As the Seattle Kraken scattered following the end of their second season in existence, general manager Ron Francis and coach Dave Hakstol received an overwhelming message from their players.
Getting to the playoffs and making a run was great and will go a long way in helping establish the Kraken in their hometown. But there was also a missed opportunity to do something really special with this season.
“We didn’t have to say that. Our players were saying that to us,” Francis said Thursday. “They understood that they had a good season, but they were not happy that they didn’t advance beyond this round.”
Seattle’s management was still dealing with the mixed emotions that came with the Kraken’s unexpected playoff run and the disappointment when it ended earlier this week in a Game 7 loss to Dallas in the Western Conference semifinals.
Making the playoffs was significant for the second-year franchise. Knocking out defending champion Colorado galvanized the community. But there was a bitter taste left behind from falling to the Stars.
“We felt like we had a great commitment right from Day One of training camp all the way through,” Hakstol said. “There was a real purpose to everything that the guys were doing on a daily basis. That tracks back to your leadership.”
The messages both given and received by Hakstol and Francis also were pointed toward next season and not letting the playoff run be a one-time event in the infancy of the franchise.
Francis noted there will be room to improve the roster. Seattle has 10 draft picks and is expected to have a chunk of space under the salary cap. Some of that money seems destined to go to defenseman Vince Dunn, who’ll be a restricted free agent, with forward Ryan Donato and defenseman Carson Soucy highlighting Seattle’s list of unrestricted free agents.
“We’re hopeful, yeah. But we’ll see how those go. We haven’t started them yet,” Francis said of talks with Dunn, who had a career-high 64 points. “Usually if you get a deal where the team is not happy and the player is not happy, that’s probably a fair deal. So we’ll see if we can strive to get to that point.”
One player Seattle would like to get a full season from is forward Andre Burakovsky, who missed the final three months due to injury. Francis provided clarity about what happened with Burakovsky, who was Seattle’s leading scorer when he last took the ice for a game in early February.
Francis said Burakovsky tore a groin muscle in his first shift of Seattle’s first game following the All-Star break against New Jersey. The initial diagnosis was that Burakovksy should be back just after the trade deadline and would be, in turn, Seattle’s roster addition.
But Burakovksy had a pair of setbacks along the way that eventually led to surgery to fully repair the injury in mid-April. If Seattle had advanced to the Stanley Cup final there was a chance Burakovsky could have returned.
“We missed him. But also, great job by the guys in that locker room. They didn’t use it as an excuse or a crutch,” Francis said. “They continued to fight and battle and believe in what they had and found a way to still have some success.”
Francis said the expectation that Burakovsky would return played into Seattle’s decision not to make any moves at the trade deadline. That also worked out in Seattle’s favor, giving the Kraken maximum flexibility going into the offseason.
“If there’s a way we can improve our team and we feel makes us better we’re certainly not going to hesitate to do that,” Francis said. “But we think we’ve got a good group and we’re headed in the right direction.”
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