Knights.
So from the start, there was more incentive for the Kraken to focus on the future rather than emulating what made Vegas strong from inception. And not following that path took the pressure off the team, too: based on the expansion draft alone, the Kraken didn't fool anyone into believing they'd be a playoff contender this year. It helped that the rest of the league learned from its mistakes with Vegas, meaning Seattle would have to build its team the hard way.
And give credit where credit's due. Francis has one of the hardest jobs in the league right now, but also one with some of the most potential in the league.
Building a team from the ground up is hard. In the modern era, no team has come close to the success that Vegas had out of the gate. The four teams that debuted between 1998 and 2000 -- Nashville, Atlanta, Columbus and Minnesota -- have yet to win a Cup, and one of them, Atlanta, ended up relocating. So what we saw in Vegas was an anomaly, and that's OK for Seattle because successful drafting is so important. Matty Beniers, Ryker Evans and Ryan Winterton, among others, give the team a good start a year ago, but there's a long way to go.
The City of Seattle has welcomed the NHL with open arms. With how big the sport grew in Vegas, which seemed focused on a win-now model to maximize the interest as quickly as possible, Seattle is willing to take the patient approach. By 2023, we could be talking about Seattle having the best prospect crop in the entire NHL.
If Vegas can't win the Cup before its inevitable rebuild, they can take solace in the fact they built a competitive franchise quicker than anyone in NHL history and had the fanbase to support it. But down the line, if the Kraken can make the most of their opportunity to truly have a sustainable long-term plan for on-ice success, they might be the ones laughing in the end.