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NHL

Oh Right, Expansion Teams Are Supposed To Suck

LAS VEGAS, NEVADA - NOVEMBER 09: Alex Wennberg #21 of the Seattle Kraken skates with the puck against Nicolas Roy #10 of the Vegas Golden Knights in the third period of their game at T-Mobile Arena on November 9, 2021 in Las Vegas, Nevada. The Golden Knights defeated the Kraken 4-2. (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)
Ethan Miller/Getty Images

At the traditional 13-game pole, we can confidently report that the Seattle Kraken are … a typical expansion team.

This is unhappy news, of course, because the impossible bar for expansion teams was set only four years ago by Vegas, and, because attention spans are at an all-time cellphone-era low of “Sorry, did you say something?”, that is the only expansion team most people remember. The Golden Knights had the best expansion team of all time in any sport, from the moment they galvanized the most cynical city on earth to the moment they beat Winnipeg to advance to the Stanley Cup final against Team Ovie. They sell out every game, and are still the pre-eminent franchise in town because the Raiders are Raider-y again, and UNLV basketball is eight years removed from its last NCAA Tournament and 31 years from its last Final Four, and its football team hasn’t won more than eight games since 1984. Hell, you can’t even bet against them in their own home town, which is as forlorn as it gets.

In short, the Knights own this town the way the mob used to (and still may, for all we know), and they are as good as expansion is ever going to get. They are the one thing that works better in Vegas than the vig.

And Seattle? Just lost to the Knights again last night, 4-2, bookending its first-game-ever loss to Vegas at season’s start. 

The Kraken is now a generally approved-of nickname after a rocky start, and any team willing to take on the burden of comparing itself to the octopus, one of the smartest creatures on the planet (light years ahead of us, for example) has the right idea. The uniform is smart, too, and whoever thought of the salmon thing at the ends of games is a goddamned genius. They’ve sold out the season, which may be expected of an expansion team, but is still impressive when you consider that only Boston, Tampa, Vegas, and Ovie are still on pace to do so.

But the team is pure expansion in all the other ways, which is frankly a bit of a drag. The NHL can use any bit of distraction it can manage now that Anaheim general manager Bob Murray is under investigation for “improper professional conduct,” an ominously vague sentence so soon after the Brad Aldrich scandal. Neither Gary Bettman’s iron will and lipless glare nor a full Ovie goalfest can make this a good season for the league. Even a Cup for the Toronto Maple Leafs can’t save it because Leaf fans are already too well entrenched in their “blow these guys to bits” stage of their fandom. 

But back to Seattle, the little child who could save them all except for the fact that they’re not really capable of doing so. The Kraken aren’t objectively horrible in anything except maybe in save percentage, where their .868 is not only dead last but worse even than the vig. They aren’t as bad as Arizona, for example, which is still on pace to be evicted from their own arena for non-payment of rent. They aren’t as bad as Chicago, which just fired its coach after firing a good portion of its front office. They aren’t as bad as Ottawa, which has found its happy place in 15th place, or Montreal, which is a spent balloon after last year’s Cup final appearance.

They’re measuring out as worse than everyone else, though, and on pace to be the 1970–71 Vancouver Canucks, whom you remember for nothing whatsoever. The NHL needed something feelgood after its horrendous start (no Sidney Crosby, no Carey Price, no Geno Malkin, lots of COVID) and behavior (Bettman’s performance after the Chicago disgrace alone made Ted Cruz look like Mike Emrick), and instead in the Kraken are getting … well, kind of more of what we should have expected, which is a team struggling to keep its ankles steady as it begins its shelf life. It may not be what Seattle deserves in a technical sense, but it is what expansion teams get for being all new and stuff.

But if they want to send us all some of those salmon plushes, it will be another sign of good will and better intentions that will weigh heavily in our deliberations in case we decide to cheerfully declare their inaugural season a rampant success, no matter how much Philipp Grubauer struggles. Because in good times and bad, free swag is always the sign of a successful team.

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