BRANDON GUSTAFSON

How Seattle Kraken are primed to build off playoff run in a major way

May 16, 2023, 11:45 AM

Seattle Kraken...

Adam Larsson, Matty Beniers, Vince Dunn, Tye Kartye and Jordan Eberle of the Seattle Kraken celebrate a goal on May 13, 2023. (Steph Chambers/Getty Images)

(Steph Chambers/Getty Images)

When Alfred, Lord Tennyson said, “‘Tis better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all,” I doubt he meant for some 20-something in the Pacific Northwest to use that when discussing sports. But that’s exactly what I, a 20-something in the Pacific Northwest, am doing when discussing the Seattle Kraken.

The Kraken’s amazing – but not improbable, as some probably tried to tell you – postseason run has come to an end. They fell 2-1 to the Dallas Stars in Game 7 of the second round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs, and we’ll now be waiting until at least October to watch Seattle play a meaningful playoff game.

First Seattle Kraken playoff run ends with 2-1 loss to Stars in Game 7

But that’s great, right? The Seattle Kraken had this incredible run that has me and certainly others mad that we have to wait another five months for meaningful hockey!

When the NHL awarded its 32nd franchise to Seattle, I was thrilled. I grew up in Snohomish County going to Everett Silvertips games in the Western Hockey League, but I didn’t follow the sport of hockey as close as baseball or football. That was largely because, well, I didn’t have a real pro team to follow.

Sure, it’s been fun watching the insanity that is playoff hockey throughout my life, but it was clearly not the same as if a team I followed was in the fight. That all changed this year, with Seattle securing a postseason berth, knocking off the defending Stanley Cup champs and coming a game short of making it to the Western Conference final.

And think of where we were this time last year.

After Vegas’ finals run in its first season back in 2017-18, expectations were fairly high for the Kraken entering their expansion season. Maybe not Stanley Cup Finals high, but “secure a postseason berth and get close to 100 points” high. Well, that didn’t happen.

Year 1 was certainly full of hope with some notable names on the roster after the expansion draft, but that season ended with the Kraken recording a paltry 60 points in the standings (third-worst in the NHL) and trading off basically half the roster at the trade deadline for picks and future assets.

There was some hope on the horizon, though, with former No. 2 overall pick Matty Beniers finishing with nine points in 10 games at the tail end of the season upon his debut, and the makings of some on-ice chemistry post-trade deadline. But still, 60 points is 60 points. That’s nowhere near good enough to feasibly contend for a Stanley Cup, let alone a playoff berth, right?

Well, the Kraken blew that train of thought out of the water and cemented Seattle as a hockey town and then some in Year 2.

Forty-point scorers? The Kraken had eight of ’em, riding depth over stars all season long.

Beniers’ growth in his first full season? He’s likely to win the Calder Trophy as the league’s top rookie after finishing the year with 57 points and 24 goals.

The jump from 60 points? How about adding an additional 40 to the mix for an even 100, good enough for a playoff berth and the biggest boost from Year 1 to Year 2 for any expansion franchise in NHL history?

Oh, and how about not only knocking off the reigning champs in the playoffs, but taking three of four in their building, including Game 7?

The Kraken did all that and then some in the 2022-23 season, and while it was certainly a disappointing end to a thrilling campaign, there’s more hope than just Beniers and added chemistry on the horizon.

Few contenders are better set up for long-term success than the Kraken.

Per CapFriendly, Seattle enters this offseason with roughly $18.3 million in salary cap space. And according to Spotrac, the Kraken have the ninth-most cap space in the league heading into the offseason.

Additionally, most of the key pieces are already in place.

Fourth-line winger/center Ryan Donato and third-pair defenseman Carson Soucy are the team’s only unrestricted free agents of note.

On the restricted free agency side of things, top defenseman Vince Dunn – who finished second on the team in points with 64 – and 21-goal scorer Daniel Sprong highlight that group, alongside D-man Will Borgen and center/winger Morgan Geekie.

Long-term deals for both Dunn and Beniers seem like top priorities for general manager Ron Francis and Co., and should hopefully be no-brainers for the NHL’s newest franchise.

Speaking of Francis, he used that first trade deadline to set up well for the future, allowing him the capital to trade for playoff hero winger Oliver Bjorkstrand last offseason and adding two more second-round picks to the mix for July’s draft, giving the Kraken four picks in the first two rounds. Seattle could easily stand pat and add four top prospects to the system, or get aggressive and use those picks to add more talent to the NHL roster. What about another D-man, for instance? Maybe a center to help in the faceoff circle?

And even if this team largely sits out the offseason, the returning roster is full of intrigue.

What’s the next step for Beniers after a stellar rookie campaign? How does Jared McCann build off a career-high 70-point season? Rookie Tye Kartye shined after debuting in the playoffs, so what does a full season with him look like? After a great postseason run, are the Kraken set to have the Philipp Grubauer they thought they were getting in goal when they signed him in free agency two years ago?

And perhaps no bigger boost will come to the Kraken than with the return of winger Andre Burakovsky, who led Seattle with 39 points in 49 games before missing the rest of the season and playoffs with an injury. Adding back Burakovsky and his experience – and Stanley Cup ring – to the fold would give a deep and dangerous Kraken team yet another weapon for when they presumably make the playoffs again next season.

The 2022-23 season cemented Seattle as a playoff town, and the Kraken are a team on the rise that should continue to gun for Stanley Cups over the next few seasons.

Fans in Seattle clearly know it, as does the rest of the world.

According to ESPN, the Kraken’s Game 6 win over Dallas was the second-most watched second-round playoff game since 2018 excluding Game 7s. That’s a lotta eyeballs.

Whatever happens over the next few months, it’s clear that Year 3 will begin with eyes glued on the Kraken not just here in Seattle but across the NHL. As it should be.

The sting of Game 7 will last for a bit – I’m certainly still feeling it and will be for a while – but the future is bright for Seattle Kraken hockey in the Pacific Northwest, and that’s a pretty amazing thing to think about.

Salk: 5 things Seattle Kraken accomplished in impressive Year 2

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