Avast, ye mateys, thar she finally blows. The Seattle Kraken has reared her ugly head above the waves of the Pacific Division and snatched up 30 men in her oily tentacles. Now, we’re left to examine the flotsam.
After years of buildup, the 2021 Expansion Draft came and went in a tidy, mildly awkward 90 minutes complete with fish-tossing, name-butchering, and some serious shade thrown at the Kraken’s geographic rival and home opener opponent — the Vancouver Canucks.
With the Canucks at a low point and the Kraken at the best they’ve ever been, comparisons between the two are inevitable and will continue all season long in what promises to be a hotly-contested Pacific. And so — with full acknowledgement that the Entry Draft, further trades, and free agency are still coming and will inevitably change the face of both rosters — we say there’s no time like the present to start figuring out how the Kraken stack up against the Canucks.
The initial forward corps of the Seattle Kraken looks rather incomplete. At least, their fans should hope it’s incomplete, because it doesn’t hold up well against what the Canucks have to offer up front.
The Canucks’ top-six blows the Kraken’s out of the — sigh — water. Yanni Gourde and his 36 points would have topped them last year, and it’s fair to say that none of the forwards Seattle selected are top line quality. On the right wing, Jordan Eberle and Joonas Donskoi are at least of general top-six ability. The same can’t be said of the left, with Calle Jarnkrok, Brandon Tanev, and Tyler Pitlick.
In Vancouver, the Lotto Line of Elias Pettersson, Brock Boeser, and JT Miller will be buoyed by the youthful contributions of Nils Höglander and Vasily Podkozlin, as well as what they hope is a more offensively-liberated Bo Horvat.
The bottom-six is a nearer thing, but the acquisition of Jason Dickinson as a shutdown 3C should keep the Canucks ahead here. The Kraken do have more scoring potential from their lower-end in Mason Appleton, Brandon Tanev, and Morgan Geekie, but whichever of Podkolzin or Tanner Pearson plays down there will make it a closer comparison.
Either way, the Canucks’ set looks to be better positioned to do the things that bottom-sixes are traditionally supposed to do.
On forward, the Canucks leap out to an early advantage.
As the Seattle forward corps was incomplete at this juncture, so too is the Vancouver blueline. The Canucks only have four definitively NHL-quality defenders under contract, and with both Alex Edler and Travis Hamonic possibly departing, there’s an immediate need for some replacements.
The Kraken, conversely, are loaded right up on the backend. They’ve drafted at least eight NHL-quality defenders, including a top-four that probably edges the Canucks’ out on paper.
Based on this past season, Vince Dunn and Jamie Oleksiak looks like a sounder top pairing than anything the Canucks could put together. A second pairing of Mark Giordano and Adam Larsson is certainly one you’d be more comfortable putting out on the ice than, say, a Jack Rathbone and Tyler Myers tandem.
Ideally, Quinn Hughes is the best of the bunch, but that will require a significant rebound season from him in 2021/22. Even then, the Canucks need serious help.
Comparing the lower-halves of these bluelines isn’t even fair. Carson Soucy and Jeremy Lauzon looks like the best bottom-pairing in the league, and brothers Haydn and Cale Fleury are nothing to sneeze at as numbers seven and eight on the depth chart.
The Canucks can currently offer three defenders who shouldn’t be in the NHL in Madison Bowey, Guillaume Brisebois, and Jett Woo (at least not yet), and one who won’t be much longer if he can’t fix the gaping holes in his game in Olli Juolevi.
The Kraken have the advantage on defence, and it isn’t particularly close.
Get this: even though he only has one partial season as an NHL starter under his belt, Thatcher Demko is only three short of having more career games played than Chris Driedger and Vitek Vanecek combined.
Of the three, Demko is the only one to establish himself as a genuine number one goaltender. Driedger had better numbers than Demko in 2021, but played for a better team and still lost his crease to rookie Spencer Knight in the playoffs. Vanecek seemed to outplay Ilya Samsonov as a rookie, but still ended up exposed by the Capitals.
There may be an argument to be made that the duo of Driedger and Vanecek has the potential to be a better summative tandem than Demko and Braden Holtby — and it’s certainly a cheaper one.
