As the Kraken enters its inaugural season, here are three reasons the expansion team will make the NHL playoffs, and three reasons it won’t:
Reasons to hope
The Pacific Division is, um, somewhat weak
Los Angeles, Anaheim and San Jose failed to make the playoffs last season. So did Vancouver and Calgary, despite the advantage of being in a temporary, relatively feeble all-Canadian division due to COVID-19. Edmonton did make it, only to get swept by Winnipeg (which then got obliterated by underdog Montreal). Vegas is the only Pacific Division squad that looked like a playoff team once the playoffs began. Edmonton is a regular-season juggernaut, so there are probably two divisional teams better on paper than the Kraken, but that’s it.
Goaltending tandem is lights-out
The Kraken has potentially the league’s best goalie tandem in Philipp Grubauer and Chris Driedger. They went a combined 44-15-0-4 with a 2.00 goals-against average and .924 save percentage over 62 starts last season. That’s a 58-win regular season and likely Presidents’ Trophy if those stats hold over 82 games. They won’t — namely because it’ll be the Kraken now in front of those goalies, not the 2020-21 Colorado Avalanche and Florida Panthers. But subtract a dozen wins, and 46 still gets the Kraken into the playoffs.
Injuries shouldn’t be as impactful to offense
The Kraken isn’t built around one or two 40-goal scorers. There are a plethora of 20-goal candidates playing multiple forward positions, making it easier to withstand routine injuries by switching lines around.
Reasons to mope
The team can’t score
That thing about a bunch of 20-goal candidates? That sometimes means too many guys lacking finish around the net. There’s no obvious go-to scorer steering this boat, and one of the better ones, center Yanni Gourde, is out until at least November following shoulder surgery.
Up-tempo, relentless hockey difficult in regular season
Expecting relentless hard work and physical play over 82 games to offset a perceived lack of pure scoring is sometimes easier said than done. Players wear down physically over a six-month season, which makes it tough to forecheck and backcheck as tenaciously as some successful playoff teams do over shorter playoff series lasting only a week or two.
Pacific Division foes may hate Kraken’s guts
Let’s be honest, the Kraken didn’t win any popularity contests for having expansion draft rules titled lopsidedly in its favor. Pacific Division opponents are probably sick of hearing how the Kraken is already better than they are. If every divisional game becomes a bitter rivalry feud — and the geographic proximity already suggests some will be just that — against ticked-off opponents, it won’t matter how weak those teams are on paper, and some expected wins may become losses.