Potential Sonics return may have played role in Kraken coach change

May 29, 2024, 11:35 AM

Seattle Kraken Philipp Grubauer...

Philipp Grubauer of the Seattle Kraken reacts after giving up the game-tying goal to Vegas. (Steph Chambers/Getty Images)

(Steph Chambers/Getty Images)

The Seattle Kraken officially have the second head coach in franchise history now in place, with Dan Bylsma receiving a promotion this week from the team’s American Hockey League affiliate, the Coachella Valley Firebirds.

NHL insider: Why Dan Bylsma was chosen as Kraken coach

Seattle’s decision to move on from previous head coach Dave Hakstol after three seasons could be see as hasty. Hakstol led the Kraken to the postseason just a year ago, even winning one series and taking a Western Conference semifinal against the Dallas Stars to seven games. In fact, Hakstol was signed to a two-year contract extension less than a year ago, but he was let go before that extension even kicked in as the Kraken went a bit backwards in 2023-24. Seattle finished the season with a 34-35-13 record for 81 points in the standings, tied for fifth in the Pacific Division.

It seems the Kraken had an added sense of urgency, and it may have had to do with a completely different sport from the one they play.

Longtime NHL insider Elliotte Friedman of Sportsnet in Canada indicated to Seattle Sports’ Brock and Salk on Tuesday that the timing of the coaching change seemed a bit out of character for Kraken general manager Ron Francis, and he may have been spurred on by the potential return of NBA basketball to the market.

“Firing Dave Hakstol, I don’t think it was something Ron Francis really wanted to do,” Friedman said. “I think he’s a very patient guy. I think this is a little quick for him. To me, one of the biggest things that’s happened in Seattle for hockey is that they want this team to get going a bit further than it has so far. And you guys had the great run last year, I thought it would buy Hakstol more time, he got an extension. The way things went a little bit backward this year, I don’t think that’s entirely on him, I think he kind of took the brunt of it. I think there is a desire for the team to push a bit, a desire for the team to get better a bit quicker.

“I mean, I’ve heard all the rumors that the Sonics might be coming back, and I think the the Kraken want to make sure they’re in a really good place for when or if the Sonics do arrive, so I think all of that played into it. So I think what this is is it’s a message that the hockey team better take some steps before that occurs, and I think that as much as anything else played a role in the coaching change.”

Is a Sonics return close?

Speculation has been ramping up that an announcement could arrive soon of the NBA awarding Seattle an expansion franchise to replace the Sonics team that moved to Oklahoma City and become the Thunder in 2008. Seattle and Las Vegas have been seen as likely landing spots should the NBA decide to expand from 30 teams to 32, which is something commissioner Adam Silver has said multiple times in recent years that the league is considering.

The believed holdup to expansion has been the NBA’s new media rights deal, which is expected to be settled this summer.

The Kraken play at Climate Pledge Arena, which is also home of the WNBA’s Seattle Storm and was built with the idea of bringing a Sonics franchise back to the city. An email sent by Kraken co-owner Samantha Holloway earlier this month to season-ticket holders added fuel to the NBA expansion speculation fire, referring to a new “parent brand that will umbrella the Kraken brand and prepare for other big opportunities.” The email didn’t specify anything about NBA expansion, but the sentence seemed to hint at exactly that.

The return of the NBA to Seattle would mean another major sports team not just in the city but the same building for the Kraken to compete with in terms of ticket sales and attention in the market – something made even more complicated by the fact that the NBA and NHL seasons almost completely overlap.

Listen to the full Brock and Salk conversation with Sportsnet NHL insider Elliotte Friedman in the podcast at this link or in the player near the top of this post. Seattle Sports’ Brock and Salk airs from 6-10 a.m. weekdays.

More on the Seattle Kraken

Jessica Campbell could be Seattle Kraken candidate as assistant, new coach says
Dan Bylsma rediscovers the joy in coaching, lands Kraken job
Seattle Kraken name Dan Bylsma as their next head coach
Coaching carousel spins fast in NHL: Job security just doesn’t exist
Where the Seattle Kraken are picking in the NHL Draft

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Potential Sonics return may have played role in Kraken coach change