It’s the most wonderful time of the year… but NHL fans may not be feeling that way. With a recent upswing in COVID-19 cases, the season is suddenly in a precarious state and the chance of NHL players at the Olympics is looking less and less likely.
Seattle Kraken fans may be feeling even less of the holiday joy. Their team has not played up to expectations in its inaugural season and has now lost five of its last six games. With the holidays right around the corner, Kraken fans surely have plenty on their Santa wish list.
Improved Play From Philipp Grubauer
One of the key moves that general manager Ron Francis made in his first offseason was signing goaltender Philipp Grubauer to a lucrative six-year contract. At the time, Grubauer was coming off an excellent season with the Colorado Avalanche, and was a reigning Vezina Trophy finalist. Unfortunately, he has failed to repeat that performance this season.
So far this year, among goaltenders with at least ten games played, Grubauer sits tied for last in save percentage, sixth-to-last in goals-against average, and dead last by a very wide margin in Goals Saved Above expected (GSAx). Based on his track record and the contract he was signed to, Grubauer is expected to be among the best goalies in the NHL. Given his stats this season, it could be argued that he has been the worst.
Perhaps the single most important gift Kraken fans could ask for this holiday season is better play from Grubauer. Though the 2021-22 season is likely already lost, he could still provide hope that the next five years of his deal will be worth the money.
More Productive Offense From the Back-End
One of the major concerns for the Kraken heading into their inaugural season was their offense. Through 29 games, that issue has not loomed as large as expected, as Seattle sits 16th in Goals-For per Game, a respectable placement. However, the defense corps has struggled to contribute on that front.
The Kraken’s leading scorer among defensemen at this point is Vince Dunn with only three goals and twelve points in 27 games. Captain and former Norris Trophy winner, Mark Giordano has managed only eight points. Though the 38-year-old Giordano is nearing the end of his career, some more production was expected and would no doubt help the team.
Seattle’s forwards have picked up the slack nicely to ensure that the team still puts up goals but they cannot carry the load alone. If the Kraken are to be successful, their defense corps will have to produce more. Kraken fans should have that high on their wish list this year.
A Strong WJC Performance by Matty Beniers
With the first-ever draft pick in franchise history, and the second overall pick in the 2021 NHL draft, the Kraken selected University of Michigan center Matty Beniers. In his freshman season at Michigan, Beniers scored 24 points in 24 games and is already at 22 points through 20 games played this season.
Beniers won the gold medal with Team USA in last year’s World Junior Championship as a draft-eligible, contributing three points in seven games. This year, he is expected to take on a much bigger role and hopefully lead the team to another medal. He will likely line up as the USA’s first-line center and will be depended on for much of the offense.
Beniers is expected to make the jump to the NHL for the 2022-23 season. A strong performance at the 2022 WJC could provide Kraken fans with hope that he will lead Seattle to a much better season next year.
The Kraken have not been great so far but these potential gifts could flip the script during the holiday season. If even one or two of these come true, Seattle hockey fans could be looking at a very rewarding new year.
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Jake is a reliable source for the Seattle Kraken here at The Hockey Writers. Hailing from New York City, he is an avid fan of all things hockey and is always involved with the sport, whether that means writing, watching, or playing. An enthusiastic advocate for sports analytics, Jake will often weave them into his posts to support his ideas. More of his work can be found on his Substack page, and he is a contributor with @hky_tapetalk on Instagram. For any questions or inquiries, Jake can be contacted on his Twitter, @jakezrihen.