The Kraken announced Friday what had been reported for a while: The team’s first training camp at its new $80 million Community Iceplex at Northgate Mall launches Sept. 23.
That’s the first day coach Dave Hakstol and players will take the ice with up to 1,000 fans in attendance. Up to now, several players have been holding unofficial “captain’s skates” at the training facility with no coaches participating.
Fans wishing to attend camp workouts must first join the team’s official membership program called “The Depths” at KrakenMembership.com to get tickets. The team will release workout times at a later date.
All guests age 12 and over must show proof of being fully vaccinated and wear a mask at all times while inside the Iceplex. It’ll be a quick turnaround between the first workout and the Kraken’s preseason debut, which takes place just three days later in Spokane against the Vancouver Canucks.
OK, let’s take some Twitter mailbag questions.
Q: @SEAKrakenTroll asked: On opening day, what is one thing you’re excited about watching when it comes to the team?
A: I really want to see the degree to which Kraken employs a relentless, physical approach, because, let’s face it, the team probably won’t score its way out of trouble. And the similarly styled Vegas Golden Knights will be a great barometer for where the Kraken is at.
After the opener, I’ll want to see how this approach is sustained. There’s a belief around the NHL that high-energy players are the new undervalued currency to offset a lack of pure goal-scoring.
We saw this in the playoffs with all four semifinalist teams. Montreal was a huge underdog in making the Cup Final. And the Vegas team the Canadiens beat in the semifinal had used similarly relentless forechecking, back-checking and positional play to eliminate more talented Colorado.
The New York Islanders also had a sum greater than individual goal-scoring parts and nearly upended the Tampa Bay Lightning in a seven-game semifinal. Finally, the Lightning, a stacked champion stocked with elite players, nonetheless doesn’t get nearly enough credit for its similarly unrelenting physical style.
The good news for the Kraken is, it selected center Yanni Gourde from the Lightning and winger Jordan Eberle from the New York Islanders in July’s expansion draft. So that’s a pair of playoff contributors to that high-energy style.
In fact, the Kraken put a premium on drafting guys known for hard work and playing two-way hockey at both ends of the rink. Not so much on players known for popping 30 or more goals a season, so it’s clear Hakstol and company plan to use hard work to generate offense and prevent goals.
We’ve seen how the style works in shorter playoff bursts. The big question is how effective it is in the regular season, when overtly physical teams tend to wear down over 82 games. Remember, the NHL hasn’t played a full season since 2019.
The regular season is more marathon than sprint. So teams relying on relentless energy, lacking the ability to coast on goal-scoring laurels, have to take care not to hit the proverbial wall come March.
Montreal, for all its energy, barely made the playoffs last season. New York was fourth in its division and looked poised to lose to Boston in the quarterfinals before its style and patience persevered.
Even Tampa Bay was only third in its division. Vegas was the only true regular-season powerhouse, tying Colorado for the most overall points. But again, we’re talking a pandemic-abbreviated, 56-game schedule.
You have to make the playoffs before you can think about winning a Stanley Cup.
So we’ll see whether a Kraken team that didn’t exactly load up on premium goal scorers can relentlessly forecheck and back-check its way into the playoffs. That’s what I’ll be watching for most: Does the team start to taper off?
Q: @Seattleite206 asked: When will ROOT Sports debut its Kraken programming?
A: Last week, I put this question to Patrick Crumb, national president of AT&T Sports Networks, which holds a minority stake in ROOT Sports Northwest and operates that regional sports network (RSN) on behalf of its majority Mariners owner. There will be pregame and-postgame shows and a more feature-laden Kraken magazine program akin to what the Mariners have that will run during the regular season.
“It’s a little bit of a work in progress,” Crumb said. “We’re also going to have some programming leading up to the start of the regular season, but that won’t be in the magazine format.”
On Monday, we got a glimpse of what lead-in programming entails, as ROOT Sports put out a listing for “Kraken Hockey 101 — The Basics” which will air at 4:30 p.m. prior to the team’s Sept. 26 preseason debut in Spokane. The hour-long pregame show starts at 5 p.m., followed by a live broadcast of the game against the Vancouver Canucks at 6 p.m. and a postgame show afterwards.
By the way, Crumb sure sounded like he planned to soon announce some additional streaming options for ROOT Sports in coming weeks. The fuboTV deal announced Thursday, which will see ROOT Sports added to the company’s $65 monthly basic service plan, was for a platform truly dedicated to online sports streaming as evidenced by its carrying multiple RSNs.
RSN content doesn’t come cheap, as those networks typically pay huge rights fees to teams and leagues for broadcast rights to games.
But ROOT has been in negotiations with other streaming services for months, even some with little or no RSN content. That might soon change, especially with ROOT Sports now offering three major professional teams — the Kraken, Mariners and Portland Trail Blazers — instead of just the Mariners.
Also, fuboTV’s decision to carry ROOT Sports — which isn’t an exclusive deal — might spur rival streaming services to pick up that RSN as well rather than risk their customers going elsewhere.
Q: @Impact206 asked: Are there any other teams in the NHL that have similar inclusion and grow the sport programs? Seems like the Kraken have just taken all of that to a new level.
A: The NHL has recently made a huge diversity and inclusion push, realizing demographics among all sports fans are shifting and hockey will be left in the cold if its fan base doesn’t expand. You’re right that the Kraken is blazing new frontiers with its hirings, including Cammi Granato becoming the first female pro scout, Everett Fitzhugh being the first Black play-by-play team announcer, Alexandra Mandrycky running the analytics group and so on.
But all NHL teams now make increased community outreach efforts. The Vegas Golden Knights just built a ball hockey rink to serve underprivileged youth that may not have tried the sport. The New Jersey Devils launched a “Buy Black” program this year where Black-owned businesses receive marketing and advertising help and other assistance. They aren’t the only teams doing this, I’m just showing the range. Most teams have “Learn to Play” programs that introduce hockey to more potential players.
This isn’t random. The NHL, as I’ve often written, has a long-earned reputation as being for white players and mostly white fans. The league knows that must change if the business is to thrive.
Q: @dawgsmiller1 asked: Any free agent forwards available that Kraken might be interested in?
A: The Kraken were going to announce the one-year, $750,000 signing Monday of free agent Ryan Donato, 25, an unrestricted free agent that came up with Boston but most recently played with the San Jose Sharks. He’s another versatile guy that plays both center and wing and should help on the bottom two lines.
That might be it for the Kraken, given slim pickings elsewhere. Donato has a one-way deal, meaning he’ll likely make the team over guys with two-way options paying them vastly less in the minors. Prior to the Donato deal, I’d figured the team could go the veteran route with guys like Travis Zajac or Eric Staal, both 36.
Zajac wins more than half his faceoffs, and that’s in short commodity with the Kraken. He spent his entire career with the Devils before being dealt in April to the Islanders for their playoff run.
Staal was picked up by Montreal ahead of its finalist run and played an important playoff role on an unusually productive fourth line. He broke into the NHL with Carolina in 2003 playing alongside Kraken GM Ron Francis. And he stayed with the Hurricanes until Francis, as Carolina’s GM, traded him in 2016.