Too soon? Nah. We are now two weeks removed from the Seattle Kraken’s Game 7 loss to the Dallas Stars in the second round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Based on our completely arbitrary metrics, it feels like sufficient time has now passed, and we can finally put our heads together for the 2022-23 Sound Of Hockey Seattle Kraken Post-Mortem. That’s a long name, but we’ll workshop it to come up with something more snappy for future seasons.
Let’s get to it.
What went right for the Seattle Kraken season this season?
Josh Horton: Depth scoring will likely go down as the prevailing theme of this season, but the emergence of Adam Larsson and Vince Dunn as a bona fide top pair stands out as well. The way both shouldered important minutes–Dunn as a legitimate offensive threat and Larsson as a stabilizing defensive force–settled down the lineup and provided reliability for head coach Dave Hakstol, especially late in the season and in the playoffs.
John Barr: The depth scoring was obviously a key piece in the success of the Kraken season, but part of that was due to the health of the team. Other than Andre Burakovsky, who missed the second half of the season and playoffs with a torn groin, the Kraken were relatively healthy. There were nine Kraken players that had over 80 games played this season, compared to 2021-22 when only two players ended up with 80 games or more. If there were just a couple more injuries in the NHL, the depth might not have been there for the Kraken. The Kraken’s strong depth stopped at the NHL level, and if the team was forced to dip into the AHL for long stretches during the season, the outcomes might have been different.
Darren Brown: But John, what about Tye Kartye? Ok, maybe one successful callup does not mean the Kraken are deep with emerging talent from their prospect pool, and you’re probably right that depth only exists within the NHL roster and not so much beyond.
Like both of my colleagues that have already answered, I too am going to allude to the depth of the team, but then call out something different. The players were able to build real belief in themselves this season. They got just enough goaltending and enough timely scoring to put them on a couple long winning streaks that buoyed (shoutout Buoy) their playoff chances, even as they stumbled at times down the stretch. The psyche of this team is very different now than it was at the end of the inaugural season, and that should carry over into next season. Even with tweaks to the lineup, the core group will be back, and it knows it can win now.
Curtis Isacke: Many have called for the Kraken to name an individual captain, but, from the outside, it seems to me like the veteran leadership on this team was something that went right this season. It is hard to overstate this team’s on-ice accomplishments following a sixty-point inaugural season. The Kraken became only the third team in NHL history to follow a season with 60 or fewer points with a season of 100 or more (joining the 1992-93 Quebec Nordiques and 2006-07 Penguins). The Kraken added some important pieces in the offseason, no doubt, but it would have been all too easy to call an 80 point 2022-23 season a “success.” This team didn’t settle for that. The Kraken were difficult to beat on the road (26-11-4) and resilient in difficult situations, including in the playoffs. It’s a credit to the team’s mindset and buy-in, and that starts with the players who wore the “A” this season.
What went wrong?
JH: There wasn’t much that went wrong for Seattle this year, but if you had to pick, the Shane Wright debacle stands out. Now, I think in hindsight Seattle did all it could with Wright, who wasn’t quite ready to contribute at the NHL level, but obviously was too good for junior hockey and couldn’t play in the AHL due to the NHL-CHL agreement. However, seeing Wright knocked out early of the Ontario Hockey League playoffs–after being hampered with injuries–and struggling in Coachella Valley even to crack the lineup in the playoffs hasn’t sparked much optimism.
Now, I don’t think this is any cause for panic. All prospects develop at different paces, and Wright clearly has some hurdles he still needs to clear. Even with his struggles this season, the No. 4 pick in 2022 showed some really positive signs, with a prolific scoring run during his initial conditioning stint in the AHL and a near two-points-per-game scoring pace for the Windsor Spitfires in the OHL. However, one does wonder if this season really provided a proper season of development for Wright, and for that, I believe this was the biggest organizational shortcoming in 2022 — that dang NHL-CHL agreement!
DB: I agree wholeheartedly with everything Josh just said. It would have been really nice in this scenario for Wright to just be allowed to go to the AHL and develop, as that was clearly where he belonged. It’s still unclear if he will be dealing with the same issue next season, and if so, it will be an even bigger conundrum for the Kraken than it was in 2022-23.
CI: The Kraken have a handful of high-end finishers (Andre Burakovsky, Jared McCann, Oliver Bjorkstrand, Daniel Sprong, and Eeli Tolvanen) and facilitators (Jordan Eberle, Alex Wennberg) up front. This seems like a good set of ingredients to build a power play. But it didn’t work out that way in 2022-23. In the regular season, the team ranked tied for 19th in the league with a 19.8 percent conversion rate. In the postseason, the team checked in at 14th (of 16) at 14.3 percent. The raw results from the regular season look mediocre, but some strong puck luck obscures the dreadful shot quality generated by the team. In fact, looking at quality of shot data alone, the power play showed little, if any, improvement from 2022-23 over 2021-22, despite the personnel improvements.
