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Kraken mailbag: Will Claude Julien be a coaching candidate? Is Climate Pledge Arena on schedule?

UPDATED: Sun., Feb. 28, 2021

By Geoff Baker Seattle Times

The good news this week was the NHL getting down to a season-low seven players on its COVID-19 list, as most clubs reached the one-third mark in the schedule. Remember, the Kraken not only needs Climate Pledge Arena reopened on time, but ticket-buying fans allowed in by local health authorities this fall to pay for all its pricey new players and whoever their coach is.

More on those topics as I take your questions in this week’s Kraken mailbag:

Q: @SEA_larson asked: How interested do you think the Kraken are in Claude Julien? Or do you think they’ll be more likely to wait until after the season to see who else is available?

A: He has a Stanley Cup from 2011 and a Finals appearance in 2013, both coaching with Boston. But what sprung to mind when Julien, 60, was fired by Montreal last Wednesday was health. He missed most of the Habs’ playoff series against Philadelphia last August because of an emergency heart-stent procedure. Julien says he’s fine now, but one reason he was fired – besides a general manager likely soon gone as well – was an inability to adapt his system on the fly. This isn’t the first season Julien couldn’t stop a prolonged tailspin. That’s a sign of possible fatigue/burnout/malaise creeping up on a coach.

The Kraken has a pick of veteran coaches who are well-rested since their last go-round – primarily Gerard Gallant and Bruce Boudreau. Or maybe a chance at guys near the top of their game, such as Rod Brind’Amour. I don’t see them picking Julien when he’d probably benefit from time away.

I’d consider fired Habs assistant Kirk Muller before Julien. Muller was a six-time-All-Star, a team captain and alternate captain on Montreal’s 1993 Cup winner. He also spent parts of three seasons as the Carolina Hurricanes’ coach from 2011-2014, so Kraken GM Ron Francis knows him.

Like Gallant before his Vegas expansion hiring, Muller’s head-coaching stats are mediocre. But both also similarly stood out as team leaders that outworked most others during their playing careers.

Q: @mbbrennan asked: Any update on process for hiring a coach? 2) Are reno’s on track to complete on time, no issues with starting Kraken first season on time? Who at Kraken is in charge of the expansion draft that is so key?

A: On the coach, they probably have the ideal guy in mind and are just waiting to see whether anything changes by season’s end. If Brind’Amour has a back-pocket extension already agreed to with the Hurricanes to be announced once Carolina’s season ends, I’m sure Francis already knows that and you might see a coaching move beforehand. If Brind’Amour is actually in play, the Kraken could stretch things until the Hurricanes are done. Francis is friends with Brind’Amour, so he’ll know before most.

If Brind’Amour is staying put, I’d think the Kraken would rather not wait until right before July’s expansion draft to have their coach in place.

The team continues to say everything remains on track for Climate Pledge Arena, where structural work is done and the interior being shaped. Ken Johnsen, the construction executive heading the project, said he’ll likely know an exact reopening target date by March or April, which is fast approaching.

On who’s overseeing draft prep, it’s a three-headed approach among Francis and assistant GMs Jason Botterill and Ricky Olczyk. That’s why Botterill was told when hired he’d be expected to serve out his contract and you didn’t see him interview for the Pittsburgh GM vacancy. The buck stops with Francis, but he’ll have ex-GM Botterill backstopping him and contract and salary-cap expertise from Olczyk to ensure it pencils out. They’ll have huge input from analytics boss Alexandra Mandrycky and a bevy of experienced scouts, but funneled through Francis, Botterill and Olczyk.

Q: @rjarnoldsafe asked: Considering that low TV revenue, especially from the U.S. market compared to other major league sports in North America, what are your thoughts on ways they can build a U.S. TV property that consistently draws viewers like Hockey Night in Canada or MNF?

A: I’ve pondered that for 40 years. Just kidding – sort of – but I’d go for between periods advanced analytics insight that’s creative, educates and entertains. Ex-player commentary is done to death. It’s necessary, but with the NHL investing so much in player- and puck-tracking technology, not using the proprietary metrics to a greater degree between periods seems a big miss.

Especially with the sports-gambling component tied to those metrics. You’d get more people interested than just stats-savvy fans. The league wants more such stats within live game action portions of the broadcast, so going in-depth during intermissions is a natural extension. Plus, if you eliminate the three-question “interviews” with out-of-breath players between periods, I’d watch just on principle.

Q: @CelestialMosh asked: What are some anticipated differences, between covering the Mariners and the Kraken?

A: Well, shorter road trips, fewer games and more Canadian stopovers. Also, when I covered the Mariners from 2007-2013, about 70% of my time was spent blogging – the equivalent of writing several “mini opinion columns” daily – and doing live and recorded audio and video segments in addition to traditional baseball beat writing. It wasn’t the in-depth writing I’d previously specialized in, but the late 2000s was a different time and our paper’s leadership had encouraged me to help creatively maximize our fledgling online content.

The online world has since evolved, and our paper’s goals are more defined. I look forward to a more balanced, writing-focused workload. But I’m always up for a podcast!

On a general scale, the NHL has a hard salary cap and MLB doesn’t. Hockey markets big and small can contend more evenly, and rebuilding plans typically won’t drag on endlessly.

Comparing the Kraken to the Mariners, I hope for less off-field/off-ice drama. It seemed at times that’s all I covered. My first season saw manager Mike Hargrove quit halfway through. My last one was when I seriously began pursuing the story of inappropriate workplace conduct claims against top Mariners executives, including Kevin Mather.

That said, I thoroughly enjoyed two relatively scandal-free seasons filling in on the Sounders beat and have good relations with their coach, GM and ownership. Hope there’s more of that coming.

I’ll keep pursuing financial topics that matter. I’ve often witnessed teams across the sports world using “Moneyball” traits – such as securing undervalued assets, which the Mariners and Kraken have attempted – more to save money than actually get better.

“I think a lot of people thought the efficiency on one end would be balanced with spending on the other,’’ Rowley said. “It was great to sign a player for $3 million and get $12 million of value but only because it meant you could use that savings on a top-tier guy. But that isn’t how it played out. They failed to appreciate how the lens through which they understood baseball would exert downward pressure on player salaries once it was adopted by front offices.

That value wasn’t being reinvested in the roster; it was just being pocketed.”

So those views have started shifting since I covered baseball.

I think it took some analytics-inclined writers additional experience and up-close exposure to professional sports to understand Rowley’s point.

My regret from MLB days is losing patience with such writers at times over disagreements on these issues. Especially locally, because some of the Seattle baseball bloggers and analysts we’ve had were brilliant and right about things – like the Erik Bedard trade – when I wasn’t. I’ll keep that in mind on this upcoming NHL journey.

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