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Matt Calkins: Kraken’s flame in Seattle is reduced to flickering, but all hope is not lost | kraken

March 1 — Remember that day when Kraken subscriptions sold out in minutes? Impressive. A stark reminder of the madness of a sports city in Seattle.

How about the NHL Expansion Draft at Gas Works Park last summer? Surprising. Thousands of people on the grass of Northlake bear witness to the birth of their new team.

And the first home game of the season? Incredible. New arena. Outstanding decibel levels. A project of several years that finally materializes.

But the Kraken right now? Not great. Not surprising. It’s far from amazing.

More than halfway through this NHL season, Kraken fever seems to have been shattered. The club ranks a distant last in the Pacific Division and holds the third-worst record in the NHL.

They have only won 16 of their 55 matches. They have 37 points — 17 shy of the Sharks, who are seventh in the Pacific. Their minus-56 goal differential is also the third-worst in hockey, indicating that their record actually reflects their performance.

Hockey was supposed to fill the winter sports void Seattle has suffered since the Sonics left 14 years ago. Now, unfortunately, hockey seems to be contributing to that void.

Fans may have been given unfair expectations due to the success of the Las Vegas Golden Knights, the NHL’s last expansion team before the Kraken. Vegas made the Stanley Cup Finals in its first year and has reached the playoffs every season since. The Golden Knights seemed like proof that a freshman team could not only struggle, but thrive in the NHL. But the Kraken did nothing to reflect their success.

So what happened? Some might point to COVID-19. Pre-season bonding exercises were virtually non-existent. The opening of the training center has been delayed. If you want to have a few dozen athletes who have never played together on the same page, last year was probably the worst time to do it.

But if one were to shine the spotlight on one figure from those early struggles, it would have to be General Manager Ron Francis, wouldn’t it? He made the selections in the expansion draft. He is the one who has been remarkably frugal so far. I’m not saying there’s no hope for this franchise. But in terms of capitalizing on a smoldering appetite for hockey in this city, those early months were a failure.

Don’t you remember when your school won that state title? Need to settle a bet? A place for decades of Valley sports.

Ticket prices are no longer what they were at the start of the season. The empty seats of the Climate Pledge Arena are no stranger sight. And… I don’t know — there’s just this feeling that the NHL flame that this city saw in October has been reduced to a flicker.

So is all hope lost? No. As I mentioned earlier, Francis didn’t spend a lot of money. The Kraken have accrued a salary cap. They gave themselves financial flexibility to sign bigger names down the road. But what comfort does this bring to subscribers who, remember, had to commit to at least three years of attendance? Probably not much.

The Kraken got the No. 2 pick in the entry draft last summer when they selected 19-year-old center Matty Beniers. Barring a miraculous uplift in the rankings this season, they’ll get another high pick in the next draft. Combine that with salary cap space, and the future isn’t as bleak as the team’s record suggests.

And, yes, there have been 12 games in which the Kraken lost by one goal – five of them in overtime. They weren’t totally anti-competitive. But there were also a fair share of ugly losses.

Seattle has the ability to be one of the loudest sports cities in the country. The home-field advantage they provided the Seahawks and Sounders for most of the past decade was virtually unmatched. Attendance numbers in the early 2000s for the Mariners were at the top of the league. Storm games sell if the team plays well. Huskies men’s and women’s basketball games too. But — the teams have to play well, otherwise the fans here will forget about you.

The hype surrounding the Kraken was immense. Residents of the Puget Sound area were quick to board. They haven’t abandoned ship yet, but the Kraken must give them a reason to stay – and soon.

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