Safe to say, the Kraken’s attempt to make inroads in a new expansion market wasn’t done any favors by the NHL’s national television deal in its home opener.
The debut game Saturday night at Climate Pledge Arena wasn’t broadcast on any U.S.-based television channel. Instead, it was one of 13 games this season in which the league’s national television deal with ESPN and Turner Sports took precedence over the team’s regional ROOT Sports Northwest partner.
ESPN picked up the game, but rather than show it on a TV channel decided to carry it exclusively on its ESPN+ streaming service. While some Seattle-area fans with Comcast had access to the game on CBUT – the Vancouver-based CBC station – anyone else wanting to watch had to stream it on ESPN+ or on Hulu.
That left many fans outraged when they tuned in to ROOT Sports and saw Portland Trailblazers programming instead. Some vented their displeasure at ROOT Sports on social media, but the decision had nothing to do with the network and everything to do with the NHL and its new national partnership.
This is the first season of the league’s seven-year $2.8 billion multi-platform deal with ESPN, which replaces the longstanding prior one with NBC. While the prior NBC deal did not include streaming-only options, times have changed and this one – as evidenced on Saturday night – clearly does have that provision.
While there’s logic to ESPN not wanting to televise an NHL game when Saturday is the domain of U.S. college football, it’s also true the network is pouring resources and strategy into its ESPN+ offering. The network wants to drive subscribers toward its streaming platform in a big way and plans to try by offering big-demand NHL games not available elsewhere in the country on TV.
That doesn’t do much for the Kraken, mind you. This does seem a missed opportunity for the new team to expand its fan base within a market where it will compete with a plethora of professional and Pac-12 teams for discretionary sports dollars.
But other than the team pressuring the NHL to ask its brand-new partner to reconsider the Kraken decision, there really wasn’t much else to be done. Kraken CEO Tod Leiweke declined comment when asked whether the team had approached the league about allowing a side-by-side broadcast with ROOT Sports.
Such an arrangement will take place during the first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs should the Kraken make the postseason. ROOT Sports would televise Kraken games on its channel using its own production crews while ESPN would simultaneously do the same nationally with its own broadcast crew and personnel.
This time, however, that did not occur. And many Kraken fans hoping to catch the team’s highly-anticipated Climate Pledge debut on their TV sets were left fuming.
Offense an issue
One early season issue for the Kraken has been an inability to put the puck in the net. The Kraken scored seven goals the first two games, but has managed just six in the four matchups since – losing all of them.
The team did draw encouragement from generating additional high-danger chances in a 4-2 defeat against the Canucks on Saturday.
“The cliché is, when you get chances they’ll eventually go in,’’ Seattle winger Jordan Eberle, held to two assists his first six games, said following the workout Monday at Climate Pledge Arena. “You’ll get a couple of bounces here and there and you find a timely goal. That’s how you turn your team around. So, we worked on a lot of that today – just finishing pucks and creating some offense.”
Eberle said some of that includes working on similar situations in practice and making sure the puck does actually wind up behind the goalie.
“To create confidence, you have to score in practice,’’ Eberle said. “That’s where it starts. We started the year on the road and didn’t get a lot of practice time and this group hadn’t been together too much.’’
Kraken center Yanni Gourde said there are additional ways the Kraken can turn some of its chances into goals.
“We could probably create more traffic in front,’’ Gourde said. “It’s always hard for a goalie to stop the puck when he doesn’t see it. So, little things like that. Make quick plays. Look at the net first, don’t look to make the extra pass.
“We know pucks aren’t going in as much now, so don’t force plays. Just get it on net, go to work, maybe score a few ugly ones and maybe things turn.’’
Kraken coach Dave Hakstol agreed more goal scoring is needed, but he cautioned the Kraken likely doesn’t need as many additional goals as some people think.
Hakstol said he feels confident with Philipp Grubauer as the No. 1 goalie. But he needs the rest of the team fine-tuning some of its game, such as getting off to quicker starts at home and working on transitional and special-teams play.
“We don’t have to score a whole lot more,’’ Hakstol said. “We just have to keep developing a complete 200-foot game and being real comfortable in closely-played hockey games. Because we’re going to be in a lot of them this year.’’