Inside the NHL
As the Kraken complete their road trip ahead of another homestand starting Thursday against Anaheim, we bring you this public-service announcement in the spirit of preventing somebody from getting belted in the stands with their own biodegradable carton of poutine.
Please, for the love of flying pucks and Zamboni drivers, do not under any circumstances leave your Climate Pledge Arena seat or return to it while play is ongoing. And if you value not being doused by a $16 — whoops, it’s been lowered to $15, sorry — beer from three rows back, remember it’s not cool to stand for a selfie while a Kraken player races in for the team’s fourth or fifth missed breakaway chance of the game.
Look, there’s plenty to critique about the Kraken. Nobody really imagined the team winning only four of its first dozen games, even those noting the obvious lack of pure goal-scorers after the expansion draft. No, there are no trophies handed out for preserving salary-cap space, nor celebratory analytics parades thrown for teams generating the most chances without converting them into goals.
But there are things fans can control. And one of them — maybe the 11th commandment of real life but absolutely the first of hockey fandom — is that you don’t stand up while play is ongoing.
No, stop arguing with me. Nobody cares that you paid $300 for your ticket and feel you have the right to do whatever you please. Especially when the Kraken, just like other Seattle-area businesses, are dealing with a shortage of available workers to enforce all etiquette rules at any given moment.
Pose for selfies all you want at Mariners games. Stand up and scream “D-fence!” as the Seahawks try to keep the score within reach for some quarterback — be it a finger-fixed Russell Wilson or whomever — to lead a comeback. Do all the supporters-section singing, dancing and chanting that your hoarse voice and tired feet can handle in the middle of a Sounders game.
But do not, under any circumstances, leave your seat while play is ongoing at a Kraken game unless the puck has crossed the goal line or is about to. And the way this season has started, that may not be often, so use TV timeouts appropriately. Yeah, we’ll give you a break for hit goal posts or breakaway chances when the ensuing shot misses the net.
Still, in those cases, jump up for a brief second and then sit back down again.
Hockey is not baseball, where the pace allows for leisurely, family-style picnic entertainment. Miss a pitch or two at a Mariners game, the resin-bag grabbing pitcher will inevitably delay things long enough for even the most novice fan to figure out what just happened previously.
But in hockey, blink and you might miss the neutral-zone turnover that caused the most recent goal scored against the Kraken. The fan whose view is blocked by somebody juggling two Bacon Pop Rock potatoes and a plate of vegan pressed watermelon sashimi might blame goalie Philipp Grubauer instead of the defenseman who forgot about the opposing forward left alone in front of the net for an easy tap-in.
Sure, Grubauer appears to be fighting the puck at times. But nearly one month into the season nobody anticipated the Kraken’s goalie tandem setup would result in about a 99.8-.02 percentage workload split between Grubauer and Chris Driedger.
Context matters in all sports, but especially hockey where they’ve yet to nail down the analytics side as well as baseball has. You can quote Grubauer’s sub-.900 save percentage or struggles with “high danger” chances until the bacon pop rocks spittle from your mouth and coat the inside of that protective mask you’re supposed to be wearing inside the arena.
But we won’t really know until this tandem starts operating more along a 60-40 split, or the Kraken stop focusing so much on nailing the offensive side of coach Dave Hakstol’s transition system that they forget all about the defensive aspect.
Which makes it important to pay attention to on-ice play. And you can’t do that while staring through the Kraken-logo’d game sweater, tuque, earrings, belt and track pants of the fan in front of you.
The Kraken probably will get more things right eventually and compete for a playoff spot in a Pacific Division that appears as bad as advertised.
During my freshman college year in Montreal back in November 1988, fans clamored for the head of rookie coach Pat Burns after the Canadiens got off to a sub-.500 start. By season’s end, those Canadiens had recorded their best regular-season record of the past 43 years and reached the Stanley Cup Final. Burns was en route to being enshrined in the Hockey Hall of Fame.
Too old school? OK, three years ago the St. Louis Blues were sub-.500 right before the All-Star break. They won the Cup.
So, there’s more than enough time for fixes.
No, the Kraken aren’t winning a Cup this season. Any league enabling that from an expansion team doesn’t understand what it takes to build a new market that isn’t spoiled by success right out of the chute. But selling the Kraken in a Seattle market with plenty else going on will require something better than a last-place team and more of an off-ice effort by those running the franchise.
Judging by all the one-goal Kraken games thus far, a positive tweak or two might be all that’s needed to turn losses into victories. And the Kraken are on-notice about fans standing too frequently while the puck is in play, so staffers need to be trained in holding people back at entrances until a stoppage occurs.
There are growing pains for any expansion team. For all the Kraken have done right, there’s more they could be doing with basic fan-base education. Whether that’s telegraphing reasons behind some of their on-ice choices and strategy, or simply teaching fans and employees what constitutes proper behavior at hockey games.
Though none of us can control what the Kraken eventually do, fans going to games have complete control of their behavior.
So consider this friendly advice, understanding there are longtime NHL fans from elsewhere or fans of this region’s junior hockey teams also going to Kraken games who won’t be as tolerant.
Sit down. Otherwise, you might not make it to when the Kraken actually do become good enough to compete for a championship.