The Difference a Year Makes: Kraken Make a Mark


Mid-May a year ago in Seattle sports, the Seahawks had traded the face of the franchise and were forecasted to be grim. The Mariners were following a promising 2021 season with a months-long wander under .500. The newbie Kraken finished a predictably crummy expansion season with the NHL’s third-worst regular-season record. The University of Washington football program was coming off a disastrous 4-8 season with a new coach, many new players and few chins up among those who wear purple.

Today, if you follow any or all of these cultural confections, pour/light/swallow your favorite mood enhancer and celebrate.

The Seahawks somehow made the playoffs without QB Russell Wilson, whose trade produced a large draft windfall for Seattle and a wretched season for his new team in Denver. The Mariners won 14 games in a row to make the playoffs for the first time in 21 seasons and actually won a series. The Huskies under Kalen DeBoer finished 10-2 and won a bowl game against Texas.

We are here today, however, to pour/light/swallow for the Kraken, who joined the Seattle Won-in-One turnaround party with the best second-year season in NHL expansion history. It’s over now, of course, after a 2-1 loss Monday at Dallas. In the club’s stubby little existence, it was the second Game 7, following the first-round win in Denver. By now, even rookie fans have learned that playoff hockey is like no other postseason in sports, and that seventh games are the acme of the sports orgasm. In their 47 years, the Sonics had only seven such games, and the Kraken now have two.

The entire season was one few saw coming and none will forget. No superstars. No extravagant personalities; mega-stoic coach Dave Hakstol may have more postseason wins than grins. The ownership group spent cargo ships of cash on the arena ($1.2 billion), expansion fee ($650 million, more than the value of at least 20 NHL clubs), and practice facility ($88 million), but the highest-paid player was goalie Philipp Grubauer at $7.5 million, tied for 92nd in the league.

These guys were invited to the Oscars and showed up looking like Columbo. As with the TV character, they outsmarted a lot of detractors. And they played the maximum number of playoff games, 14, which was helpful for sustained exposure in a market where many consumers a month earlier could not have identified more than a handful of players.

Relative to the other local teams’ sudden successes, the Kraken feat is unique on two fronts — some owners were also the arena developers who paid privately (no tax dollars) for the construction of a premier venue, Climate Pledge Arena. Team and building worked out. With the likely return of the NBA perhaps for 2025-26, the Kraken needed market success to help avoid the worst of little-brother syndrome.

The Kraken gets my vote because the franchise came from nothing. No sport history, no team tradition, little market familiarity and some of the highest ticket and concession prices in pro sports. They HAD to make an entertainment splash this season, or risk falling behind.

And not just in the market. The NHL might have the most competitive balance among the major pro sports. Joining Dallas, Carolina and Las Vegas in the NHL final four is Florida, the 15th team to reach the conference finals of the Stanley Cup playoffs since the League expanded to 31 (now 32) teams in 2017-18.

And how about that geography? It’s the southernmost semifinal round in Cup history. Nothing speaks to hockey’s great northern tradition more grandly than sunburn and tequila. At least if Seattle had made it, a few fans here can speak poutine.

Speaking of speaking, Kraken CEO Tod Leiweke had a prescient thought about the big-picture future of his latest Seattle franchise operation (following the Seahawks and Sounders).

“I think the NBA comes someday, and I think the NBA fans owe the Kraken fans a beer and a tip of the cap,” he told KOMO-TV. “The fans have been remarkable. I think (players) know they’re playing in a special place with special fans. It’s with the deepest gratitude we forge on, saying we’re not going to stop until we build these fans and this city a championship organization.

“We’re on a path to do that.”

He said it in January. Few believed it then. But since he had a big hand in setting up the Seahawks and Sounders for championships, two rounds of playoffs have ladled Leiweke’s boast with some additional cred.

Art Thiel
Art Thiel
Art Thiel is a longtime sports columnist in Seattle, for many years at the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, and now as founding editor at


  1. Looking at Seattle’s sports history typically Seattle teams get past the opening round when they qualify for the playoffs for the first time. The MLS Sounders were eliminated in the opening round of their first round as were the NASL Sounders but both eventually got to their championship game. The Mariners playoff failures is well documented though they’ve made the ALCS twice. Kraken management have a sound plan in place and seem to be committed to a long road of success.


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