Eide: What to watch for from Seattle Kraken in 2nd half of season

Feb 8, 2022, 10:38 AM

Seattle Kraken...

Philipp Grubauer of the Seattle Kraken is congratulated by Chris Driedger after his 3-0 shutout win against the New York Islanders. (Steven Ryan/Getty Images)

(Steven Ryan/Getty Images)

Jordan Eberle was the only member of the Seattle Kraken who had to work over the weekend. He was in Vegas for the NHL’s All-Star weekend.

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Eberle became the first Seattle Kraken to score a goal in an All-Star Game and the first to shoot pucks at floating targets in the Bellagio Casino’s fountain, which he did during the Skills Competition.

The rest of the team dispersed to relaxing vacation spots like Florida or Arizona to take a mental break. That break ended Tuesday morning as the team was back on the ice in Seattle for practice in preparation of finishing up the second half of the NHL season.

Seattle (15-27-4) is not going to make a playoff run. The bad start to the season left the Kraken buried in the playoff race. But that doesn’t mean there isn’t intrigue for the second half of the season.

One of the worst losses of the first half was against the lowly Arizona Coyotes (11-30-4) when the Kraken blew a 3-1 lead and fell 5-4. They get a chance to avenge that loss when they kick off the second half against the same Coyotes on Wednesday at Climate Pledge Arena.

Here’s what to look for over the second half of the Kraken inaugural season.

Continue improved play from before the All-Star break

The Seattle Kraken found some modest success prior to the break, winning five out of 10 games, including their first shutout of the season.

It was a streak where the Kraken played the kind of hockey that they were built to play. They limited the opposition’s offense, took care of the puck, found just enough scoring, and got good goaltending. That’s the model that took half the season to find.

This warm streak – you can’t exactly call 5-5-0 hot – came after a week’s worth of tough practices in January. The All-Star break featured no practice time. Can the Kraken pick up where they left off?

Can the goaltending continue?

Philipp Grubauer struggled early in the season and the losses piled up. It wasn’t all his fault, but his early struggles were Problem A for Seattle.

Things changed for Grubauer and backup Chris Driedger over the last month as the two have been playing well. Grubauer has won five of his last seven starts, including the aforementioned shutout against the New York Islanders.

He was rounding into Grubauer shape and the Kraken will need that to continue as the second half starts. That doesn’t mean he will win every game, but getting his save percentage over .900 for the season is a reasonable goal for him.

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If that happens and Driedger keeps playing well, then general manager Ron Francis will know this offseason that his goaltending is solid for the upcoming season and no maneuvering in net will be required.

The trade deadline

Francis will have some decisions to make as his team looks to navigate its first NHL trade deadline on March 21.

In a perfect scenario, the Kraken would be in the playoff race and looking to use their over $7 million in available salary cap to add pieces to push them over the top. That’s not the current reality, however.

Rather, the Kraken should and will be sellers this year.

Are they going to rack up top draft picks and prospects? Not likely, as they don’t have chips that are going to bring back those types of assets.

Defenseman Mark Giordano is the team’s top trade asset and he very likely will get moved. He’s a veteran of 989 NHL games and can still contribute offensively from the blue line. Giordano is not going to bring back a first-round pick but the Kraken could squeeze a higher pick out of a contender if they agree to retain some of his $6.75 million contract.

The Kraken have the space to do it.

That same cap space could be utilized as a broker in a three-way trade scenario where Francis could agree to take on a veteran player in the last year of a big contract in order for two other teams to make a trade work within their respective salary caps. The return for Seattle would be draft picks.

As far as other players, Calle Jarnkrok is another likely trade chip on the Seattle Kraken roster that could be on the move. Beyond that, there aren’t many untouchables on the Kraken roster now.

Will Francis be able to pull off multiple moves? Or will the trade deadline underwhelm across the league?

The Matty Beniers watch

Seattle’s first-ever NHL Draft pick, Matty Beniers, decided to return to the University of Michigan for one more year. That tough choice is paying off for Beniers. He’s having a great season for the top-ranked Wolverines and is nominated for the Hobey Baker Award.

Beniers has 16 goals and 36 points through 28 games this year, and the 19 year old is currently in China playing for the USA hockey team in the Olympics.

Michigan is poised for a deep run in the NCAA Tournament in March. There is a general feeling that when that run ends, either with a trophy or elimination, Beniers will sign his entry-level contract with the Kraken and finish the season in Seattle.

If that happens, we will get a sneak peek of Beniers at the NHL level. How will he perform?

Can Seattle build momentum?

With not much to play for in terms of playoffs, just what can the Kraken accomplish over the second half?

Finding more wins can build momentum within the team that can carry over into the offseason and next season. It’s better to finish hot than to lose and have everyone, fans included, be miserable.

The second half is a chance to further solidify the system, style, and identity the Kraken have tried to build since day one. No longer will this be a team of mixed parts trying to mesh. The time to mesh is now so Seattle can go into training camp next year with that chemistry already in place.

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Eide: What to watch for from Seattle Kraken in 2nd half of season