Kraken Not Likely to See Vegas-Like Success

With the 2021 Expansion Draft looming, there is no doubt that Seattle hockey fans are getting excited to see the NHL’s newest team take the ice. For the first time since the Seattle Metropolitans of 1924, the city will have a team competing for the Stanley Cup. It is only natural that fans are incredibly enthusiastic.

Adding to this sentiment is the early success of the most recent expansion team, the Vegas Golden Knights. After achieving the seemingly impossible – a trip to the Stanley Cup Final – in their inaugural season, the Knights have remained contenders ever since. In fact, the franchise has yet to miss the playoffs, and is one of the 2021 Stanley Cup favorites.

However, anyone expecting the same results from the Kraken will almost certainly be disappointed. For many reasons, Seattle is unlikely to match the Knights’ impressive start. I would be shocked to see any future expansion team find as much immediate success as Vegas – at least under the current draft parameters. (from ‘How the Vegas Golden Knights became the most remarkable story in sports,’ The Guardian, 05/12/2018)

Although I don’t mean to diminish excitement for the newest NHL team, I do want to caution against expecting an immediate contender. For the following reasons, the Seattle Kraken are unlikely to challenge for the Stanley Cup in their inaugural season.

Expansion Teams Lack Chemistry

The first, and perhaps most obvious reason is one that Vegas shockingly managed to overcome: players coming entirely from different teams will not have immediate chemistry.

A crucial and oft-overlooked aspect of on-ice success is chemistry between teammates. Since the Kraken will be made up of one player from each team in the league, the vast majority of them will not have played together before.

The Golden Knights managed to find instant chemistry, which can likely be attributed to some combination of smart selections in the expansion draft and good coaching. The line made up of William Karlsson flanked by Jonathan Marchessault and Reilly Smith seemed almost as though it had been playing together for years, and it remains intact to this day.

Vegas Golden Knights Reilly Smith Jonathan Marchessault Deryk Engelland
Vegas Golden Knights right wing Reilly Smith and center Jonathan Marchessault celebrate after defenseman Deryk Engelland (AP Photo/John Locher)

Fortunately for the Kraken, those two factors – selections and coaching – are entirely in their control. By making smart draft choices and hiring a coach as good as Gerard Gallant (perhaps even Gallant himself), Seattle can offset this problem.

Opposing Management Teams Are Better Prepared

The 2017 Expansion Draft saw many teams lose significant pieces. Then-Vegas GM George McPhee expertly navigated the expansion draft environment, swinging deals that allowed him to essentially steal key players from vulnerable teams. When the dust settled, teams such as the Florida Panthers, Columbus Blue Jackets, and Anaheim Ducks had been swindled out of players that grew into stars in Vegas.

As a result of McPhee’s strategy, teams will be much warier this time around. With a recent cautionary tale for the vulnerable teams, it’s unlikely that we see nearly as many protection-driven trades being made at the draft, making things much for difficult for the Kraken. Opposing GMs will be willing to lose a good player off their rosters, having seen first-hand the consequences of trying to get around it.

George McPhee, Vegas Golden Knights, NHL
George McPhee (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

While Seattle will still have plenty of great options to choose from, they will struggle to add the assets that the Golden Knights managed to acquire. Teams will have learned from past mistakes. Unfortunately for the Kraken, a Shea Theodore or Alex Tuch will be hard to come by.

Opposing Players Are Better Prepared

In the same vein of thinking, opposing players will also have learned from the Golden Knights’ inaugural season. The Kraken will not be gifted the element of surprise that helped Vegas as it entered the league.

Again, Vegas’ success was completely unprecedented and shocked the league. Opposing teams severely underestimated the Knights as they cruised to a Pacific Division title and fourth-place finish league-wide. As much as they may deny it, teams today probably don’t have quite the same mindset in games against the Tampa Bay Lightning as they do against the Buffalo Sabres.

The Kraken will not have the luxury that the Golden Knights had. Having seen the damage that an expansion team can inflict, the rest of the league will be sure not to underestimate the Kraken. Although, as I said before, Seattle should not expect to be as successful as Vegas, they should not expect to be a league bottom-feeder either. Other teams will take that into account and will not take the Kraken lightly.

Final Thoughts

I am as excited as anyone to see the Seattle Kraken take the ice in the 2021-22 season. Early success in the newest hockey city would be fantastic for the sport. However, we need to be realistic.

It is easy to romanticize the Golden Knights’ incredible start and apply it to the Kraken, but Vegas was an outlier. Expansion teams have never been that good and likely won’t be ever again.

With teams having adjusted since 2017, Seattle will struggle to put together a contending roster. Regardless, the Kraken’s inaugural season will be incredibly entertaining as long as expectations aren’t unrealistically high. Expansion is great for the sport, and fans should simply enjoy the ride.

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