Why is the team struggling? It’s a topic I want to investigate this offseason, but off the cuff, three factors come to mind. First, the team failed to regularly gain possession off of offensive zone draws. Second, the team’s zone entries were inefficient, in part because they were overly reliant on the schemed approach, which can be countered when it is too predictable. And, third, the team was too static in the offensive zone, losing the skating game that brought them success five-on-five. In watching other power plays around the league, I was often struck by the fact that motion and position exchanges within a power play structure can create confusion and draw defenders out of positions guarding the slot. The Kraken rarely did this.
JB: Not a damn thing… Well, other than the power play, which Curtis mentioned already.
What was the biggest surprise?
JB: For me the biggest surprise might have been the penalty kill. The team PK did not start out that well, but as the season went on, it became stronger and stronger. It felt like this was a key component of the team’s success down the home stretch of the regular season that carried over to the playoffs.
JH: Tye Kartye’s rise came out of nowhere for me. Prospects–nonetheless undrafted free agents–hit at a small clip as it is, but Kartye not only breaking into the NHL at 22, but contributing to Seattle’s top line in the playoffs was a very welcome surprise. The positive momentum generated from Kartye’s playoff emergence will be fun to monitor in training camp and into next year.
CI: Kartye’s development at the AHL level and postseason NHL performance is a good one, Josh. I’ll go with the waiver claim and play of Eeli Tolvanen this year. He is a very good finisher and a solid defender, and he has developed strong chemistry with Yanni Gourde in a natural middle-six position for him. He’s still one of the youngest core members of the NHL team too and looks like a lineup stalwart for years to come. If we’re flashing back to the beginning of the year, this definitely qualifies as a pleasant surprise.
DB: How about Dave Hakstol as a Jack Adams nominee? All through last season and even in the early stages of this season, it was painful to read our Twitter mentions some nights, as all we saw was “fire Hakstol” vitriol. He turned the team around in its second season and clearly got buy-in from the group, and what was most impressive to me was how he seemed to be able to address problems mid-season. The penalty kill is a great example of that.
What was the biggest disappointment of the season?
JB: It’s hard to be disappointed with anything from this team this season, but maybe McCann getting hurt in Game 3 of the Stanley Cup Playoff opening round. It was unfortunate, considering he had been such a big piece of the team’s success throughout the season. When he came back, it seemed to take some time for him to get his legs under him and get comfortable with the pace of the game, so it would have been nice to see him healthy coming into the Dallas series.
JH: The only real disappointment I can think of is the Andre Burakovsky injury. While Seattle’s strength was its depth, the Kraken could have used Burakovsky’s firepower during some lulls in the playoffs.
CI: I didn’t have high expectations for Joonas Donskoi coming into the season, but I was hoping for his sake and the team’s sake that he could re-establish himself as an NHL regular this year. In that regard it was disappointing to see him sidelined for the entire season with an undisclosed injury. At this point, I am hoping that he is doing well with his health moving forward.
DB: It was disappointing to see the Kraken lose Game 7 in Dallas by one goal. They were so close to the Western Conference Finals, but they just didn’t have enough gas left in the tank that night.
What was your favorite moment of the Seattle Kraken season?
JB: Jordan Eberle’s overtime game winner in Game 4 of the opening round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs against Colorado has to be my favorite moment. There was so much on the line in that overtime. If the Kraken were to lose that game, they would have gone down 3-1 in the series, and the outcome of that round would have been different. Making the playoffs was a big deal for this franchise, but the storylines and epic moments of its playoff run added to the lore of the Seattle Kraken. Eberle minted fans with that game winner in overtime, and we might look back on it as one of the biggest moments in franchise history.
JH: It doesn’t get much better than a Game 7 win. Watching Oliver Bjorkstrand play one of the best games of his career and Philipp Grubauer come up with clutch save after clutch save was a treat to watch. The joy of winning an elimination game–on the road, no less–is hard to beat.
DB: I’ll go with Josh’s Game 7 answer, but for different reasons. I had the privilege of being in the building in Denver that night, and it is something that I personally will never forget. You could feel the uneasiness in the crowd, as it started to set in that the Avs were on the ropes, and when the final horn sounded, seeing how happy the guys were in the locker room was just awesome. I will never forget that night.
CI: Jordan Eberle’s overtime winner from Game 4 against the Colorado Avalanche is tough to beat. It was an electric moment in the arena. But this team was so generous with its highlights this year, I’ll go a different direction. Thought a bit about Justin Schultz’s overtime winner against the Rangers. But I’ll go with Eeli Tolvanen’s goal to open the scoring in Game 1 against Colorado, the team’s first playoff goal, in its first playoff win, the year after recording the third-worst record in the NHL. It was an indelible moment of validation for the franchise and the fanbase.
Do you agree or disagree with our takes? If not, give us your own post-mortem in the comments section.