The first casualty of the Kraken’s debut season came when the team announced Tuesday that goaltending coach Andrew Allen would not be retained.
Nothing unusual there. Baseball teams that don’t hit sometimes fire their hitting coaches. Football teams that don’t defend have been known to jettison defensive coordinators. And hockey teams aren’t always in the habit of keeping goalie coaches after the goaltending creates a seasonlong discussion point.
“I thought we struggled early, and we just couldn’t kind of get out of it,” general manager Ron Francis said of the goaltending and the Allen move Tuesday during in a season-ending meeting with media members. “So we figured we’d look in a different direction for next season.”
Still, letting Allen go underscores that the Kraken feel some urgency to spark change entering a pivotal summer. Not every team fires its goalie coach — or hitting coach or defensive coordinator — at the first sign of trouble.
But that’s where the aforementioned summer urgency comes in.
Some new Kraken fans have written in to describe their fun times watching the team and learning a new sport. They enjoyed the newness of Climate Pledge Arena, the fake salmon tosses after wins, a cuddly team dog in Davy Jones and tunes from organist Rod Masters of “Slap Shot” movie fame.
But looking beyond the romanticism of this being a first-year team and the novelty of Seattle finally having NHL hockey, the Kraken still failed to meet even their own on-ice expectations.
Nobody realistically expected the Kraken to make the Stanley Cup Final, as the expansion Vegas Golden Knights did four years ago.
What had been anticipated, by the Kraken themselves, was a reasonable middle ground someplace between that and their eventual 30th-place NHL standing. But at 27-49-6, they fell well short. And there are consequences for that, including the now-unemployed goaltending coach.
As mentioned in a recent story, the value of Kraken tickets declined heavily on the open market as demand waned once losses piled up quicker than expected. This is a big deal, because the team will need that value driven up again before it approaches season-ticket holders asking to renew when their minimum three-year commitments begin expiring two springs from now.
Also, not entirely unexpected, local Kraken TV ratings declined significantly once they fell out of contention early. Ratings for game broadcasts on ROOT Sports in the Seattle-Tacoma market plunged 68%, from a 2.2 average through the first eight October games to 0.7 in January, then a season-low 0.6 in February and March before ticking up slightly to 0.7 through much of April.
So, while many fans had fun inside the arena and on the team’s social-media channels, the Kraken have work ahead building off what Francis and coach Dave Hakstol — who also attended Tuesday’s media session — termed a “foundation” laid for success.
And they don’t have unlimited time to build. They are now a professional sports team like any other, with offseason pressures heightened by the need to make inroads within a new NHL market.
Picking up some goal-scoring would undoubtedly help the on-ice product.
“We had games where we outshot teams 37-16, and we lost the hockey game because we couldn’t get the goal we needed at the time,” Francis said. “We had chances, we just couldn’t do it. Goal-scorers are not easy to find, but if we can add something in the free-agency market — guys that can come in and play in our top six, top nine (forwards), that’s certainly something we’ll look for.”
Francis also mentioned a possible blue-line upgrade, especially if it’s somebody who is offensively inclined. The Kraken defensemen had solid analytical numbers when it came to minimizing chances by opponents.
But Francis and Hakstol emphasized that the struggles in allowing goals weren’t all due to goaltenders Philipp Grubauer and Chris Driedger. Hakstol, who singled out the solid play and leadership of defenseman Adam Larsson after Sunday’s finale and again Tuesday, said the blue-line corps, forwards and goaltenders must do better at playing in unison.
“They don’t live in separate worlds — they’re connected,” Hakstol said. “The underlying defensive numbers show that our guys worked real hard at it, did a good job, were pretty consistent in our play without the puck. And in a lot of respects that leads to how efficient your puck play is in getting out of the zone as well.
“But those numbers have to be connected. And it’s not all individual to the goaltending position, which is separate from everything. The two are connected.”
Still, both feel the Kraken made gains the final two months. They saw the beginnings of a team coming together.
“That’s one of the positives coming out of the season,” Hakstol said. “We saw a stretch of 20 to 25 games at the end of the year where that team play was there. It was there on a very consistent basis, which is where you have to start.”
Francis said this was his most difficult NHL season of 41 spent as a player, coach and executive given COVID-19 disruptions, arena delays and other first-year struggles in getting the Kraken to finally come together. He noted the team had 16 one-goal losses plus 10 more two-goal defeats after empty netters scored with the goalie pulled.
In other words, the team might not be far from respectability.
Francis was asked about his goal for next season.
“Making the playoffs,” he said.
That certainly would reverse some of those ticket and TV declines. Even coming close might be enough.
But whatever happens, starting with this summer’s moves, the Kraken must ensure that Season 2 comes a lot closer than Season 1.