How Seattle Kraken compare to NHL expansion teams of last 30 years
The Seattle Kraken are mired at the bottom of the Pacific Division, nearly last in the Western Conference, and and while it is understandably frustrating, it is unfortunately a routine part of an expansion’s team’s first season.
There will be highs, like Sunday’s 5-2 win over the Washington Capitals, and there will certainly be lows throughout the season, but in the end the Kraken will likely be right around the average for a first-year team.
I don’t know what is technically considered “the modern era,” but for the purposes of this article we’re going to go back to 1991 (somehow, that was already 30 years ago!) to look at how every expansion team since fared in its first season.
An unfair standard was set in 2017 by the Vegas Golden Knights, doing a disservice to the Kraken as the comparison continues to be Vegas. Those guys don’t count; here is a more realistic picture of what the outlook might be for the rest of this inaugural Seattle Kraken season.
• 1991: San Jose Sharks (17-58-5)
If you thought the Kraken’s recent six-game losing streak was tough, imagine sitting through 13 straight losses like the Sharks endured early on in their inaugural season, which dropped them at one point to 1-15 on the year. San Jose was shut out nine times that season and allowed more than 10 goals in a game on three different occasions.
• 1992: Tampa Bay Lightning (23-54-7)
The Lightning at one point surged to the front of their division, but multiple long losing streaks stamped out any sustained momentum and they ran out of gas over the last two months of the season, winning just four times in their final 27 games. Tampa did put up a respectable mark that was close to average for an expansion team moving forward.
• 1992: Ottawa Senators (10-70-4)
The Lightning’s fellow expansion team in the 1992-93 season endured a rougher debut into the NHL. Ottawa set records for futility with the longest home losing streak (11 games), longest road losing streak (38), and the fewest road wins in a season (one). Oh, and in the expansion draft, the Senators proceeded to make three picks that were ineligible.
• 1993: Florida Panthers (33-34-17)
This is how tough it is to be a success in your first season. The Panthers are held up as the standard-bearer from this era yet they didn’t even reach .500 in year one. The original expectation for the Kraken was to be a playoff team right away, yet even the Panthers came up short in their inaugural season, finishing just one point out of the final playoff spot.
• 1993: Anaheim Mighty Ducks (33-46-5)
Something was in the water (or more appropriately, the ice) in 1993 because the two most successful expansion seasons from this era came in the form of the Mighty Ducks and Panthers. Anaheim finished with an equal number of wins as its fellow expansion team, Florida, and similarly ended the year ninth in its conference, just one spot out of making the playoffs. They did struggle in one area that will be familiar to Kraken fans, finishing last in power-play goals (54) and power-play percentage (14.36%).
• 1998: Nashville Predators (28-47-7)
The Predators finished with the third-most wins of any expansion team to that point yet still finished second-to-last in the Western Conference. It was a solid season, no massive losing streaks, but there were no big winning streaks either. The Predators won three games in a row just once all year and finished the season on a four-game losing streak.
• 1999: Atlanta Thrashers (14-61-7)
It was a tough start but big no means disastrous for the Thrashers in the first couple months of the season, but it all came undone over the back half of the schedule. In February and March they lost 12 in a row, which was in the midst of a stretch that saw the Thrashers lose 22 of 23 games. At least the Kraken don’t have to worry about the apathy which greeted this franchise from the outset. They lasted just 11 years in Atlanta before moving to Winnipeg and becoming the new Jets.
• 2000: Columbus Blue Jackets (28-39-9)
The Blue Jackets won just once in their first nine games but overall did pretty well for an expansion team thanks to a surge at the end of January and a strong February. The record was good enough for a tie for 13th in the Western Conference, ahead of the last place Mighty Ducks, and their fellow expansion team from Minnesota.
• 2000: Minnesota Wild (25-39-13)
It took the Wild six games until they got their first win, and they never got to .500 at any point of the season. The high-water mark came when they won eight of 10 at the end of January into February, but they couldn’t sustain the momentum after that stretch. However, one comparison that would bode well for the Kraken: with their first NHL Draft pick (No. 3 overall), the Wild selected Marian Gaborik, who played eight years with the team and is still the all-time leading goal scorer in franchise history.
It’s not a pretty picture, and we won’t even delve into what often happened during the second season for these franchises. So for now, just enjoy the ride and the “new car smell” of a state-of-the-art arena and another pro team in town.
It seems bad now, but the Kraken are just paying their dues, the latest in a long line of teams having to make the hard climb to find their footing before building to prosperity.