What's ailing the Kraken?

Entering the season, there was a lot of uncertainty about what kind of team the Seattle Kraken would be. Most prognosticators, including myself, believed the Kraken would be good defensively and in goal but questioned whether they would have the offensive chops to make the playoffs. However, we’re now a month into the season and the Kraken are the worst team in the Pacific Division with a 4-10-1 record. In VSiN’s 2021-22 NHL Betting Guide, I wrote that “Seattle to miss the playoffs” at + 115 was a value bet because I predicted the Kraken would miss the playoffs about 56 percent of the time. The bet is looking good now, as DraftKings currently has their chances of making the playoffs at around 20 percent, and it looks like even the most pessimistic forecasts (like mine) could be way off.

At first blush, Seattle’s struggles appear to be in the crease. They ought to be strong in this area, but goaltenders Philipp Grubauer and, to a lesser extent, Chris Driedger have been terrible. Together, they’ve cost the team about 14 goals above expected, according to Evolving Hockey. The team’s on-ice save percentage is a league-worst .863. That’s more than a full percentage point worse than the Arizona Coyotes. With that said, about half of what we see in the standings is luck-driven, and we’re talking about a small sample (16) of games. I don’t think we, as sports bettors, need to worry about the playoffs. But I look at this team as one that could potentially offer some value on a game-to-game basis, though with some added risk involved.

Seattle has been good on defense, but I can already see signs of the team breaking down in that department. After all, it’s tough to trust the process, when you aren’t getting the results you think you deserve, and it happens a lot in hockey. There have been many instances in which a team with good underlying numbers gets poor results to start the season, and before you know it, things really fall apart because they thought they could fix the problem with coaching and micromanaging. It almost never works. Sometimes a goaltender is just bad, and the team must play through it until the goalie finds his game. Grubauer might not be the goaltender the Kraken thought he was when they signed him, but he didn’t forget to play the position overnight.

The Kraken rank third in shots allowed, which means their goaltenders are facing relatively light workloads, and they’ve been fine on offense, scoring goals at about an average rate. So it seems like they’re a prime candidate for positive regression, assuming Grubauer (.881) and/or Driedger (.839) can get on track. It’s likely that at least one of them will end the season on a high note, given that they were considered two of the best goaltenders last season. In 2020-21, Driedger posted a .928 save percentage and saved his former team, the Panthers, approximately seven goals above expected, while Grubauer posted a .921 save percentage and saved his old club, the Avalanche, about five goals above expected. The Kraken might not be a playoff team, but they shouldn’t be this bad. You can bet we’re going to see the Kraken carrying some big prices as they have dates with the Capitals, Hurricanes, Lightning and Panthers coming up. I don’t know if the Kraken have hit rock bottom yet, and how they fare against some of the league’s best teams will likely go a long way in determining what type of team they are going to be the rest of the season.