It’s been an up-and-down year for the Seattle Kraken.
Despite acquiring some solid players ahead of their inaugural season, things haven’t exactly gone according to plan. They do have a 5-4-1 record over their last ten games—a slight improvement compared to their 9-14-2 season record. Even so, the playoffs appear to be a pipe dream at this time.
But that’s normal, right? I mean, most expansion teams struggle to contend during their first NHL season. Or do they? Let’s take a look at the league’s previous (most recent) five expansion teams, and how they were faring at the 25-game mark of their inaugural seasons.
— Seattle Kraken (@SeattleKraken) December 7, 2021
Vegas Golden Knights (2017-18)
Record After 25 Games: 15-9-1
Goal Differential: +7 (87 GF, 80 GA)
Shots On Goals/Shots Against: 777/760 (+17)
The Vegas Golden Knights are widely considered to be one of the best inaugural season expansion teams of all time, and for good reason. In fact, they’ve captured two division titles (nearly three if not for last year’s tie-breaker with the Colorado Avalanche) and have made the playoffs every single year since inception.
After their first 25 games in 2017-18, it was already evident that something special was on the horizon. A top line composed of William Karlsson, Reilly Smith, and Jonathan Marchessault was especially garnering attention. At this point Karlsson already had 14 goals and 24 points, Smith had six goals and 20 points, and Marchessault had 10 goals and 15 points.
The Golden Knights ended up coming within a stone’s throw of ultimate glory that year, losing the Stanley Cup Finals to the Washington Capitals in five games. Their ability to become and remain competitive from the jump is undoubtedly impressive. The Kraken were naturally hoping to catch that same fire this year. Unfortunately, it seems that what happens in Vegas does, in fact, stay there.
ahhhhhh 🔥🔥 pic.twitter.com/DD0d1Qb0gZ
— Vegas Golden Knights (@GoldenKnights) December 8, 2021
Columbus Blue Jackets (2000-01)
Record After 25 Games: 7-17-1
Goal Differential: -32 (49 GF, 81 GA)
Shots On Goals/Shots Against: 653/766 (-113)
The Columbus Blue Jackets had to share the spotlight with the Minnesota Wild during their inaugural year. The fact that both teams were picking from the same pool of expansion draft players may have weakened potential returns, especially given how many players each team could protect (1G, 5D, and 9F or 2G, 3D, and 7F).
The Blue Jackets ended up finishing last in their division that year. Their fate seemed like a given after the first 25 games, indicated by the stats above. They were simply unable to keep the puck out of their net despite stellar goaltending by Ron Tugnutt (53GP, 2.44 GAA, .917 SV%). Not to mention they were only scoring around two goals per game.
One bright spot, however, was seeing Geoff Sanderson bounce back after three straight down seasons. He hadn’t seemed like himself, or cracked 30 goals, since 1996-97 until he racked up 30 goals and 56 points in just 68 games for Columbus in 2000-01. He would end up staying for three more seasons.
Unfortunately, the Blue Jackets have only made the playoffs six total times in 20 seasons. They didn’t even win their first playoff game until 2013-14 and have only passed the first round once in their entire history. Fans can only hope greener pastures are ahead.
— mitch cameron (@MitchCam1980) December 9, 2021
Minnesota Wild (2000-01)
Record After 25 Games: 7-14-4
Goal Differential: -14 (52 GF, 66 GA)
Shots On Goals/Shots Against: 607/677 (-70)
After 25 games, both the Wild and the Blue Jackets had just seven wins. The key difference is that Minnesota was playing far better defensive hockey, despite scoring at a very similar clip.
The Wild would also go on to finish last in their division at season’s end—with three points less than Columbus. Unfortunately, they didn’t have the luxury of a 30-goal scorer. Their leading point-getter was Scott Pellerin, who had what would end up being the most productive season of his career (11 goals, 39 points in just 58 games).
Goaltender Manny Fernandez was perhaps the biggest reason for future optimism. He had never played more than 24 games in a single season, but put up fantastic numbers through 42 games that year—including a 2.24 GAA and a .920 SV%.
Minnesota has made the playoff 10 times in the last 20 years, including a Conference Finals appearance against the Anaheim Ducks (then called the Mighty Ducks) back in 2002-03. They’ve only won two playoff series since that run, but perhaps this year could be different. After 25 games, they’re leading the Central Division.
Dean Evason is FIRED UP about his @mnwild team this season. 🙌
— NHL (@NHL) December 9, 2021
Atlanta Thrashers (1999)
Record After 25 Games: 7-16-2
Goal Differential: -30 (60 GF, 92 GA)
Shots On Goals/Shots Against: 621/729 (-108)
It was a rough NHL debut for the Atlanta Thrashers, to say the least. They only had seven wins in their first 25 games, and just 14 total wins after 82 games.
Only Andrew Brunette was able to crack 20 goals or 50 points, although current TSN broadcaster Ray Ferraro came close with 19 goals and 44 points. Their main problem, besides selling tickets, was goaltending. Five different goalies started games for Atlanta that season, and none were able to record a GAA under 3.20 or a SV% over .891.
Their first overall pick ahead of that season, Patrik Stefan, only managed to rack up five goals and 25 points over 72 games. As many already know, he went on to become one of the biggest first-overall busts in NHL history.
Things didn’t get any better from there, either. In the Thrashers’ 11 years of existence, they made the playoffs once and were promptly swept in the first round. After the 2010-11 season, they relocated and became the modern day Winnipeg Jets.
1000 games for Blake Wheeler. Forever a Thrasher. pic.twitter.com/B0gWttAeF3
— Atlanta Thrashers (@NotThrashers) December 6, 2021
Nashville Predators (1998)
Record After 25 Games: 9-14-2
Goal Differential: -19 (58 GF, 77 GA)
Shots On Goals/Shots Against: 677/831 (-154)
The Nashville Predators coincidentally had the exact same record after 25 games as the Kraken do now. The main difference is that Seattle only has a -17 goal differential and actually boasts a positive (+14) shot differential. Funny sport, hockey is.
Eight players managed to record double-digit goal totals, but only Sergei Krivokrasov cracked 20 goals (25). Ironically, one of those goal scorers was none other than Andrew Brunette. Playing on an expansion team during their inaugural season, two years in a row, is certainly not something you see everyday.
Their two main goaltenders, Tomas Vokoun and Mike Dunham, both had down years by their standards. The team finished last in their division, and had some rough seasons to follow before finally cracking the playoffs.
Vokoun stuck around for a few years and managed to help the Preds capture a couple of postseason births, but they did not get out of the first round until he was gone.
How do four tickets to Pekka Rinne's jersey retirement game, four Stadium Series jerseys and four @Bridgestone tires sound?! 👀
— Nashville Predators (@PredsNHL) December 9, 2021
Final ’25-Game Mark’ Rankings
- Vegas Golden Knights
- Seattle Kraken
- Nashville Predators
- Minnesota Wild
- Atlanta Thrashers
- Columbus Blue Jackets
In conclusion, the Kraken are actually doing better than many previous expansion teams were in their inaugural seasons (so far). Perhaps it’s due to modern day expansion draft rules, which forced many teams to expose players of a generally higher quality. Their placement in the Pacific Division may also be playing a factor.
This is especially impressive when you consider that they passed on a lot of ‘now’ talent like Vladimir Tarasenko, for example, in favour of building a solid foundation for the future.
They may not be in true playoff contention for a couple of more seasons, but they also look poised to enter a competitive window sooner rather than later.
see you soon, besties! 🦑 pic.twitter.com/3N9XNPpwI5
— Seattle Kraken (@SeattleKraken) December 9, 2021
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