Seattle Kraken are out of contention, but they’re in the heart of playoff race
The Vegas Golden Knights completed a two-game sweep this week of the Seattle Kraken with a 5-2 win Friday, and the four points in the standings they left town with were huge. Not for the Kraken, of course, but they were massive for the visitors.
The Golden Knights are in the middle of a hotly contested playoff race and fighting for their playoff lives. And while Seattle was officially eliminated from playoff contention with Wednesday’s loss to Vegas, in reality, the playoffs were out of reach months ago.
But that doesn’t mean the Kraken aren’t right in the heart of the Stanley Cup playoff race.
This week was a chance for the Kraken to play late-season games that had meaning. Their next chance comes Sunday when Seattle hosts the Dallas Stars, who are the main threat to keeping Vegas out of the playoffs.
The Stars trail Vegas in the battle for the final Western Conference wild card spot by one point, but they have four games in hand and a higher points per game percentage, meaning if the season ended today, they would finish ahead of Vegas.
Every game and every point counts. While that’s not the case for the Kraken, Seattle gets to experience playoff-type hockey down the stretch.
“Everyone knows the situation in the standings,” forward Jordan Eberle said early in the week. “You’re trying to find individual things and things to build for next season. But then you look at where these teams are at and how important these points are. You have to match their desperation, but you also got to find an internal thing as far as wanting to disrupt their playoff chances. I think that’s exciting enough, and you have to find a way to rally around that and use that to an advantage.”
The chance to have an influence on who makes the playoffs can be a great motivator for a team that has long been out of contention.
Seattle failed to match the desperation of the Golden Knights this week and will have to pick it up Sunday if the Kraken want to disrupt Dallas’ chances. While it’s not as exciting as it would be if the Kraken were the ones fighting for their lives, it can have some long-term benefits.
Nearly every player on the roster has previously played for a team that was in the hunt. Eberle spent the past two seasons with a New York Islanders team that made back-to-back runs to the Eastern Conference Finals. Yanni Gourde played for the Tampa Bay Lightning, who won the last two Stanley Cups. Jaden Schwartz and Vince Dunn won the Cup with the St. Louis Blues before that.
But as a group, the Kraken have not yet experienced important games. Playing in these important games now will help when it’s the Kraken’s turn to fight for their playoff lives.
“That’s where you want to be. You want to be playing meaningful, exciting games at this time of the year,” Eberle said. “And when you’re not in that situation it’s hard. You have to find a way to find outside motivation.”
Dallas on Sunday isn’t the only big game (for their opponents) that the Kraken have on the remaining schedule.
Next week, the Kraken will play the St. Louis Blues, who are fighting for playoff seeding to get an easier first-round matchup. Calgary will be in Seattle next weekend and though the Flames have a playoff spot wrapped up, they are still looking to hold off the Los Angeles Kings for the top spot in the Pacific Division. Seattle also still has a game with the Kings on the schedule, as well as one game with the high-flying Colorado Avalanche, who have a division title all but wrapped up but could still be caught by Calgary for the top seed in the Western Conference.
The Kraken will have a chance to impact all these races.
“A lot of teams are in our division,” defenseman Haydn Fleury said prior to the first Vegas game. “So, if we can ruin their playoff chances, all the best.”
Finishing strong has a carryover effect
As a team, the Kraken aren’t playing for anything down the stretch – other than maybe improving their chances in the NHL Draft Lottery this summer with each loss.
But a strong finish can have a carryover to next season. There will be a roster overhaul this summer, but the core remaining have plenty to play for and build momentum, excitement, and pride for the new-look Kraken in the coming fall.
“Ultimately, just keep pushing, keep creating a culture here, keep doing the right things every day and play hard play for the people of Seattle,” Fleury said about the final stretch of the season. “They’re really proud of this team and at the end of the day, we gotta have some pride in ending the season the right way for the city.”
A quick look at the NHL standings might lead one to believe the Kraken aren’t playing for anything at this point. But they are.
Not only can they have a say in how the playoffs get seeded, but individually they are playing for contracts, and more importantly, building a winning culture that will hopefully lead to a rebound season next year.