While nothing is set in stone, the Seattle Kraken are well positioned to make their first-ever playoff appearance. They currently inhabit the first wild card position, but sit just three points behind the Edmonton Oilers for the third divisional playoff spot.
With the current chaotic state of the Western Conference, the Kraken could reasonably be matched up with any five out of the seven other Western playoff teams. The playoff picture in the Central Division is far from settled, with the Dallas Stars, Minnesota Wild, and Colorado Avalanche all within one point of the division lead. In the Pacific Division, the Vegas Golden Knights hold a two-point lead over the Los Angeles Kings for the lead, with the Oilers sitting seven points back.
With the Oilers teetering on the wild card line, they would be one of the most unlikely playoff combatants. The Kraken and Oilers facing off in the postseason would require one or both teams to leapfrog several division opponents. The Winnipeg Jets are just as unlikely, as they are out of the division race and are clinging to a wild card position. The only way the Kraken would face them is if one of the two won their respective division and the other remained in a wild card spot.
With that being said, each of the five other opponents provides distinct challenges that the Kraken would have to overcome. Ranked from least desirable to most desirable, here are the potential playoff opponents for the Kraken to look forward to.
5. Dallas Stars
Kraken 2022-23 Record vs. Stars: 1-1-1
This may be swayed by a bit of recency bias given their recent games, but the Stars seem to pose a difficult matchup for the Kraken. Given their tendency to make things dramatic, the Stars would be a team that might pose the biggest challenge. Their combination of timely scoring, offensive contributions, and strong goaltending would prove difficult for anyone to face.
Stars’ goaltender Jake Oettinger has proven already that he’s among the best in the league, and his limited playoff action has only added to that reputation. His play in the 2022 Playoffs was the only reason the Stars managed to stretch their first-round series against the Calgary Flames to seven games. In those seven games, he had a .954 save percentage (SV%) while facing an average of 41 shots per game.
The Kraken have displayed an impressive ability to outscore their issues this season, but doing that becomes significantly harder against a goaltender like Oettinger in a playoff series. If they do solve him, the next step is finding ways to hold off the Stars’ offensive game.
The Stars have scored four or more goals in all of their matchups with the Kraken this season, including two overtime wins. In those wins, the Kraken coughed up late leads and effectively opened the door for the Stars to take advantage. If the Kraken are to advance past the Stars in a playoff series, they can’t beat themselves by constantly allowing the Stars to climb back into the game. There are a lot of “ifs,” which is why they might be viewed as the least desirable first-round opponent.
4. Colorado Avalanche
Kraken 2022-23 Record vs. Avalanche: 2-0-1
To over-simplify this, the Kraken would be better off if they managed to avoid the reigning Stanley Cup champions. That seems like a fairly straightforward way of looking at it, but it wouldn’t be shocking to see if teams prefer to stay away.
The Kraken have actually fared quite well against the Avalanche this season, winning two games and losing one in a shootout while still gaining a point. They have done well to counter the elite offensive game that comes with playing the Avalanche, but doing that in a seven-game series is an entirely different story.
The Avalanche have spent most of their season without one or more star players, missing the likes of Cale Makar, Nathan MacKinnon, and their captain Gabriel Landeskog at one point or another. Now, aside from Landeskog, they’ve slowly returned to full strength. They’re still missing a handful of role players from the forward group and Josh Manson on the back end, but they’re significantly better off than they were.
With Landeskog potentially being an option come playoff time, the Avalanche are primed to be a dangerous team that just so happens to be the reigning champions. They’ve done this dance before, and while they may not be the same as they were when they won the Cup, they’re just as dangerous. They may have started slow this season, but they’ve been one of the hottest teams in the league since the start of the new year and should not be taken lightly.
3. Minnesota Wild
Kraken 2022-23 Record vs. Wild: 1-1-0
The Wild were a particularly difficult team to place, as they aren’t like the previous two teams. Unlike the Stars with Oettinger, they’re without a true number-one goaltender, but instead, have two solid options in the crease. They also don’t have the flashy offensive game throughout the lineup, but that just isn’t how the Wild are built.
