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Why Kraken won’t replicate Golden Knights’ inaugural season success

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Seattle Kraken expansion draft, Vegas Golden Knights

The entire hockey world is anxious to see the Seattle Kraken make its debut Tuesday night in Las Vegas. They also want to see if history will repeat itself.

I’m here to tell you it won’t happen.

In 2017, the NHL’s 31st team debuted. They were called the Vegas Golden Knights and few expected them to be competitive, much less make history. But the hockey ops people in Vegas were cagey. They were prepared, really prepared, for the expansion draft.

They drafted players they knew would never wear that steel grey uniform. David Clarkson. Clayton Stone. Connor Brickley. Mikhail Grabovski to clear space for players they planned on using. They made side deals to acquire more young players and additional draft picks. It’s how they got William Karlsson, Alex Tuch and Shea Theodore. They quickly flipped players taken in the expansion draft for future picks or prospects.

In fact, George McPhee did such a good job, they should have locked him up for grand larceny. Which is why many GMs weren’t going to get fooled again. When Kraken GM Ron Francis called, most of them let it go to their voicemail and didn’t return his call.

So Seattle is not set up the way it hoped it might have been. Yes, the Kraken have some talent on its opening night roster. Yes, the guys they took are going to play with a chip on their shoulder wanting to prove their former team screwed up in letting them go. But as I looked at their roster, I started asking myself: “Who’s going to be Seattle’s James Neal?” “Who’s going to be its William Karlsson?” “Where is their Marc-Andre Fleury?”

I suppose Jordan Eberle could emerge from all this and put up some good numbers. In Neal’s year with Vegas, he scored 25 goals and was living up to his “Real Deal” nickname. Eberle scored 34 goals one year with Edmonton. But that was nine years ago. Last year with the Islanders, he had 16 in a pandemic-shortened season. In his four years on the Island, Eberle’s best season came in 2018 when he had 25 goals. 

Center Yanni Gourde is working his way back from off-season shoulder surgery and he will likely center Seattle’s top line once he’s good to go. Gourde has a championship pedigree with Stanley Cup rings from his time in Tampa Bay. The Kraken is hoping he regains his 2018 form when he had a career-high 25 goals and 64 points with the Bolts.

Where is the Kraken’s William Karlsson coming from? Is Jared McCann Seattle’s Wild Bill? McCann had 14 goals in each of his last two seasons in Pittsburgh. Maybe he breaks through. But do you really expect him to score 43 goals and lead the Kraken in scoring?

I think the Kraken’s defense might be as good, if not better than Vegas’ was in its inaugural season. Vince Dunn, Mark Giordano, who was named Seattle’s first captain, and Jamie Oleksiak make a nice core group and Haydn Fleury, Jeremy Lauzon and Adam Larsson should all benefit from a change of scenery. 

The Golden Knights’ D corps was a group of young veterans — Brayden McNabb, Nate Schmidt, Colin Miller, Luca Sbisa, a very experienced hand in Deryk Engelland and a very young up-and-comer in Theodore. They could skate and transition out of their end quickly, something that opposing teams struggled to contain.

And when the Knights needed someone to cover up the defense’s mistakes, they had Fleury, he of the three Stanley Cup rings, who embraced a new start and became the face of the franchise. Is Philipp Grubauer going to be able to do that night in, night out for Seattle? The Kraken are counting on it after signing Grubauer to a six-year deal with an AAV of $5.9 million.

Here’s Seattle’s other issue. The element of surprise is not going to exist. Teams won’t be playing their backup goaltender against the Kraken or resting their stars. They will be ready for a battle for those two points and the Kraken will quickly realize that, starting Tuesday when they debut against the Golden Knights. Who knows better than the Knights how to capitalize on an opponent that takes them for granted?

Could Seattle make the playoffs? Absolutely. The Kraken will be competitive. But their depth may catch up with them during the season and put them at a competitive disadvantage some nights. The Pacific Division isn’t strong and Seattle can be in the mix, especially if they can establish a strong home ice presence at Climate Pledge Arena. 

In the Golden Knights’ inaugural season which saw them win the Pacific with a record 109 points, they went 29-10-2 at T-Mobile Arena and were 20-6-3 vs. the rest of the Pacific. It won’t be easy for the Kraken to win 29 games in its own building and it’s going to be even tougher to go 20-6-3 against the other seven Pacific Division teams.

A lot of things went right for Vegas its inaugural season. To ask Seattle to replicate what the Golden Knights did, which was register triple digits in regular season points and play for the Stanley Cup in their inaugural season is an awfully big ask. 

But that’s not to say the Kraken can’t be competitive, make some hay,  have a legitimate shot at making the the postseason and create a little magic of their own in the Emerald City. They’ve got $7.39 million in cap space. They might be able to improve their team at the trade deadline. And maybe a couple guys raise their level of play and have career years at the right time.

One thing is for sure, it’ll be interesting to watch, starting Tuesday on the Las Vegas Strip.

 

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