In the middle of last offseason, I went through a forecasting exercise to analyze the Seattle Kraken roster and evaluate the team’s playoff chances after its offseason acquisitions. Historical data says that NHL teams with positive adjusted goal differential on the season have at least a 50 percent chance of making the playoffs. Entering 2022-23, reaching the Stanley Cup Playoffs seemed like a huge stretch considering the Kraken were coming off a negative-59 goal differential that was good for 30th out of 32 teams in the league.
I was viciously mocked (not really) for even mentioning the word playoffs last offseason. At the end of the exercise, I forecasted the Kraken had a roster that could produce a negative-7.7 goal differential which would have given them a 33 percent chance of making the playoffs heading into the 2022-23 season.
Now that we’re ready to start the 2023-24 season, let’s look back at how the previous forecast did and also set expectations for this season.
Looking back at the 2022-23 forecast
Before we dig into the current Seattle Kraken roster, it is always useful to evaluate how the forecasting model performed last season to see if we can refine the process.
Here is a look at the player-by-player forecast and how it performed against what actually happened. As a reminder, we are using adjusted goals, which eliminates empty-net and shootout goals.
- The forecasting model was under by 32 goals, largely driven by Jared McCann, Daniel Sprong, and Jamie Oleksiak’s variances. At the time I did last season’s forecast, Sprong was not on the roster. Even so, had he been on the roster, I would not have pegged him with 21 goals over 66 games.
- Forecasting Shane Wright with 14.9 goals was an obvious miss on the forecast. He bounced between the NHL, AHL, back to the NHL, World Juniors, back to the OHL, and then eventually back to the AHL He scored one goal in the NHL.
- Picking up Eeli Tolvanen on waivers is not something anyone could have foreseen in August, 2022. It was a huge steal for the Kraken and ended up being key to their success on the back half of the season.
- Oleksiak was a pleasant surprise. After scoring one empty-net goal from his own goal line during the 2021-22 season, he posted a career-high nine goals during the 2022-23 season. I’m not sure how I could have foreseen that output, but his production offsets my expectation for Carson Soucy, which is how the forecast is supposed to work.
Overall, I felt the forecast model performed well with offsets on both sides of the equation.
Kraken departures and arrivals for 2023-24
The Kraken had quite a few goals leave the team this offseason. Sprong and Morgan Geekie did not receive qualifying offers, and Seattle did not re-sign unrestricted free agents Ryan Donato or Soucy. That is 47 goals that left the team.
In free agency, the Kraken added Kailer Yamamoto, Pierre-Edouard Bellemare, and Brian Dumoulin, totaling just 15 goals last season. In addition to the free agents, playoff legend Tye Kartye will be starting the season on the NHL roster.
On the surface, the net of the roster changes looks like a significant deficit to make up for in the 2023-24 season. Let’s dig into the forecast to predict how it will shake out.
Forecasting the forward goal production
My base assumption is players will produce goals at the same rate per game they did in the prior season. Additionally, my forecast for games played is a general average of the regulars in the season prior. For the bottom three forwards, I anticipate a bit of interchanging going on through the season, so assume they will not play as regularly as the top nine. Once I have the base assumptions around goals and games played, I’m making small adjustments based on additional information gathered last season.
- With another year under his belt, I anticipate Matty Beniers to increase his goal production. To keep it conservative, I increased his goal rate per game by 10 percent.
- Oliver Bjorkstrand seemed to start the 2022-23 season uncharacteristically snakebitten, but finished the second half of the season producing more in line with his normal levels. He would finish the season with his fewest goals per game over the last five years. I increased his goal rate by 5 percent to be comparable with his last three seasons.
- I also adjusted McCann’s production down by 10 percent due to his uncharacteristically high shooting percentage during the 2022-23 season.
- Kartye is a bit of a guess that is loosely based on his 2022-23 AHL season and a bit of his playoff games.
- There were no adjustments to Andre Burakovsky’s rate projections, but it is worth pointing out that a full season of Burakovsky should add at least another seven goals.
Forecasting the defense goal production
The forecast for defense will work very similarly to the forwards with a rate per game based on historical production. The top six defense lineup seems rather set, but we can almost guarantee those six will not all play 82 games, so I’m reducing their average to 75.
- The only adjustment I made to the defense is cutting Oleksiak’s rate in half compared to his career high in the 2023-24 season.
- I do expect Ryker Evens to play some NHL games this season, and he is a more offensive-minded defenseman that will score goals. But there are too many unknowns to build him into the forecast.
Before we put the final goal differential together, we need to recognize the other piece of the formula, adjusted goals against that are expected to be scored against Seattle. Last season, the Kraken allowed 242 adjusted goals against. Modeling goals against is a challenge, but I do believe the additions of Pierre-Edouard Bellemare and Brian Dumoulin will be a net gain defensively for the Kraken this season compared to the offseason departures of Geekie and Soucy. We can conservatively estimate that those new guys can save the Kraken five goals against over the season. Based on this logic, the adjusted goals against estimate is going to be last season’s goal total of 242 minus the five goals we are estimating from the defensive contributions of Bellemare and Dumoulin.
Putting it all together
If you total the goal forecast and subtract the goals against forecast/estimate, you get a goal differential of plus 19.4 goals. That would put any team in the 92 percent range of qualifying for the playoffs.
This feels a bit high based on other NHL analysts’ projections, but a lot of those same analysts were horribly wrong last season, so why would we think they will nail it this season? Additionally, there are several opportunities for improvement for Seattle, such as the power play, goaltending, and face-offs that can directly or indirectly improve the Seattle Kraken’s goal differential.
Overall, I know this is a very simple forecasting process, but there is no sense in using a flamethrower to light a candle when all you need is a match. In keeping it basic, things look pretty good heading into the 2023-24 Kraken season.