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Analysis: Kraken have stumbled to a slow start in their first season. Is it reasonable to expect more?

UPDATED: Tue., Nov. 16, 2021

Seattle defenseman Mark Giordano passes against Minnesota during the Kraken's 4-2 loss on Saturday, Nov. 13, 2021, in Seattle.   (Associated Press)
Seattle defenseman Mark Giordano passes against Minnesota during the Kraken's 4-2 loss on Saturday, Nov. 13, 2021, in Seattle.  (Associated Press)
By Geoff Baker Seattle Times

The Seattle Kraken tail-spinning toward the bottom of the NHL standings has sparked an interesting debate just more than one month into the team’s first season.

Namely, should our Kraken expectations be more akin to previous sad-sack NHL expansion teams before the Vegas Golden Knights came along four years ago? More like the Nashville Predators from 1998-99, or the Minnesota Wild from 2000-01? We’ll leave the 1992-93 Ottawa Senators and 1974-75 Washington Capitals out of the discussion, because it’s a little early to get that insulting with comparisons.

But should the Kraken’s 4-10-1 record and .267 winning percentage be something for local fans to chuckle about and dismiss as the price of finally having an NHL team? Should they be prepared to wait things out five or 10 years the way fans of NHL expansion squads before Vegas used to?

Sorry, but that’s just Kraken me up.

Sure, once Vegas made the Stanley Cup Final its debut 2017-18 season, there was concern that too many casual fans here might expect something similar. It was perfectly reasonable for the team to downplay suggestion they might repeat what Vegas did, and I honestly can’t recall anyone familiar with the NHL seriously suggesting that might happen.

And that’s why this whole argument about treating the Kraken like a typical expansion team is disingenuous. Life isn’t a series of extremes, and expectations can have middle ground.

For one, the Kraken likely not playing for Lord Stanley’s mug next spring shouldn’t automatically rule out expectations of them being a .500 team. And given the Kraken signed goalies Philipp Grubauer and Chris Driedger — who between them allowed roughly two goals a game last season — and then added solid defenders, the prospect of winning a bunch of 3-2 and 2-1 games remains absolutely reasonable.

Not every game, mind you.

But I’ll guarantee that general manager Ron Francis and his analytics crew ran the numbers and envisioned an excellent chance of winning as often as they lost and remaining in contention in a weak division through March and even April.

Nobody envisioned the Kraken sitting nine points out of the playoffs after just one month. You’d have been laughed out of any room — but, most important, the Kraken’s executive suites — had you suggested a .267 winning percentage in mid-November.

Don’t take my word for it. Here’s what Francis said this week: “I think we certainly felt going into the season that we would be a competitive team. I think we’ve had some games from the start of the season where I’ve felt we found a way to lose rather than gain a point or two. And when you give up six or eight of those points, you’re in a different situation than you’re sitting in now.”

Yeah, give those points away and you’re nine out instead of one or two as anybody might have reasonably expected. So let’s stop insinuating the Kraken are like past NHL expansion teams and quit letting this squad off the hook so easy.

Look, nobody wants to go about town putting up wanted posters for Grubauer, Jordan Eberle, Yanni Gourde, Jaden Schwartz, Mark Giordano and anyone else in a Kraken uniform. They are just becoming known to local sports fans and as frustrated as anyone about the turn of events.

But they are also not pee-wee hockey players. They are a major professional sports team failing to meet base-level expectations record-wise.

Admitting that part out loud doesn’t make anyone less of a Kraken fan. In fact, having expectations in a team and admitting disappointment when those aren’t met is a sign of sophistication within any fan base.

It’s also still relatively early. The Kraken can add a goal here or there, reduce some cheapies and quickly turn losses into wins. The advanced analytics suggest as much, as does common sense.

But it’s just wrong to compare the Kraken to pre-Vegas expansion teams.

Those horrible teams cost a pittance compared with the $650 million the Kraken paid as a franchise fee and the $500 million for Vegas.

One perk of the price tags was receiving favorable expansion rules so they would not have to suffer as long as previous expansion franchises. Speaking with future Kraken owners David Bonderman and Jerry Bruckheimer for the first time in February 2018, both pointed out the expansion rules would enable their team to compete right away.

Back in the bad old days of NHL expansion, new teams picked from the bottom of rosters. Nowadays it’s mid-roster and higher.

James van Riemsdyk and Jacob Voracek both tied for the Philadelphia Flyers lead in points last season, and the Kraken could have taken either. They took proven goal-scorer Eberle from the New York Islanders. Think the 1979-80 Winnipeg Jets had that chance?

Sure, Francis didn’t swing the side deals Vegas did, which gives the Kraken fewer prospects and draft picks to use in immediate impact trades. But the lack of side deals does not explain a sub-.300 start.

This team was built better and should be better.

NHL rules nowadays virtually dare any team to try to fall out of contention before January. With parity so prevalent and single points for overtime and shootout losses, elite franchises constantly gripe that it’s impossible to gain separation from mediocre teams.

So the Kraken gaining this much negative separation so quickly is concerning.

Forget the wacky theories they’re “tanking” to secure a top draft pick next summer. The NHL lottery system doesn’t guarantee top-five picks no matter how bad your previous season. The Kraken’s ownership isn’t about to fritter away the early respectability advantage their $650 million franchise fee paid for on the chance of getting lucky come draft day.

Let’s also not forget that everybody involved with the Climate Pledge Arena and Kraken ventures assumes an NBA franchise will be arriving shortly. Meaning, the Kraken likely have two or three seasons to solidify themselves locally before a reincarnated Sonics franchise arrives to share their limelight.

So the pressure is on the Kraken to do more. The plan was never to tank and spend five years building up to .500 hockey.

This team always had bigger expectations. If those ultimately aren’t met, it will be time to evaluate why and who is to blame, because the Kraken were never supposed to be the 1999-2000 Atlanta Thrashers, nor the 1972-73 Islanders.

So let’s stop pretending they are. And show the players some respect by expecting more out of them.

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