When the NHL finally decided to add new teams for the first time since a late 90s explosion bloated the league tota to 30, there was great desire for the league to add teams in Canada, where the sport is most prominent and its fan bases ever loyal. Expansion teams traditonally don’t win often, and smart money was that an American fan base, especially in cities that enjoyed winners in other sports, would not enthusiastically support a protracted growth period.
But in 2017-18 the Vegas Golden Knights exceeded all expectations in both acceptance and performance, winning the Western Conference in their inaugural season and selling out the glittering new T-Mobile Arena on the strip. The secret sauce that the Knights capitalized on was smart personnel behind the scenes and a market hungry for a major league team. In spite of the desert location, the Knights were the first in a top-tier league in a major sport to call Las Vegas a full-time home.
So any reluctance to further expand into the Western U.S. was put to rest with the immediate success of Las Vegas. And in Seattle, similar ingredients existed. A mere 126 miles from Vancouver, the city would (along with Portland) regularly sell out WHL junior league games, the only U.S. cities that supported major juniors successfully. And since 2004, when the NBA SuperSonics left for the greener (well, mostly browner) pastures of Oklahoma City, the city has not had a winter major league team.
Last October, the Seattle Kraken were born at the league’s 32nd team. With Vegas as their model and inspiration, their acceptance by their fans was strong, but the on-ice results were marginal. The Kraken lost 49 of 82 games, finished dead last in the Pacific Division and often played lethargically. With Ron Francis as general manager, who had won a Stanley Cup in Raleigh, North Carolina for the relocated Hartford Whalers, and then ran the team for a few seasons in the mid-2010s, hopes were high for a rebound.
Well, a lot more than a rebound is occurring. The Kraken has vaulted into a playoff position at the midway point of their second season, and last night in Boston they not only sent the league’s #1 team, the Bruins, down to their first regulation home loss in 22 games, they actually shut them out, by a 3-0 score. Considering that goaltender Martin Jones has been seen as a weak link, with the Kraken winning games by 9-8 scores twice so far this season, for Jones to pull that off was especially noteworthy. And in doing so, the Kraken tied their all-time (well, season and a half) record with their seventh straight win, the last six as part of an extended road trip, and can complete a clean sweep tomorrow night with a win against the conference cellar-dweller in Chicago.
And as Andy Eide of SeattleSports.com crowed, it isn’t just that the Kraken are winning, it’s HOW they are winning that’s service notice:
Seattle smothered the Bruins. They were tough on the forecheck, creating turnovers and offensive chances. In the neutral zone, the Kraken didn’t allow free passage and clamped down in their own end.
The Bruins had some pushback, they’re number one in the league for a reason, but even while they played with desperation in the third, the Kraken still had over 60 percent of the shot quality. Most of the Bruins shots were kept to the outside.
The blueprint is there and the path forward is clear for Seattle. Defense must come first and if they can do it on the road against the Bruins, it should be repeatable most nights.
The Kraken still have a ways to go to equal the Knights’ early prowess. After missing the playoffs for the first time in their five-year history last season, under new coach Bruce Cassidy they’re back in first place in the Western Conference. The Kraken are a mere three points back, though, and after last night, the odds of them being overlooked are diminished greatly.
So if you look out on the misty Puget Sound any time soon, rising from the fog will likely be a new sports force, a sea serpent who’s growing up real fast and growing on the Pacific Northwest more and more.
Consider this Kraken released, and highly respected.