We all came into the season with measured expectations for the Seattle Kraken. Last year, the team finished in the league’s bottom three, offloaded a significant chunk of the roster at the trade deadline, and had issues at both ends of the ice in terms of goal scoring, and preventing others from the same. There were some bright lights, such as the prospect of Matty Beniers in Kraken colors for a full season, the slide of Shane Wright down to fourth overall, and the additions of some notable players to the roster.
But who would have thought the team would sit second in the Pacific division at the end of November, ahead of teams like the Calgary Flames, Edmonton Oilers and Los Angeles Kings? Forget about that, who could have imagined they’d be second in the Western Conference?! I will fully admit, I wasn’t this bullish on the 2022-23 squad, and people regularly tell me to take off my rose-colored glasses. I had the Kraken’s playoff odds at around 15% before the pre-season, and only at maybe 20% over the first few weeks where the results varied between late game collapses, surprising wins, nail-biters and blowouts.
It’s official now
This is a playoff team. Not without its areas for improvement, and not a favorite to win the Stanley Cup (despite what some might say), but sitting where they are at this time of year is a clear indication that the team is not only good enough to compete, they are better than at least half of their opponents. Top half of the league means post-season, and that should be the expectation going forward.
It’s not a lock. Lots of teams have had a strong first half only to fumble (lose an edge?) and miss the dance when a long losing streak followed the hot start. But the Kraken are scoring, defending, and getting good goaltending when it matters. They’re making head coach Dave Hakstol look good, and general manager Ron Francis look like a wizard. Matty Beniers is making a strong case for the Calder Trophy and while Martin Jones might not be putting up Vezina caliber numbers, he has a decent shot at Comeback Player of the Year.
Accepting the potential reality of a post-season berth is one thing. Getting anywhere in the playoffs is quite another. The Kraken don’t want to be a doormat for a team like the Colorado Avalanche in the first round, and that means every regular season result matters. There is a sweet spot where the Kraken could take on the Los Angeles Kings in the first round while either Edmonton or Calgary battles it out with the Vegas Golden Knights, hopefully with the winner softened up and easier to push out in Round 2.
We shouldn’t get ahead of ourselves here because the entire standings picture can shift between now and spring, but finishing as high up the standings as possible needs to be the team’s goal. Once you get into the playoffs you simply never know what might happen. Hakstol deserves a chance to prove that his post-season failures in Philadelphia were not an indication of his ceiling, and Seattle fans deserve the chance to blow the roof off of Climate Pledge Arena.