But so long as the Canucks start Demko in at least 70% of their games, as they reasonably should, they stand to have the advantage in the crease.
The Canucks’ power play parachuted down to 17.4% and seventh-worst in the league for 2021, but one hopes it will rebound at least part of the way back to the fourth-best 24.2% it was in 2019/20. A healthy Pettersson and the arrival of Podkolzin to the second unit will help.
The Canucks’ power play should also absolutely demolish the Kraken’s — on paper and at this juncture, that is.
Penalty killing is another story. Seattle drafted some skilled PKers in Larsson, Giordano, Oleksiak, Tanev, and Gourde. The Canucks are potentially losing Edler and Hamonic from their unit, Jay Beagle’s health is in question, and they are already languishing in 2021 with a 17th-best 79.8% efficiency.
The Kraken should have an edge whilst shorthanded, which makes sense because of how many arms it has.
There’s only so much that can be said about a coaching staff that has yet to work with one another or with their team. It can be said that Dave Hakstol’s career points-percentage of .560 is a fair bit higher than Travis Green’s .488, but that’s largely attributable to the quality of their rosters — and Green’s .588 in the postseason crushes Hakstol’s .333.
Hakstol certainly seemed to be less popular in Philadelphia, whether among players or the fanbase, than Green is in Vancouver. The addition of Brad Shaw may continue to give Green and his staff an edge in this category.
Obviously, the internal chemistry of a dressing room that just got thrown together like a patchwork quilt is difficult to assess. But it is worth noting that the Kraken will have a veteran NHL captain in Giordano in the mix from the get-go, as well as some rather thorough and recent Cup-winning experience via Gourde.
The Canucks, on the other hand, are parting ways with long-time leadership figures in Edler and Brandon Sutter. The impact remains to be seen.
On the physical side of things, the comparison mirrors the imbalance of skill. The Kraken have a beefy backend of Oleksiak, Larsson, and a legitimate heavyweight in Kurtis MacDermid. All of Soucy, Lauzon, and Giordano have bite.
The Canucks have Myers, and that’s about it.
Up front, however, the Canucks should be able to win the game of punishing forechecks. Big hitters like Miller, Motte, Zack MacEwen, and ideally the newly-arrived Podkolzin and Jonah Gadjovich should outweigh the respective efforts of Tanev and Gourde.
The only real conclusion to draw here is that both rosters have more than enough truculence and tenacity to ensure that the rivalry boils over from social media and onto the ice as early as October 23.
The Kraken come out of the Expansion Draft with nearly $29 million in cap space, and with Dunn the only player of real significance needing a new contract. That’s a considerable amount for a team entering a free agency period in which nearly every other team will be hampered by the flat cap. Actually, that’s an understatement. The Kraken have the league’s most precious resource in abundance, to the tune of more than a third of the salary cap itself. They’re driving a water truck through a desert. Seattle could, for example, add an entire forward line of $8 million free agents without batting an eye. In keeping with the maritime puns, the world of available assets is their oyster.
That stands in sharp contrast to the Canucks, who have a hair over $15 million with which to sign Pettersson, Hughes, and at least three other NHL-quality defenders.
Suffice it to say, then, that of the two, the Kraken are the team most likely to be improving their roster from here on out through the 2021 offseason, whether it be through trade or free agency. Their offensive woes thus look a lot more fixable than the Canucks’ defensive woes, both in terms of who is available and the amount they’ll be able to spend on them.
Right now — in this exact moment, before any further trades or signings have occurred — the Vancouver Canucks are still a better team than the next-door neighbour that just popped into existence.
But that’s not a status that Vancouver fans should take for granted.
On the strength of their top-six and Demko’s play in net, the Canucks swim ahead of the Kraken for now. But Seattle’s large-sized blueline will make games competitive throughout the season, and a few key free agent signings or trades is all the Kraken need to make the offensive gap between the two a lot smaller.
So, which of the two will finish higher in the Pacific Division for 2021/22? Until the rest of the offseason is complete, it’s a coin-flip.
Or maybe it’s a fish-toss.