December wasn’t great. The schedule had the Seattle Kraken facing some tough opponents and as the losses piled up the standings cushion provided by the team’s 12-1-1 streak started to thin. While things never went fully off the rails, with wins sprinkled in over the course of the month, the final leg saw the team go 0-2-1 against divisional opponents. Not great.
But then the ball dropped in Times Square and 2023 arrived. And like Gandalf coming over the edge of the rise at Helm’s Deep, the Kraken appear to be back with a vengeance. The seven game road trip was going to test the mettle of our team, with games every second day, and a back-to-back as well, but as we look at the final opponent before a return to Climate Pledge Arena, one can’t help but feel some pride.
Your author is Canadian, and I cheered on Shane Wright and company as they fought their way to a gold medal at the U20 World Championships, but I back the Kraken over any northern club, so the absolute butt-kicking the team has given the Canadian squads in early January has been wonderful to watch. Looking back, they were a bounce away from beating the Canucks in OT, and lost by a single goal to the Calgary Flames. If they’d managed those victories as well, I’m not certain a club has ever defeated all the Canadian franchises within such a tight window. Even with the losses in late December, the team has made use of their games in hand, climbing back up out of the dogfight for third, with 2nd place Los Angeles and even the division leading Golden Knights within reach if the winning continues.
Prior to the New Year, head coach Dave Hakstol talked about some of the things that needed to change for the Kraken to get back to their winning ways. There’s been no shortage of criticism of the coach when the team hasn’t produced, so it’s only fair to give him his due at a time like this. He isn’t the only reason the team is playing better, but the team’s style of play is what helps it beat teams with more star power, and Hakstol is the one who lays out that plan.
I’m waiting for him to win a round or two in the post-season before I give him the nod as the coach to lead us to the promised land, but the credit for this massive year-over-year turnaround for the team has to land at least partially at his feet. With the general manager getting his due as well naturally. Pick ups like Daniel Sprong and Eeli Tolvanen look genius, because you didn’t have to look very far at the time for folks who were panning the moves.
My belief that the Kraken are a playoff team remained strong over the ups and downs of December, but banking the points on this road trip does make me breathe a bit easier. Both Edmonton and Calgary are capable of getting hot, and the bigger the cushion, the better, as divisional foes always seem to go to overtime down the stretch, giving everyone chasing you standings points on a given night.
A last comment on Shane Wright. Ron Francis is handling him perfectly, and I am reminded of a young Leon Draisaitl who was not NHL ready when he was drafted. He went back to junior, where he found playoff success and personal accolades, returned to the pros the next season and never looked back. Wright is going to be a good to great NHLer, and Kraken fans should appreciate the patience he is being shown.