Despite a debut season of disappointing on-ice losses and where’d-that-guy-go trades, Seattle Kraken fans proved that this was a hockey town waiting to happen.

In the return of major professional hockey after nearly a century, raucous fans jammed into renovated Climate Pledge Arena at a rate that gives reason to believe in the franchise captivating the city for years and decades to come. The 703,191 people who showed up to watch National Hockey League games in Seattle, despite a disappointing 27-49-6 record, signaled strong hometown interest.

Of the 13 NHL teams that pulled in more fans, only one had a losing record, as the Kraken did — and that was the Chicago Blackhawks, who play in a bigger city and larger arena. 

The NHL playoffs have started without the Kraken. However, team decision-makers have established they’re building for sustainable success, with dozens of draft picks stockpiled for the next three years to add prospects, and a nucleus of emerging young talent from this first season. Rookie Matty Beniers’ nine points in 10 games and that thank-you shutout in the final home game April 29 were small rewards for fans who held their enthusiasm through the bumpy first season, who packed onto the Seattle Monorail by the thousands and stayed loud even late in blowout losses.

If the quest to get an NBA team back to Seattle ever gains traction, the Kraken has shown a successful path to rekindling the energy of the city’s long-neglected fandom. May the early depths lead to celebrations ahead.