MIKE SALK

Salk: 5 things Seattle Kraken accomplished in impressive Year 2

May 15, 2023, 9:25 PM

Seattle Kraken Vince Dunn Philipp Grubauer...

Philipp Grubauer and Vince Dunn celebrate a Seattle Kraken win over Dallas in the 2023 playoffs. (Steph Chambers/Getty Images)

(Steph Chambers/Getty Images)

Did you feel it? The excitement of the Seattle Kraken playing playoff hockey? The thrill of having a successful team? The energy that a good hockey team can create? The feeling in the building when the anxiety of overtime erupts with the jubilation of the sudden-death winner?

ESPN’s Clark: How the Seattle Kraken made it this far without big stars

The Kraken provided all of those things throughout their sophomore season and probably a whole lot more. Yes, they fell in the Western Conference semifinals to a Dallas Stars team that was a better opponent over a full series. But this season was huge for their growth.

They accomplished a few big things this year.

1. The Seattle Kraken have a coach.

Head coach Dave Hakstol has a system that works if the players buy in, and he got them to do that. They played hard, they played smart, they were resilient and they found ways to maximize their talent – often beating teams with more brand-name stars. I thought Hakstol upped his game in his second season, and he managed to trust and develop some young guys in the process.

2. They have the makings of a core to build around.

Obviously, that starts with Matty Beniers ,who proved himself up to the rigors of a full NHL season and the responsibility that comes with centering a top line. He was dynamic on both ends of the ice and should come into next season with more strength, more understanding, and more stamina. But clearly newcomers Oliver Bjorkstrand, Eeli Tolvanen and Andre Burakovsky proved to be excellent signings that add to the group of veterans including Jared McCann, Jordan Eberle, Yanni Gourde, and Adam Larsson. Jaden Schwartz was much better this season (arguably their best playoff performer), and I thought Vince Dunn joined that list with some significant growth this season, as well.

3. They succeeded without giving up future resources.

The Seattle Kraken still have 10 (yes, 10!) picks in the upcoming draft, including a pair of second-rounders, and they have yet to trade from the young stockpile of players they are developing in the AHL or juniors.

4. The Seattle Kraken franchise established legitimacy.

They are a team to be taken seriously, not a fad with a clever nickname and cool gear. They showed the rest of the NHL that they are for real, and that could add to their ability to grow and improve. They beat the defending champion Colorado Avalanche in the first round, took a very solid Dallas team to seven games, and hopefully taught themselves what it means to get to the next level. As Gourde said after their final game, “We built something here this year.” That is a huge accomplishment.

5. They are a relevant part of the Seattle sports landscape.

After a disastrous first season which saw games canceled/rescheduled and very little promotion of their TV product, the Kraken generated more buzz this year, and I’m told the ratings improved. They are doing all the right things in the community – teaching young kids about the game and generating interest. My own daughter plays weekly at their Northgate complex, and they even offer to buy the first batch of equipment for any kid that wants to try it out. Learning to understand the sport should help this community engage.

That’s a pretty darn successful season! So now what? What do they do to build on it?

Well, before you can answer that, you have to try this one: Are they likely to be better next year or take a step back?

The optimist will say that they have salary cap space, draft picks, and some young players ready to contribute. The pessimist will argue that they likely outplayed their talent level this season and still have questions in net (despite Philipp Grubauer’s stellar postseason). They play in a very good division with major star power and are still missing a bonafide scorer/power play presence that can make that unit function.

Seattle Kraken general manager Ron Francis likely understands both sides of this equation, and I’d expect him to be aggressive this offseason. He resisted making any desperation trades at the deadline and instead let his team grow without sacrificing the future. They proved to be highly capable, so now he needs to give them the horses to advance even farther.

I already can’t wait for next season!

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

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