Not much happening with the Seattle Kraken/Sockeyes/Totems/Sasquatch/Orcas/Evergreens, is there? OK, maybe there is. But there’s more to hockey than a team name, so let’s answer some questions.
Answer: Put it this way: I didn’t write last week about Gerard Gallant being the front-runner just to throw another fired coach on Seattle’s candidate pile. NHL Seattle officials had privately suggested they wanted somebody like Gallant. Well, now they can have the actual guy if they work out a deal with Vegas on the remaining season on his contract.
Gallant is known for relating to and inspiring players, especially castoffs who land with expansion teams. He wasn’t a superstar player and understands pro hockey’s ups and downs. It’s been suggested he may not have always seen eye to eye with management. But come on, he was always a fiery player that didn’t back down from a fight. Personally, I wouldn’t want a “yes man” as my coach. When push comes to shove — as it often does on a hockey rink — your leader can shove back once in a while.
With that in mind, they won’t employ a first-timer. There’s too much money invested to risk a learning curve. Especially with a capable Peter Laviolette available and having coached three teams to the Stanley Cup Final. He also coached Francis.
Some suggest onetime Charlotte Checkers AHL coach Mike Vellucci, now leading Pittsburgh’s farm equivalent, could reunite with his former Hurricanes parent club GM Francis here. But Vellucci was always more attached to former Carolina and current Penguins GM Jim Rutherford and again, lacks NHL head-coaching experience. I could see an AHL hire, if, say, San Diego Gulls coach Kevin Dineen is released from his deal. Mind you, his parent Anaheim Ducks club could have another head-coaching vacancy by next winter.
Dineen teamed with Francis as a player and as coach of Canada’s Spengler Cup team last year, has NHL head-coaching experience with Florida and was an assistant with Chicago’s last title winner. Dineen will be back in the NHL soon, but I’d say NHL Seattle first goes after Gallant this summer.
A: That’s a great question even longtime hockey fans struggle with. They’re allowed 23 active players apiece and 20 must dress for games — including two goalies minimum. Players on injured reserve don’t count but must be replaced with “active roster” guys.
Teams can control up to 80 players — a maximum 50 professionals, along with signed junior prospects and unsigned draft picks.
The NHL’s farm system is more established than the NBA’s but less extensive than in MLB.
Teams have Triple-A-like American Hockey League (AHL) affiliates and all but six — San Jose, Anaheim, Columbus, Florida, Los Angeles and Montreal — also align with ECHL squads. NHL Seattle hasn’t yet extended beyond their Palm Springs AHL franchise, given uncertainty about initially having spare players to give an ECHL team.
AHL is considered a higher level than ECHL, but slight talent differences between players are often more about their mental game than physical.
There are 31 AHL teams and 26 in the ECHL. Some NHL teams, like Seattle, own their AHL affiliate while others partner with them. ECHL franchises are privately owned and typically more about winning and profits than developing players. They’re stocked more with free agents than draft picks, though affiliated NHL teams supply some prospects.
Players ages 18 and 19 drafted from major junior hockey must be returned if they don’t make the NHL after 11 games, like Philadelphia Flyers draftee Wyatt Wylie with Everett. They can’t be recalled unless for an emergency player shortage.
For age 20 players — or those with four completed major junior seasons — the NHL team chooses whether to send them to junior or the minors.
A: Lots to tackle here. The draft depends on KeyArena reopening by June 2021. There will be regular and expansion drafts and the NHL is interested in Seattle hosting. Oak View Group construction executive Ken Johnsen told me he’ll pinpoint a completion date this April or May. If NHL Seattle guarantees by June the arena will reopen in a year, the draft comes here. If successful, we could hear by January 2022 that the 2023 All-Star Game is coming, too.
The team won’t have to make the Stanley Cup Final like Vegas but anything less than playoff contention would disappoint everyone. Big money is being spent by fans, sponsors and ownership and nobody will be happy if this isn’t a playoff team within two or three years.
And speaking of prices, yes, the team must ensure fans everywhere have a chance to see it. Otherwise, it’s a waste having community ambassador liaisons like Eric Pettigrew and Kyle Boyd trying to grow the sport locally. You won’t see $10 bleacher tickets, but I’d be surprised if there isn’t a section of lower-cost seats blocked off for community usage or daily general admission-type seating. Also, the new training facility at Northgate Mall offers an opportunity for fans to see players up close. That could mean letting them in to see practices for free.