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Instead, the Wild will wear teams down in the neutral zone, attempting to snuff out any and all offense a team may throw at them. This is how they’ve climbed to the top of the Central, and it’s why they’ll be a challenge to whoever plays them in the first round.
Offensively, they’ve become a rather top-heavy team. Just four players have 40 or more points this season, and only seven have 30 or more points. Their leading scorer, Kirill Kaprizov, is currently sidelined with an injury but should be returning in the next few weeks as the playoffs approach.
The Wild haven’t needed to score all that much, given their defensive game. This is where they become a challenging opponent, especially for the Kraken. The Kraken need to be able to flex their offensive muscles in order to make things happen. If things are simplified and left up to defense and goaltending, that is when they’ve struggled this season. If the Wild can get settled into their game, they’d prove challenging.
2. Vegas Golden Knights
Kraken 2022-23 Record vs. Golden Knights: 1-1-0
The Golden Knights are an interesting study, as the Kraken still have two games on the schedule yet to be played. That being said, the two teams have split their season series one game a piece early in the season.
The Golden Knights currently lead the Pacific and the Western Conference and have an eight-point lead on the Kraken in the playoff race. Despite not having a stable goaltending situation, they’ve done well to stay in the win column by relying on strong system play that emphasizes team defense and scoring by committee.
They’ve been without Mark Stone for most of the season, but have held their own by leaning on the likes of Jack Eichel, Chandler Stephenson, and Jonathan Marchessault to lead the scoring charge. They’ve also received support from their defensive group this season, with Alex Pietrangelo and Shea Theodore breaking the 40-point mark.
Both the Kraken and Golden Knights aren’t the same teams that played each other early in the year, so the final two games of the season series will do well to identify their strengths and weaknesses. At this time, the Golden Knights’ most glaring issue is the lack of a true starting goaltender.
After starting the season with a tandem of rookie Logan Thompson and newcomer Adin Hill, injuries forced them to pivot. At this time, their crease is guarded by recently acquired Jonathan Quick and Laurent Brossoit. With much uncertainty clouding Thompson’s status after leaving with an injury in his first start in nearly six weeks, this could very well be the pairing the Golden Knights will have to run with down the stretch. With the questions in goal, they could very well be a top seed and still struggle in Round 1.
1. Los Angeles Kings
Kraken 2022-23 Record vs. Kings: 3-0-0
The Kraken and Kings are responsible for the highest-scoring game in the NHL this season, combining for 17 goals in a 9-8 Kraken win on Nov. 29, 2022. A playoff series wouldn’t provide that type of scoring, or shouldn’t at least, but it would make for a great matchup.
The Kings are the only team among likely opponents that the Kraken have yet to lose to this season. With just one meeting remaining, the Kraken will look to sweep the season series. Two of the three matchups have made it to overtime, so it’s safe to assume the fourth and final will provide a close game.
That said, the Kraken have been able to score their way past the Kings this season despite the Kings having a very strong defensive system. One of the reasons for that is lackluster goaltending, and while they have added Joonas Korpisalo to help stabilize the crease, it’s still one of their bigger question marks. Similar to the Golden Knights, the Kraken would need to take advantage of the situation in net.
It’s a challenge to rank a team like the Kings, as they’ve been one of the hotter teams in the league over the past few months. On paper and the stat sheet, they feel like a team who could cause fits for the Kraken in a Round 1 matchup. Somehow, despite this, the Kraken have outplayed them in all three meetings to this point. Their offensive game finds ways to cut through the Kings like other teams haven’t been able to do. The final matchup on April 1 should do well to prove whether or not this is the case, but the Kraken seem comfortable playing to their strengths against the Kings.
The Kraken appear destined to face their first-ever NHL playoff action in just under a month, but their opponent likely won’t be determined until closer to the end of the regular season. Regardless of who they play, it will be a memorable experience for everyone involved. That said, they might fare better against certain teams and could make this even more memorable by winning the big games come playoff time.