As recently as last spring, the Kraken and Carolina Hurricanes had the makings of quite the rivalry for teams scheduled to play each other only twice a season.

After all, it was Kraken general manager Ron Francis who built a good deal of Carolina’s core during his time there from 2014-18. Francis brought assistant GM Ricky Olczyk over here from his Carolina front office with former Hurricanes staffers that include Kraken amateur scouting director Robert Kron and scouts Tony MacDonald and Mike Dawson, while also keeping a door open for former teammate and current Hurricanes coach Rod Brind’Amour in the event he didn’t sign a contract extension.

The Kraken also signed former Hurricanes draft pick and junior-level prospect Luke Henman as the Seattle franchise’s first player, then borrowed Carolina’s former AHL affiliate in Charlotte for a year to stash him away with a handful of other minor-leaguers. Even former longtime Hurricanes television broadcaster John Forslund is now the Kraken’s play-by-play voice on ROOT Sports.

But any hopes for a next-level rivalry began fizzling when Brind’Amour opted to stay with the Hurricanes. The Kraken also passed on using their ample salary-cap space to sign star Carolina free agent defenseman Dougie Hamilton — who eventually went to New Jersey. And now, with the Hurricanes sitting atop the NHL at 14-2-1 while the Kraken have the league’s third-worst mark at 5-12-1, a Wednesday night clash between them at Climate Pledge Arena is seemingly less about rivalry and more a measuring stick for the latest Francis-run squad.

“You look at our stretch here, the past few games and the week ahead — you take a look at that schedule and it’s pretty challenging,” said Kraken coach Dave Hakstol, named to his position the week after Brind’Amour was extended by the Hurricanes in the days following their second-round playoff exit last June. “So one opportunity at a time. Carolina’s a heck of a team. They’ve had a great start to the year. They’re deep and consistent throughout their lineup, so it’s a heck of a challenge for us.”

Indeed, a Kraken team that snapped a six-game losing streak Sunday against the formidable Washington Capitals will be out to show it can compete with the elite for more than a lone matchup. It has been a challenging few months for GM Francis and the Kraken, who didn’t exactly draw rave reviews for their expansion-draft selections and lack of side deals, nor the way the team has started its first season.

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In an interview last week, Francis said the Kraken have played several close games only to find ways to beat themselves.

“So hopefully we get that turned around quickly and start going in the other direction,” he said.

That appeared to happen in the 5-2 victory over Washington, as the Kraken played a complete 60 minutes with standout goaltending by Philipp Grubauer. So these upcoming games against top contenders could indeed indicate whether the Kraken are poised to move up some NHL rungs closer to the midrange many figured they’d be. 

Some who’ve worked closely with Francis suggest he carries a bit of a “chip” from his April 2018 firing and would love to prove the Hurricanes let him go too soon, just as the team was ripening into a contender. But Francis has long said only that his Hurricanes front office accomplished “a lot of good things” under the more restrictive budgets of former owner Peter Karmanos and that his focus is entirely on the Kraken.

That’s probably best as a public stance, given the Hurricanes under GM Don Waddell and owner Tom Dundon — whose early 2018 arrival signaled the Carolina exit of Francis and several other longtime employees — appear poised to take a run at a Stanley Cup after three consecutive playoff appearances.

On the Kraken playing side, ex-Carolina forward Morgan Geekie and defenseman Haydn Fleury say they’ve looked forward to this game. 

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“It’s definitely something that you circle on your calendar, for sure,” Geekie said. “I love a lot of their guys over there. They have a great group.”

Geekie said he doesn’t harbor ill will toward the Hurricanes for leaving him exposed in the expansion draft. The selection of Geekie was a surprise, as many expected the Kraken to select defenseman Jake Bean — now on the No. 1 pairing with the Columbus Blue Jackets after being dealt by Carolina for a second-round draft pick. 

But Geekie has landed a regular NHL job with the Kraken after previously splitting time between the Hurricanes and the AHL.

“Obviously, they had other plans, but I wasn’t a part of them,” Geekie said. “But … it’s a business. There are no hard feelings. Everyone’s got their plan to have success and doing things well. But I’m excited for the opportunity to try to give it back to them a bit.”

Fleury was expected to be the Kraken’s pick from Carolina, but the Hurricanes traded him to Anaheim last winter. The Kraken selected Fleury from the Ducks.

“It will be good to see them,” Fleury said of his former Carolina teammates. “None of them have met my son yet, so they’re going to come over today and meet him. So that’s cool. I’ve got a lot of good friends over there.”

But Fleury turned serious when asked about his career trajectory since leaving Carolina. He said it improved upon arriving in Anaheim.

“I’ll leave it at that,” he added.

Hardly the words to spawn a rivalry, and nobody from the Kraken’s dressing room or front office is ready to say anything inflammatory. But as with any rivalry — real or imagined — it’s always fun to wonder what might be lingering just below the surface.