We’re a month into this debut Kraken season, and it’s safe to say things haven’t gone how the team expected.
Winning just four of 14 matchups after Thursday’s loss to the Anaheim Ducks has the Kraken feeling plenty of urgency. After all, the schedule gets tougher toward month’s end.
The Kraken’s front office, led by general manager Ron Francis, knew the Pacific Division was expected to be somewhat weak. Meaning, the Kraken could likely stay in contention with less than an elite roster — preserving salary-cap space for coming offseasons to secure premier talent.
But there’s a fine art to pulling that off, whereas four wins in 14 games and an 0-5-0 mark vs. division teams is mere finger painting. It’ll take more to keep people in a new NHL market interested.
As players and coach Dave Hakstol have said: It’ll take wins. Professional sports isn’t about moral victories. And the NHL — with its lottery system — isn’t where fans should be rooting for tanking seasons to land a No. 1 overall pick.
That’s not what the Kraken are trying to do. They simply haven’t been good enough. We’ll see what the next five months hold. For now, on to your mailbag questions.
Q: @GeeClauson asked: Do you feel any of this falls on the coaching staff? At times I think they are well coached (quality chances, puck possession) then at times it feels like they totally are unprepared for certain situations.
A: To continue our “professional sports” theme, it always falls on coaches — fair or not. General managers usually cycle through a coach or three before they get held accountable.
Hakstol was given a roster and must instill his system. He has been clear from the beginning this team would work hard and be unrelenting in pressuring opponents with forechecking and backchecking. Strong neutral-zone play was also critical to executing quick transitions. Guys also must drive deep toward the net to position themselves in dangerous scoring areas.
That has happened some of the time. But this team has also taken some shifts off.
We’ve seen the mental letdowns in goals allowed at the end of periods over multiple games. Or, as with Thursday’s loss, some slow starts in which the Kraken take a full period to get going.
That’s on the coaching staff to correct.
“At the end of the day, the first 25 to 30 minutes of the hockey game we didn’t win very many of the races or many of the puck battles,” Hakstol said after Thursday’s game. “When you get behind like that it’s hard to dig out.”
On the other hand, when the staff positions players to succeed and they fail to put the puck in the net, you can’t blame Hakstol and crew. That’s on the players. Or on GM Francis for selecting players who can’t finish.
When the Kraken get five breakaways in the same Buffalo game and nobody scores, that isn’t a coaching issue.
That said, when guys forget about their man and leave him all alone in the slot or at the lip of the crease as happened throughout Thursday’s game, that’s a mental letdown. Or, a physical inability to execute the system. Either way, coaches must correct it.
So, a mixed bag on blame, but absolutely some falls on coaches.
Q: @TheTumorigenic asked: Please settle a disagreement. Is goaltending the main problem with the Kraken right now, or is it on the same level as the forwards’ lack of finish and occasionally poor D zone coverage?
A: Goaltending the main Kraken problem? No. But it’s a good question given the team’s .868 save percentage as of Thursday was last in the NHL.
It’s worth remembering that opposing forwards are paid to score as well, and if left alone in dangerous areas or allowed too many odd-man rushes they simply will beat the goalie before he can react. The defensive part of the transition game has seen the Kraken caught up-ice, or leaving men uncovered as players seemingly focus on nailing down the offensive aspects. That’s human nature, I suppose.
Still, Philipp Grubauer is not making enough big stops for a $6 million-a-year goaltender. He has looked unsteady on some shots, whiffed on others from greater distance, allowed big rebounds at times and been caught out of position.
The advanced statistics, such as MoneyPuck website’s Goals Saved Above Expected, had Grubauer second-worst as of Thursday among NHL netminders appearing in at least seven games — yielding 8.2 goals more than expected given the quality of shots faced.
Not surprisingly, his .886 save percentage was also the worst even before Anaheim pumped in five on him.
Timing of goals allowed also matters. When the Vancouver Canucks go 17 minutes without a shot and then score on their first chance, that demoralizes a team.
That said, Grubauer also saved the Minnesota game when he stopped Kiril Kaprizov on a breakaway the final 10 seconds of the second period.
Back to your question. Remember where I wrote that forwards are paid to score? The Kraken too often are outplaying opponents and not scoring enough to pick up Grubauer or secure the win on nights he’s earned it.
We’re 14 games in, and veteran forwards Joonas Donskoi and Calle Jarnkrok have zero goals. Jordan Eberle, Brandon Tanev and Kraken defensemen had accounted for 61% of the team’s entire offensive output entering play Thursday.
Q: With all the cap space they have why not take a risk on Jack Eichel?
A: The Jack Eichel non-bidding was decided four months ago when the Kraken failed to swing any side deals before the expansion draft. Buffalo reportedly wanted the equivalent of three or four first-round picks for Eichel and got them from Vegas.
Peyton Krebs and Alex Tuch were both former first rounders. Vegas also surrendered a future first-round and second-round pick.
The Kraken didn’t have anything close to offer without decimating an already-thin farm system. Vegas has spent four years living off draft picks and extra players landed through expansion side deals. That’s why it could go in on Eichel.
Francis did flip some expansion draft pieces for future second-, third- and fourth-round selections, which, unfortunately, wouldn’t even have gotten him in the door on Eichel talks.