MIKE SALK

Salk: It’s time — Kraken are among NHL’s best and ready for attention

Jan 12, 2023, 12:00 AM

Seattle Kraken Matty Beniers...

Matty Beniers of the Seattle Kraken celebrates his goal against the San Jose Sharks on Nov. 23, 2022. (Photo by Steph Chambers/Getty Images)

(Photo by Steph Chambers/Getty Images)

The Kraken are one of the NHL’s best teams. Winners of six straight, this is their third streak of five wins or more. Their 52 points puts them in the top 10 in the standings but with a few games in hand, which could put them in the top handful. They have a positive goal differential, balanced scoring, improved special teams, and a developing identity.

This is what we were promised. It just took an extra year to arrive.

Hopefully, you didn’t lose interest before it got here.

Rewind to last October. Hockey was fresh and new and everyone wanted to be at the shiny new arena. Tickets were sold out in a flash and season ticket holders were buying second houses with the money they could get on the resale market. OK, maybe not second homes here in Seattle, but you know what I mean.

Expectations were high because of the immediate success in Vegas, where the Golden Knights made the Stanley Cup Finals in their first season in 2017-18, and the whole town promised to learn about the game. Then we saw the product.

The Kraken weren’t like the Golden Knights. They weren’t even very good at all. OK, they were bad. And while the arena was still amazing, it was a pricey night out. And as those cable subscribers kept cutting cords, ROOT wasn’t a pre-programmed destination on winter nights.

So much of the potential audience didn’t notice by the time Matty Beniers burst on the scene at the end of last season. They might have understandably shrugged their shoulders at the offseason additions of Martin Jones, Justin Schultz, Andre Burakovsky and Oliver Bjorkstrand. They might have assumed that this was now going to take a while to build up a contender and they’d check back in when the team was closer.

Well, that time is now.

Red-hot Kraken are surging on offense — who and what’s behind it

Thursday in Boston against the NHL-leading Bruins will mark the midpoint of this season, and the Kraken (24-12-2) are good. Maybe they aren’t great, but they come into the game red hot with six straight wins, and they’re good enough that a few additions could make them a dangerous team in the playoffs. If general manager Ron Francis could upgrade with a solid veteran defensive defenseman, that would go a long way.

What I appreciate most about this group is how they are built. This isn’t two stars and a supporting cast. Maybe they’ll develop into that if Beniers continues to develop and/or Shane Wright matures into the offensive force he showed in juniors. But this year, they are simply full of good, quality players that could play for anyone.

I don’t know how many of Seattle’s forwards would crack the top line on many of the contenders, but I think they might have eight or nine who most teams would put on one of their top two lines and a few on their fourth line that would be regular third liners elsewhere. That means they are well balanced and very deep. It means scoring can come from anywhere. It means opposing coaches can’t just roll out a good checking line and shut down their offense – they pressure the defense constantly throughout the game. And when you roll four lines consistently, you allow your top scorers to stay fresh. Think that might help explain their incredible success on the road this season?

I don’t know if the Kraken can sustain this pace. They have been remarkably healthy with 14 skaters playing in at least 37 of their 40 games, and it’s likely some of the top-heavy teams in their conference (like Edmonton) will improve their depth.

But the Kraken have all the makings of a team on the rise. They are solid up the middle with Beniers and Yanni Gourde. They get offense from everywhere. They have a consistent style where they gain possession in the offensive zone and just keep cycling the puck until something shakes loose. They are reasonably physical (although they don’t throw their weight around quite as much as I’d like). And they seem to be developing the kind of chemistry – both on the ice and in the dressing room – that good teams rely on to push through adversity.

The Kraken are well set up to make things interesting. It’s up to them to keep playing at this high level and put some pressure on the organization to make the deadline moves to help get them over the top.

And for fans that maybe lost interest early when the team lacked spark and racked up losses, this is the time to come back. This is the time to learn about icing and offsides like you said you would last year. This is the time to pay attention, because you’ll want to know what you’re doing when the playoffs start.

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