Lefko: Why Kraken have a little too much in common with ’23 Mariners
Oct 19, 2023, 11:31 AM | Updated: 1:36 pm
(Steph Chambers/Getty Images)
It has been a rough start to the season for the Seattle Kraken. Multiple times over this last week, I have had to ask myself what year it is because this team resembles the disjointed unit that constituted the inaugural campaign in 2021-22.
Ironically, there are a lot of parallels between the Kraken’s 0-3-1 start entering Thursday and the 2023 Mariners season.
Reasonable expectations for the Kraken should have been lower entering this season than they were for the Mariners. The NHL’s Western Conference is loaded, and there is a plethora of teams in their peak championship-contending windows. But any time you come off a playoff run, you understandably expect a similarly competitive team to take the ice the next year.
Here are a few reasons why the Kraken have struggled to maintain the momentum from the end of last season.
A lack thereof, obviously. The Kraken can’t score, which is a problem in hockey – or any sport, really.
Seattle has not yet scored multiple goals in a game this season and ranks last in the NHL with 0.75 goals per game. No other team is averaging fewer than one goal per game. At just three goals total, the Kraken as a team are tied with or behind 27 individual players so far this season.
The power play is the main culprit. Yes, the Kraken do have one power play goal and there are five teams who have yet to score a goal this season when they are a man up, but none of those teams have allowed two shorthanded goals – and those shorties led to the momentum swinging in losses to the Predators and Avalanche.
Take your pick for an apt comparison to the Mariners, but struggling to score while having an extra man on the ice kind of feels like what happens when a team can’t score a run with the bases loaded and no outs. This issue for the Kraken has its roots in another reason why it has been a stagnant start to the year.
Lack of Seattle Kraken star power
The Kraken wore teams down with depth last year, especially in the playoffs, with interchangeable lines that came in unrelenting waves. Yet that defensive-oriented style has a ceiling (and it might have been discovered a round earlier last postseason if the Avalanche were healthier and not dealing with a pretty significant distraction). It also is a style that works a lot better in the playoffs when teams are worn down and dealing with various maladies and injuries.
Early in the season when everyone across the league is healthy, more often than not talent wins out. Jared McCann had a career year last season, but his Kraken-leading 70 points were tied for 59th among all NHL players. The two guys at the top, Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl, play for the Edmonton Oilers, who are Pacific Division rivals for the Kraken. Also in the Pacific: the defending Stanley Cup champs, the Vegas Golden Knights. We’ve also seen firsthand the talent the Avalanche and Dallas Stars have, and when you start to look down the line of teams in a loaded Western Conference, the path to ascend becomes very steep.
Matty Beniers is expected to be “that” guy for Seattle, but he’s also just 20 years old and has played one full season in the NHL. While his 2022-23 campaign won him the Calder Trophy as rookie of the year, it is a big leap to assume that automatically translates into production that vaults him into the top point scorers in the league. Hey, it sounds like another Mariners comparison! Much like their baseball counterparts, who seemed to put the bulk of the entire offensive production on Julio Rodríguez early in the season, if Beniers is expected to be the leader this year, then the Kraken didn’t do enough to put another skater or two around him who can shoulder the bulk of that scoring responsibility.
The Kraken did have enviable scoring balance – 18 players had at least 20 points last season, but will that continue this season? Which leads into the other Mariners-y (this is hockey, every name has to have a “y” at the end of it) reason for the struggles for the Kraken.
Not accounting for regression
Coming off a playoff appearance, the Kraken’s offseason featured the departures of Morgan Geekie, Daniel Sprong, Ryan Donato and Carson Soucy. The first three on that list were part of that 20-point group from last year. They added a couple of guys in Washington native Kailer Yamamoto and the 38-year-old Pierre-Edouard Bellemare, but it was otherwise an offseason devoid of substantial movement.
That tells me the Seattle Kraken front office was confident in running it back with essentially the same team that made it to the Western Conference semifinals and adding a couple of bats… uh sorry, skaters to round out the roster and plug the holes from the offseason departures.
Sure, we can plan for the assumed natural growth of Beniers in his second full season, and for defenseman Vince Dunn to anchor the blue line, but having the benefit of watching a similar approach not go well for the Mariners this year, it feels like there wasn’t enough done to overcome any regression. If you lose four 20-point scorers from a team that has built its identity on depth, then not enough redundancy or fail safe was built in to recreate that, along with sustained scoring production that might not be replicated from last season.
McCann has improved each season with the Kraken, but there is nothing to indicate that someone like Dunn, the Kraken’s second highest-scorer last season, can sustain his career-high 64 points after never cracking 35 in any prior season in his career. The same can be said about Jordan Eberle, coming off four of his lowest-scoring seasons before his 63 points a year ago.
It could all work out, and the Kraken might be replicating the Mariners in yet another area – a slow-starting team that finds its rhythm and goes on a torrid midseason stretch. But for now, these factors loom large in a winless start to what was expected to be a fun and promising 2023-24 season.
More on the Seattle Kraken
• Spokane’s Yamamoto scores historic goal in Kraken home opener
• Brandon Tanev out at least a month with lower-body injury
• Seattle Kraken Breakdown: Forslund’s keys to take next step
• The five biggest questions for this Kraken season
• Pacific Division: Where do Seattle Kraken stand entering season?