The Seattle Kraken struggling in their first season is not nearly as dire a situation as some other clubs face.
The Kraken have certainly been disappointing with only 12 wins by mid-January. No one was expecting a Vegas-like first season, but hopes were higher than this.
That said, Seattle isn’t in a terrible place. What the Montreal Canadiens are dealing with, or Arizona Coyotes, or Buffalo Sabres, or even the Philadelphia Flyers, is a lot different.
The Canadiens or Coyotes will likely finish with the fewest points in the league and have the best chance at winning the lottery for near-sure-bet first overall pick Shane Wright. The battle for the third spot will come down to the Kraken or Sabres or Ottawa Senators.
There’s a path for the Kraken; they have pieces to build around, Yanni Gourde and Jamie Oleksiak in place, Carson Soucy solidifying himself in the lineup, and can re-sign Jared McCann and Ryan Donato with Matty Beniers on the way, and maybe Ryker Evans and Ryan Winterton as well. At the trade deadline, they have a lot of pieces they could use to build organizational depth, adding more prospects or draft picks.
The Canadiens, coming off their first Stanley Cup run since 1994, are having a disaster season. They were expected to be competitive this season and instead could finish with the worst record. They brought in a new general manager, Kent Hughes, earlier this week.
Their path is a little murkier. Unlike the Kraken with nearly $14 million in cap space — potentially more by the offseason if they make some trades — Montreal has more work to do to be able to recover. They have choices to make; they can move on from Brendan Gallagher, Jeff Petry or Tyler Toffoli or retain any of them if they want to make another playoff run anytime soon.
Then there are the Coyotes, who feel the furthest away from contention. We don’t even know where they are going to play next season. Aside from Dylan Guenther, they don’t have an elite prospect on the way. Their fourth-leading scorer is defenseman Shayne Gostisbehere.
The Sabres already traded their most dynamic player in decades, Jack Eichel, for draft picks and prospects and Alex Tuch. They have some building blocks, like Rasmus Dahlin and future stars Casey Mittelstadt and Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen, but they’re also excessively young and development could be a few years away.
Other than Montreal, the Flyers are maybe in the toughest position. Alain Vigneault was relived of his duties and Philadelphia didn’t see the bump in the standings the Canucks did without Travis Green. They’re 0-8-2 in their last 10 games. They have had two different 10-game losing streaks over the course of 40 games.
Where the Kraken’s future ranks among struggling teams this year could be determined by the trade deadline. Last season was a buyer’s market. Between posturing in the East and teams trying to gain ground in the West, this year’s could be too.
If the Kraken get any sort of decent return and have an offseason plan to build around whatever they identify their core as, they could catapult in front of some of these clubs.
Only Jordan Eberle, Joonas Donskoi, Jaden Schwartz, Brandon Tanev and Gourde are under contract beyond the upcoming offseason as far as forwards go. Oleksiak and Adam Larsson are the only defenders signed beyond next season; Will Borgen, Vince Dunn and Soucy have one year left on their deals.
They have more flexibility than any team in the league and, arguably, the toughest assignment of any team in the league as an expansion club during COVID. As disappointing as this season has been, between the deadline and offseason, they have a bit of a redo button that other clubs don’t have because of cap and organizational depth. It’s a position a team like the Sabres or Coyotes surely would love to be in instead of the league purgatory they’ve wandered into.
Oilers in a rut
The Oilers have been the center of the hockey world this week, and not in a good way.
With a 2-11-2 record in their last 15 games, gaining just six points in that stretch, nothing is going well. Dave Tippett is almost certainly on the hot seat, without a win with him behind the bench since November (he missed time in COVID protocol). Fans are throwing jerseys on the ice. Media and players are publicly arguing.
What’s the answer up there? Goalie Mikko Koskinen has taken a lot of heat, but the problems extend well beyond him. They’ve scored two or fewer goals in 10 games of this epic 15-game collapse.
The Oilers entered Saturday night and their Battle of Alberta with the Calgary Flames well out of a playoff spot, and it’s starting to feel like they won’t crawl back.
On the same night the Oilers hit their current low, the Panthers displayed why they might be the scariest team in the league.
Sergei Bobrovsky, once thought to have an albatross of a contract in Florida, shut the Oilers out for a 6-0 win on Thursday. It was a good response to a 5-1 loss to Calgary the game prior, a blip on the radar of a run of dominance.
The Panthers have been building momentum for some time. Their first-round series with the eventual Cup winning Lightning last season was a preview of a team ready to be a force, just with the misfortune of being in the toughest division in the league.
Heading into Sunday’s game in Seattle, Bobrovsky is 20-3-3 with a 2.38 goals against average and a .925 save percentage. He’s in the conversation for his third Vezina.
It’s a stark contrast of the team they last played in Edmonton, and given all the video-game scoring numbers Florida keeps putting up, it’s easy to lose Bobrovsky in the conversation. But if the Panthers do go on that run this year, he’ll be why.