If you’re like me, you’re pinching yourself right now.
“Training camp starts this week? With ACTUAL players, and a coach, and pre-season games against NHL teams? NO… WAY…”
But it’s real. It’s all real. It’s not a dream, this is really happening. The Seattle Kraken kick off their inaugural pre-season training camp on Thursday, and their first pre-season game happens just 3 days later against the Vancouver Canucks out in Spokane.
This is the first training camp experience for a lot of you, so I wanted to give you a bit of a lay of the land, and also discuss a few of the issues that Head Coach Dave Hakstol and GM Ron Francis will have to sort out in the coming weeks. But let’s start with the basics.
The Same, But Different
This camp is going to be a bit unusual when compared to established NHL teams. Only 44 players will be attending Kraken camp this season — 8 of them on tryout contracts — mainly due to the shallow nature of Seattle’s depth chart. 60 players used to be the standard, but teams have pared their training camp rosters in recent years due to the COVID-19 pandemic and the challenges that travel and quarantine present. Still, the other teams I looked at were inviting up to 48 players to camp. Ottawa — arguably the team with the most work to do — has invited 54. Montreal surprised the crap out of everyone by inviting 70 players.
There are pros and cons to the short roster. The way the Kraken’s players were acquired and the nature of the contract structure as it currently stands means that there are few available roster spots up for grabs. Additionally, there are fewer up-and-coming players competing for those spots. All of this makes Coach Hakstol’s job a little easier in terms of deciding who stays and who goes, but it also limits his options for line combinations and defensive pairings.
Who Plays, Who Sits
If you’ve followed other teams through training camp, you know this already; for those of you who don’t, here’s the scoop. “Home” games (in quotes because we’re actually playing our home games in other markets while they polish the buttons on Climate Pledge Arena) will feature mostly the top-tier players you’ll see on opening night. Teams figure that their own fans have shelled out the money for the pre-season game, so at the very least they deserve to see the guys they’re familiar with. Plus, they want to win in front of the home crowd.
Conversely, away games will be where jobs are won and lost. Young forwards will get top-six assignments; defensemen with zero NHL games will get paired with 10-year veterans; rookie goaltenders will split the game at the 10 minute mark of the 2nd period; and only a handful of the top names will be on the ice. This is where the coaching staff will get to see which of the youngsters “have it” when faced with NHL-calibre opponents and which ones don’t, because the other team will be icing their top players — it’s a home game for them.
So if you have tickets for a home game, don’t worry; you’re going to see probably 3/4 of the opening night lineup, including one of our top goaltenders. But don’t miss the away games if you can catch them streaming somewhere; you’ll get a handle on who is asserting themselves for a roster spot.
Drop The Gloves
It’s better than even money there will be a fight in the first period. Every year there is that one guy who is vying for a roster spot, and he knows he can’t get there on skill alone. So he will jump over the boards on his first shift, start talking smack, and by his second shift he’s found a dance partner. This has tapered off somewhat in recent years, but you can still be reasonably certain that during any given pre-season game there will be a scrap.
The bias towards fisticuffs decreases as training camp progresses, as the guys that are more prone to such behavior get sent down. So if you’re inclined to place a wager on such things, the earlier the better. (*wink*)
Happens Every Year
It’s a joke among us long-tenured training camp veterans: some wet-behind-the-ears pundit wanna-be will be raging all over social media about this prospect or this PTO who is “ABSOLUTELY going to make the team STRAIGHT OUT OF CAMP!!!” Happens every year. Wait until the Kraken start their development camps; it gets pretty funny.
No, that player is not making the team. Such things happen once in a blue moon. We’ve said it on here before: given the panoply of available outcomes, the one that’s the most likely is the one that’s the most boring. Remember this when you see the overzealous prognostication online: the guys with one-way contracts make the team; the guys without them do not. The Kraken have 14 forwards, 8 defensemen, and 2 goalies on one-way contracts; the roster will be formed from those players.
Sorry to burst any bubbles you may have been harboring. My kids call me “The Dream Crusher.”
Questions For The Kraken
As it relates specifically to the Seattle Kraken, there are a number of things that are on Coach Hakstol and Ron Francis’ to-do lists before the final cuts are made in early October. Keep your eye on these issues as training camp progresses.
Top-Line Center: Barring a major trade before the season starts, Yanni Gourde is penciled in as the top line pivot going forward. But Gourde is recovering from surgery and is out until November at the earliest, so in the early going the Kraken will need to fill that spot. Odds are that 2C Alexander Wennberg will be slotted in on the first line to start the season. But it’s not impossible that Ron Francis can acquire somebody on the cheap who later jumps to the wing, or that somebody like Alex True or Morgan Geekie can impress enough to earn a chance at the top job.
