3 Things to Watch for Kraken: Shane Wright at trade deadline, Beniers, more
They’re past the halfway point of the season and have two more home games before the Kraken are off for the NHL All-Star break. After a packed January schedule, it’s a much-needed rest for a team that has had an undisputed successful start. Seattle is in playoff position and after Wednesday’s 6-1 throttling of the Vancouver Canucks, the Kraken are back in first place of the Pacific Division.
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Post-All-Star break is when the rubber hits the road of the stretch drive where Seattle will try to turn the great start into the franchise’s first-ever playoff berth.
What will be important? What should we watch for as the Kraken dive into the post-break stretch drive? Here are three big items to keep an eye on.
Can the Kraken start winning more at home?
For as great a first half as the Kraken turned in, they’ve been average at Climate Pledge Arena. Seattle’s home record is an OK 12-9-3. That mediocre record is a head-scratcher, especially when you look at how they are one of the best road teams in the NHL, with a 16-5-2 record.
Seattle has a great home-ice advantage. Climate Pledge is packed every night with a rabid fan base, which should be imposing to the visitors.
“We obviously should be better at home, right?” Kraken forward Ryan Donato said this week. “Like, the way we prepare, you have more advantage of being at your home rink, fans, and all that stuff. You know, I just say we can put a pin on what would be the reasoning that would be like that.”
Is there an issue here or is it merely a product of tough scheduling, good opponents, and just an odd anomaly?
“I don’t think there’s anything to it.” Kraken coach Dave Hakstol said. “Like we’ve played a lot of good hockey, whether it’s been here at home or on the road. That’s just the nature of the beast here. I mean, every single game is competitive. We’re pretty confident and pretty comfortable here at home and got three opportunities coming up this week.”
They took advantage of the first of those opportunities with the vanquishing of the Canucks and have winnable games, on paper, Friday against the Calgary Flames and Saturday against the struggling Columbus Blue Jackets.
Being able to improve on home ice down the stretch will be important. Seattle has 24 home games left of the 35 games still to play. Ironically, the Vegas Golden Knights, who the Kraken are currently neck and neck within the Pacific Division, have also had home issues. Vegas is 14-13-0 at home and whichever team can get rolling at home first, that may ultimately decide the division.
The NHL trade deadline
March 3 is the NHL trade deadline, and while that seems far away, without a doubt, teams are making plans and having discussions now.
Will Seattle make a big move, or add depth, or stand pat?
ESPN’s John Buccigross jumped on with Seattle Sports’ Bump and Stacy on Thursday and offered an interesting potential deal that he felt Seattle should pursue. The Vancouver Canucks have made it clear that their captain, center Bo Horvat, is available.
Buccigross feels that the Kraken should dangle Shane Wright, their 2022 first-round pick, in front of the Canucks to land Horvat.
“It’d be bold, it would be big,” Buccigross said. “They got their man in Matty Beniers, this is a team, the Kraken are built to win now. This is not a young, plucky expansion team like the days of yore… Look at the age of their players, they’re ready to go. You know, 25,26,27,28. Beniers is the one really young stud who will be here for 10-12 years who will grow and really become the face of the franchise. I just wonder if you’re going to wait for Shane Wright in the next 2-4 years until he blossoms, do you go for it now? It’d be bold.”
Is Wright untouchable? No. Would the Kraken consider trading him to Vancouver for Horvat? Not likely.
It’s an intriguing theory that Buccigross proposes, but there are some issues.
Horvat is 27 years old and having a career season. He has matched his career high in goals with 31 already and has 50 points. In his previous seven full seasons, he’s averaged 49 points. This year, he’s shooting over 21%, which is well above his career shooting of 14%. Is this year an outlier, or is he taking his game to a new level?
It’s an important question because Horvat is a free agent at year’s end and there is no promise that he would re-sign with the Kraken.
Is it worth giving up a top prospect like Wright for a rental? Horvat is making $5.5 million but is most likely looking to end up next year in the $8 million a year range. Will the Kraken spend that much? Is he worth it?
General manager Ron Francis has preached cap flexibility and a slower build. Trading for Horvat would go against that philosophy, making the likelihood low. It’s worth having the conversation, and if Wright can bring in a long-term upgrade, the Kraken would listen. But this deal feels not likely. If you pull the trigger and Horvat doesn’t re-sign here, Seattle would then have to watch Wright four times a year for the next decade.
What you’ll most likely see Francis and the Kraken do is look for smaller upgrades. Maybe another defenseman, especially if you can find one that can play in the top four, moving someone like Jamie Oleksiak down, which would improve the position group overall. Perhaps a depth center who is physical and can win faceoffs.
A big deal for a three-month rental seems out of character for Francis and is perhaps not what the Kraken need right now.
How will Matty Beniers hold up?
Seattle’s rookie center, Beniers, in a word, has been spectacular. He leads all rookies in scoring and has 17 goals and 36 points so far for the Kraken.
There was speculation prior to the season wondering if he would hold up for a full NHL season. He’s played 47 games which is more than he played in college, where he topped out at 27 games. The college schedule is quite different than the NHL grind.
Matty Beniers? Dog. pic.twitter.com/L6q3fMN17e
— Seattle Kraken (@SeattleKraken) January 11, 2023
Early on, the notion he would hit a lull was deemed ludicrous and he’s been a consistent scorer.
The immediate question is his health. In the second period against the Canucks, he took a big hit from Canucks defenseman Tyler Myers. It was an interference penalty as the puck was nowhere near Beniers who appeared to hit his head on the ice, was slow to get up, and did not play in the third period.
Hakstol offered no additional information after the game Wednesday, simply saying the Beniers was “unavailable” in the third period.
Assuming he is healthy, Beniers will have to break out of the lull.
His last five games have yielded no points, he’s been on the ice for more goals against and is minus-6, and he’s only mustered six shots. Has he hit the rookie wall?
“The way that he handles his daily business is continually impressive,” Hakstol said. “I’ve talked about it before, he’s had some nights where he’s had great success. He’s had other nights where it hasn’t gone as well for him, but he comes back and he works and he’s ready to go. He’s a great teammate. He looks for ways to improve his game he’s always pushing to drive, to drive improvement, and drive the play. And, you know, again, whether he’s going through a new experience and succeeding at a high level at it or, is finding different opportunities to learn from, this guy shows up and he works and brings great energy.”
Wednesday, the Canucks’ game plan on Beniers was to be physical and hit him as much as possible.
It’s not the first time a team has tried that and as the games start meaning more, Beniers will have to find a way to fight through it. The best revenge is scoring goals.
The Kraken will also need their goaltending to stay on its upward trend and stay consistent in the second half. But right now, things look promising, and just maybe, the playoffs are in the picture after all.
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