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Kraken believe unexpected playoff run is the foundation for future success

Seattle Kraken's Jared McCann (19), Oliver Bjorkstrand (22) and Jordan Eberle (7) celebrate after Bjorkstrand scored in the third period of Game 7 of an NHL hockey Stanley Cup second-round playoff series against the Dallas Stars, Monday, May 15, 2023, in Dallas.
Tony Gutierrez
/
AP
Seattle Kraken's Jared McCann (19), Oliver Bjorkstrand (22) and Jordan Eberle (7) celebrate after Bjorkstrand scored in the third period of Game 7 of an NHL hockey Stanley Cup second-round playoff series against the Dallas Stars, Monday, May 15, 2023, in Dallas.

SEATTLE (AP) — Of all the victories the Seattle Kraken enjoyed in its second year – 46 in the regular season and another seven in the playoffs – the biggest was a broader win that went beyond the ice.

In a market that had never experienced the NHL, the Kraken graduated beyond the novelty of being the new thing in town. Diehard fans who sat through the miserable first year continued to care, while new fans jumped aboard as Seattle made the playoffs then knocked out defending champion Colorado in its first postseason series.

And by the time Seattle’s season ended with a Game 7 loss to Dallas in the Western Conference semifinals on Monday night, the Kraken had successfully grabbed the sports landscape in its hometown. Fans filled bars, restaurants and even Climate Pledge Arena for watch parties as Seattle’s unexpected postseason run continued far longer than most predicated.

“This group also changed the landscape of hockey in Seattle,” Kraken coach Dave Hakstol said. “This particular group had the guts to change the culture, the belief, the trajectory of our franchise as well.”

This was always the goal for Seattle, to develop a foundation for the franchise that leads to year-after-year success, contention for playoff berths and – eventually – a Stanley Cup.

The fact the Kraken seem ahead of the timetable is magnified when considering how many pieces Seattle could bring back to a team that was on the cusp of reaching the Western Conference final.

That doesn’t take away the pain of falling short this time around, especially for the veterans scattered about Seattle’s roster. But it does provide significant optimism for what could be on the horizon for the Kraken.

“We built something here this year,” forward Yanni Gourde said. “It started last year, but I think we took a lot of steps in the right direction this year.”

DEPTH CHARGE

Depth defined Seattle’s success, both in the regular season and in the playoffs. They adopted Hakstol’s formula of playing fast, forechecking hard and not relying on just one or two players to carry the scoring responsibility.

Seattle had 13 players score at least 13 goals and 18 players scored at least 20 points. In the playoffs, 17 different players scored over the 14 games.

There were stars that emerged, like forward Jared McCann, who had 40 goals and 70 points, and defenseman Vince Dunn, who lined himself up for a big pay day this offseason as a restricted free agent after 64 points.

But depth was the key, like the 21 goals from Daniel Sprong or the 16 from Eeli Tolvanen. Andre Burakovsky was Seattle’s leading scorer with 39 points when he was injured on Feb. 7 and due to setbacks didn’t play the rest of the season.

GRUBI IN GOAL

As the first big free agent signing in franchise history, goaltender Philipp Grubauer was immediately saddled with lofty expectations. And through his first season in Seattle and half of this season, Grubauer wasn’t coming close to matching the $35 million contract he signed.

But for the latter half of the regular season and into the playoffs, Seattle started to get the version of Grubauer that was a Vezina Trophy finalist two years ago. Grubauer had a .902 save percentage and 2.53 goals against average his final 26 games of the regular season. In the playoffs, the save percentage remained solid at .903 and the goals against was 2.99.

“I found my rhythm there,” Grubauer said. “But there’s always stuff to improve. You can always be a better teammate, better player on the ice.”

YOUTH MOVEMENT

Matty Beniers lived up to the expectations of being the first draft pick in franchise history and is the favorite to win the Calder Trophy, given the league's rop rookie. Beniers had 24 goals and 57 points while centering Seattle’s top line and reinforced his position as a future cornerstone.

But he wasn’t the only youngster to make a major impression. Tye Kartye was the rookie of the year in the AHL and thrived when he was brought up to Seattle during the playoffs after McCann was injured. Kartye had three goals and two assists in 10 playoff games, likely solidifying a 2023 roster spot in Seattle.

Then there’s Shane Wright. Seattle’s first round pick last season appeared in just eight games for the Kraken, but could have a role in 2023 for Seattle if a center spot opens up.

CONTRACT QUESTIONS

Dunn is the biggest contract situation Seattle will face this offseason. Other restricted free agents include forwards Sprong and Morgan Geekie, and defenseman Will Borgen.

Defenseman Carson Soucy, forward Ryan Donato and goalie Martin Jones are the key unrestricted free agents. Otherwise, the bulk of the roster is set to be together through at least next season.

“It’s a tough trophy to win. But I think we have the foundation and the group here,” forward Jordan Eberle said. “You just want to keep building.”

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