Face-off Specialist: As of this writing the best face-off man the Kraken have is just a whisker above 50%. That’s a gaping hole in the lineup, and it’s going to be up to Ron Francis to find the guy who will take defensive-zone draws on the penalty kill — or else it’s going to be a really long and challenging season. Acquiring a face-off specialist who could also fill in temporarily on the top line would be ideal, but such players are difficult to come by.
Bottom-Six Battles: By my count the Kraken have 12 players who could potentially start the season on the 3rd or 4th line. That’s going to make for some fierce competition during training camp, especially with capable youngster Ryan Donato just signed to a one-way contract last week. Guys who thought they had a spot wrapped up are now going to be questioning that assumption. This will up the ante for training camp, and inject some hustle into the proceedings.
The Donato signing also sends a signal to the guys who were acquired via the expansion draft: if Ron Francis can find a player cheaper and better than you, he won’t hesitate to upgrade your ass right out of a job. It’s the Herb Brooks principle: “Give 99%, and you’ll make my job very easy.”
Crowded Blue Line: Most NHL teams carry 7 defensemen on the roster at any given time; six guys dress every night, one guy is there for emergencies, injuries, and what-not. Right now the Kraken have 8 NHL-level defensemen on the roster; somebody’s got to go.
You can bet that anyone the Kraken signed to a new deal is staying; as are guys who were wearing Kraken jerseys on the Expansion Draft telecast for the world to see. So that eliminates Mark Giordano, Jamie Oleksiak, Adam Larsson, Vince Dunn, Haydn Fleury, and William Borgen. It’s doubtful that Carson Soucy garners any interest with 2 years remaining on a $2.75 million AAV contract, so you can bet Ron Francis is already working the phones looking for a landing spot for Jeremy Lauzon. If he packages him with a young & cheap forward — Colin Blackwell and Nathan Bastian come to mind — he may be able to acquire the face-off specialist we need.
Somebody Else’s Kid: One name you might recognize at the Kraken camp — but won’t see on depth charts — is Thomas Milic. He is one of the goaltenders for the WHL Seattle Thunderbirds, and is attending Seattle Kraken training camp on an amateur tryout contract. This is the realization of a dream for Milic, and the exposure to NHL-calibre players will help his development. But he doesn’t belong to the Kraken; Milic is still eligible for the NHL Entry Draft in 2022. So don’t get attached, the Kraken have to give him back to the T-Birds in a few days. (Editor’s note: It was revealed on Tuesday that Milic will not be in camp due to an injury. Pity, the kid was looking forward to this opportunity. PTO goaltender Francis Marotte will be in attendance.)
Mind Your Netminder: Aside from Marotte, there will be 4 goalies attending training camp for the Kraken: the de-facto starting tandem of Philipp Grubauer and Chris Driedger, and the Charlotte-bound Antoine Bibeau and Joey Daccord. It will be interesting to see whether either Grubauer or Driedger appears to have the “hot hand” during training camp, and if Coach Hakstol gives us any indication concerning how he plans to approach the division of duties for those two during the regular season.
But the biggest question that the Kraken have to answer in this department concerns Bibeau and Daccord: is either of them ready to assume NHL backup duties if one of our top two ‘tenders goes down with an injury? I’m not intimately familiar with the playing style of either goalie, but based on their stats to date — 13 NHL games total between them, with a combined record of 3-5-1 — my response is an emphatic “no.” If the coaching staff agrees with me, we might see some early-season activity aimed at finding a remedy for that problem.
In The System: The chattering class has decried Ron Francis’ expansion draft choices, essentially saying that the Kraken will be capable defensively, but the lack of offense will mean we’ll be losing games 1-0. Our analysis shows that opinion to be flawed; when adjusted for a full season, a 20-man roster consisting of the players currently on the Kraken’s roster totaled the third-most goals in the league in 2020-21.
Most people are assuming the Kraken’s lack of a 40-goal scorer means offense will be limited. Wisely, Ron Francis has assembled a scoring-by-committee roster, having taken to heart the examples of teams like Toronto and Edmonton building teams around superstars and collapsing in the post-season. It’s going to be up to Coach Hakstol to factor in the type of roster he’s working with, and implement a system that maximizes offensive output. Much will depend on the effectiveness of that system, the ability of the players to execute it, and the degree to which the team commits to it. This, more than any of the questions we’ve reviewed thus far, will have the biggest impact on the Kraken’s fortunes this season.
Dates For Updates
I’d like to tell you that I’ll be attending training camp and providing daily updates on various players and the general proceedings. But I’d also like to tell you that I own a Ferrari; reality tends to disappoint in both of those instances. For the most part our ability to report on training camp will depend on the availability of third-party accounts. And as the reliability of such reporting is, by its very nature, sketchy, we’ll only be updating you when there is concrete and verifiable news to report.
We’ll be doing our best to give you pre-season game previews and wrap-ups, and we’ll notify you about player cuts and any transactions that take place. Follow us on Twitter to stay up to date on the latest news and happenings from the inaugural Seattle Kraken training camp.