In 2017-18, the Vegas Golden Knights shocked the hockey world by making a run all the way to the Stanley Cup Finals in their first year of existence. They lost to the Washington Capitals in five games but turned heads as nobody expected a first-year expansion team to be as good as the VGK were.
Fast forward five years later, and the Seattle Kraken are the newest team in the NHL. In their first season, they were much more in line with what people expected from expansion teams. They finished last in the Pacific Division and third-last in the entire NHL.
Still, there are some similarities to be drawn between both teams as the two newest franchises in the NHL. So today, with little to nothing else happening in the hockey world this offseason, let’s compare and contrast the first years of the Vegas Golden Knights and Seattle Kraken.
Expansion Draft Decisions
A lot of what influenced both of these teams’ first seasons can be traced back to the days in which they truly got a team- at their respective NHL expansion drafts in 2017 and 2021.
Perhaps the biggest difference is how general managers reacted to the expansion draft. In 2017 the Golden Knights acquired Reilly Smith, Shea Theodore, Alex Tuch, and more all for expansion draft considerations, meaning they would agree not to take specific players from certain teams.
In 2021 with the Kraken, general managers seemed to learn their lesson and were much more lenient on giving away players for essentially nothing. The Kraken made zero trades involving expansion draft considerations. Instead, they picked a team by the books and traded off excess pieces afterward.
The Golden Knights made out like bandits and selected Jonathan Marchessault, Brayden McNabb, James Neal, David Perron, and franchise goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury.
The Kraken found solid players like Jared McCann, Jordan Eberle, Yanni Gourde, and Jaden Schwartz. But it was clear that general manager Ron Francis was building towards the future as he passed on guys like Carey Price and Vladamir Tarasenko.
The Golden Knights ran off a ‘misfit’ mentality as players like Karlsson, Marchessault, Smith, Perron, Tuch, Erik Haula, and Nate Schmidt came together to prove themselves in the National Hockey League. William Karlsson lit up the league in 2017-18 with 43 goals and 35 assists for 78 points.
The Kraken were able to find scoring from cast-away players too, but to much less of an extent than the 17-18 Golden Knights. Jared McCann led the team in scoring with 50 points in 74 games. Gourde, Eberle, Alexander Wennberg, and Vince Dunn.
Fleury backstopped the Golden Knights to 29 wins with a .927 save percentage and a 2.24 goals against average. He was the face of the franchise and drove people to come to watch the Golden Knights play. His personality and overall passion for the game helped hockey grow in southern Nevada.
For the Kraken, even though they had a franchise goaltender staring them down at the expansion draft in Carey Price, they opted to sign Phillip Grubauer in free agency and split him with Chris Driedger in between the pipes.
Simply put, Grubauer struggled in his first season with the Kraken. He struggled to provide the Kraken with big saves in clutch moments like Fleury did and finished the season with a .889 save percentage and 3.16 goals against average. Driedger got into 27 games and had a .899 save percentage and 2.96 GAA.
During the regular season itself, the Golden Knights won their first game in franchise history over the Dallas Stars 2-1. They managed to win eight of their first nine games in franchise history. The Kraken, on the other hand, fittingly lost their first game against the Golden Knights before they picked up their first two wins in team history against the Arizona Coyotes.
The Kraken finished the season with a 27-49-6 record and 60 points. They were sellers at the trade deadline and shopped off captain Mark Giordano, Calle Jarnkrok, and others. The Golden Knights went 51-24-7 for 107 points and marched into the playoffs as the first team in the Pacific Division.
They defeated the Los Angeles Kings, San Jose Sharks, and Winnipeg Jets in the Stanley Cup Playoffs before losing to Alex Ovechkin and the Capitals.
So while far from an exact match, the first-year Vegas Golden Knights and Seattle Kraken have much more in common than you would think.
I see a lot of similarities between Jared McCann and William Karlsson. Both were first-line centers of an expansion team, led the team in scoring, and were signed to lengthy extensions as a result. Vince Dunn could be the Kraken’s next Shea Theodore, and Jordan Eberle could be their Jonathan Marchessault.
One thing that will be interesting to watch is which expansion team will win a Stanley Cup first. The Golden Knights seem to be closer currently but still cannot get over the hump in the playoffs and missed them altogether in 2021-22.
The Kraken added Olivier Bjorkstrand, Andre Burakovsky, Justin Schultz, and Martin Jones this offseason and have two stellar young centers coming up the system with Matty Beniers and Shane Wright.