General manager Ron Francis has made it clear that the goal of the Seattle Kraken is to make the playoffs in 2022-23, which might seem like a stretch goal coming from a team that just finished fourth from last place in the NHL standings. The team will need to be aggressive this offseason to even be taken seriously in its quest to contend.
To explore what it will take to get into contention next year, we will be putting together a three-part series on how that could happen. The scenarios presented will be full of assumptions with imperfect data and incomplete analysis, but at its core, this will be a thought exercise that will help evaluate the offseason moves needed to make the Kraken a potential playoff team.
Evaluating the gap
The NHL’s point system, with one point awarded for overtime and shootout losses, makes things a little complicated, but effectively, teams must win more than they lose to make the playoffs. To do that, they need to score more goals than their opponents. Therefore, we will be using goals as our primary metric here, rather than standings points.
One challenge to consider when using goals, in NHL team statistics, a shootout win or loss will add a goal for or against respectively. Along with empty-net goals, these would overstate or understate a team’s goals with respect to this analysis, so keep that in mind. We were able to adjust the totals to remove empty-net and shootout goals, but those bonus goals awarded for shootout wins will remain.
To set the stage, let us look at the last 10 full seasons’ adjusted goals for and adjusted goals against to see how teams fared.
In the chart, the diagonal line represents when the goals for equals the goals against. This would be a goal differential (goals for minus goals against) of zero. If the team’s goal differential is positive (above the line), then the team has good chance of making the playoffs.
The picture is clearer if we just focus on the teams that qualify for the playoffs and those that do not, based on goal differential “buckets.”
Based on the data, a negative five goal differential is where teams have roughly a 50/50 chance of making the playoffs.
Kraken goal differential gap for contending in 2022-23
During the 2021-22 season the Kraken had a negative 59 adjusted goal differential. Assuming the negative five goal differential is the target for putting themselves in a solid position to qualify for the 2023 Stanley Cup Playoffs, then they will need to eliminate a 54-goal gap. There are many ways this can be accomplished, but for this exercise we are going to keep it simple and focus on goaltending and goal scoring.
Goaltending must be better
According to Evolving-Hockey.com, the Kraken goaltending had a “Goals Saved Above Expected” (GSAx) of negative 41.3.
The math behind these numbers can be a bit complicated, but let’s put it in simple terms: If the Kraken received just average goaltending from their goaltenders, they would have allowed 41 fewer goals in the 2021-22 season. Expecting exeptional goaltending next season might be wishful thinking, but the goaltending tandem of Philipp Grubauer and Chris Driedger gave us reason for optimism by both playing their best hockey of the season down the stretch.
Expecting a major improvement to goaltending took a hit when the team announced that Driedger underwent surgery for a torn ACL with an expected timeline to return of seven-to-nine months. For now, we are going to assume a reasonable 10 GSAx improvement to next year’s goaltending.
This gives you the framework of the analysis that we intend to do here. In the next installment in the series, we will focus on goal scoring projections for the current Seattle Kraken players and where the team might be able to add personnel to address gaps in becoming a contender.
If I’m reading this right the assumption for next season is a GSAx of -31. Has a team ever made the playoffs with a minus 30+ GSAx? This season Toronto was the closest team to that at -22 GSAx.
Good question. At first glance there haven’t been any but I was trying to be as conservative and realistic so at least as a starting point or maybe “worst case” scenario we are setting the bar at -30 GSAx. Some of these things can be correlated. I.e. you get more scorers on the team, all of a sudden the goalies are playing better with the theory being if the teams are ahead more frequently, the opposing team takes lower quality shots because the team is playing more responsible defensively.
John – Good stuff, just piling on more requests for analysis but have you looked at season to season changes in GSAx? Like you said, assuming a -10 improvement seems like a conservative baseline but was just curious if you or others had looked at the typical year-by-year changes.
To my mind, it’s premature to expect goaltending to be better next year. I hope Daccord is an NHL goalie, but I’ve not seen much evidence of that. He was called up in some trying circumstances to be sure, but even that final start against Vancouver, which was said to be a reward for his outstanding AHL season, was substandard. Muck will depend on the two G the Kraken will now need to add to cover Coachella and in case Daccord falters, and on the goalie coach they hire. If Daccord can’t spell Grubauer, Seattle is back to overplaying Grubauer because of crease issues, just like last season.