The latest Kraken scouting hires announced last week provided some needed forward and goaltending depth, but won’t shore up the team’s weakest link when it comes to any alumni games they’ll host at Climate Pledge Arena.
For those unaware, alumni games are an NHL tradition, fostering goodwill, nostalgia and charitable donations from ticket sales to fans gladly handing over good money to see their favorite team’s heroes of yesteryear take on familiar, equally aged foes at 20% speed.
Now, the Kraken hasn’t even played an NHL game yet, so it will be a while before the team can trot out a lineup of yesterday’s stars — unless it literally does use yesterday’s stars, and then Seattle wouldn’t have anyone left on the roster for tomorrow’s regular-season contests.
So, instead, the Kraken will need to dip exclusively into its hockey operations pool for an inaugural Kraken Alumni squad (for this story, we’ll use the term “alumni” to mean former pro players of any league) which won’t exactly replicate what the 1977 Montreal Canadiens or 1985 Edmonton Oilers can throw out there.
But they’ll at least have relative youth on their side.
So much youth, in fact, that professional scout Lorne Henning, 68, a third-line center with the blossoming New York Islanders dynasty of the early 1980s, might have difficulty cracking the lineup. But Henning doesn’t need to: He’s a no-brainer first Kraken alumni coach, having previously held head NHL bench jobs with the Islanders and the Minnesota North Stars.
Henning’s top Kraken Alumni forward line is set, with performance consultant Gary Roberts, 53, on left wing, general manager Ron Francis, 57, at center, and pro scout Cammi Granato, 49, at right wing. That’s two Hockey Hall of Famers in Francis and Granato and 44 combined NHL seasons between Francis and Roberts alone, not to mention their three combined Stanley Cup wins plus Granato’s pair of Olympic and World Championship gold medals.
Friday’s amateur scouting additions, if anything, created a logjam at left wing, where new boss Robert Kron, 53, and European scout Pelle Eklund will provide depth and push Roberts for ice time. Eklund, 57, had some skills for a Philadelphia Flyers team that made two Stanley Cup Finals and likely gets the second-line nod over Kron, though Roberts holds a clear edge on both for his added power dimension and durability.
You’ve already got pro scout Stu Barnes, 49, a longtime Buffalo Sabres and Dallas Stars mainstay, who can spell Francis at center and slide over to right wing when Granato needs a break.
Also, the Kraken Alumni shored up their goaltending Friday with Finnish native and newly named European scout Sasu Hovi. Yeah, Hovi’s teams at HC Slovan Bratislava in the Slovak Extraliga and with HC Kometa Brno in the Czech Extraliga weren’t exactly the late-1990s Detroit Red Wings or the 2010s Chicago Blackhawks, but somebody at least thought him worth paying to stop a puck.
And at 38, Hovi is an upgrade on the prior option of Kraken goaltending scout Andrew Allen, 44, whose mostly-ECHL playing career was done before his 30th birthday. Unlike other positions in alumni hockey, you still need your goalie’s reflexes sharp and that’s tough when you haven’t stopped a shot in a meaningful pro game in 15 years.
They say an athlete’s power is the last thing to go. So, even the wobbliest-looking alumni skater has a puncher’s chance of getting off a slap shot capable of beating a goalie whose best days are behind him. And Allen’s best days — let’s face it — included a stint with a team called the Macon Whoopee and barely enough American Hockey League games to be counted by his 10 fingers.
Not that Hovi is the second coming of Tuukka Rask or Pekka Rinne. Still, he’s played more than 100 pro games since Allen hung up his blocker, and I’d put money on HC Kometa Brno taking down the Whoopee in a best-of-seven series.
Heck, the Kraken Alumni goaltending is akin to a Marc-Andre Fleury-Matt Murray combo compared to their blue line. Sure, they can count on pro scout and longtime NHL veteran Ulf Samuelsson to get any opposing grandfathers staring over their shoulders in fear. The problem is finding a defensive partner to pair alongside Samuelsson while he’s wreaking destruction.
Kraken Alumni coach Henning probably got all excited when he heard GM Francis had landed an “Olczyk” as his assistant GM. Unfortunately, it wasn’t 6-foot-1, 210-pound Eddie Olczyk, a U.S. Hockey Hall of Famer who would have easily been the Kraken Alumni’s No. 2 center. No, Francis signed up Olczyk’s younger brother, Ricky, a 5-foot-8, 170-pound blueliner who somehow managed zero goals over four years playing for Brown University.
On the plus side, young Ricky did show feistiness, averaging two penalty minutes in each of 23 games his senior 1991-92 season. Then again, he was playing against Dartmouth and Princeton, not the Broad Street Bullies.
So, yeah, the ice could start looking mighty tilted in the Kraken Alumni’s zone.
Still, all hope isn’t lost just because the Kraken Alumni’s power play will feature a point-man who hasn’t found the back of any net since his pee-wee hockey days in Illinois. Remember, these are alumni games, where gaping voids are just a synonym for “blue chip defenseman” once teams inevitably start digging into the free beer between periods.
No, the Kraken Alumni won’t remind Henning of his prior Islanders teams. Nor will Francis hearken back to his early 1990s Pittsburgh Penguins.
But, hey, the Kraken Alumni are all under 60 and in fairly excellent shape — or will be, once Roberts get a hold of them. Like the actual NHL version of the Kraken, they should be competitive most nights.
And even Olcyzk might square up on an 81-year-old Bobby Hull. If not, the Kraken Alumni now will at least have Hovi standing between Hull and what would otherwise be an empty net.