John Forslund has never been to Seattle. Doesn’t matter.
The Seattle Kraken could see his work with the Hartford Whalers, Carolina Hurricanes and NBC Sports before introducing him as their TV broadcaster Tuesday. He’s one of the best in the business.
He has a background with Kraken general manager Ron Francis, a former Hurricanes player and executive, and experience with introducing the game to a new market, having relocated from Hartford to Carolina in 1997-98.
This is an opportunity to tell the story of an NHL expansion team from its first face-off in 2021-22.
“I took the job sight unseen, because I didn’t need to see the place,” Forslund said. “I care about the work environment and what kind of organization it is, and it’s great. They’re great from top to bottom, and they’ve treated me first class. So who wouldn’t say yes to this?”
Forslund’s contract with the Hurricanes expired June 30, making him a free agent. Francis called July 1. Mostly, Francis checked in as a friend to see how Forslund and his family were doing. But Francis also said he was going to put him in touch with NHL Seattle president and CEO Tod Leiweke.
Forslund joined the Whalers as public relations director in the summer of 1991, after they traded Francis to the Pittsburgh Penguins on March 4, 1991. He followed Francis as a fan from afar while working as the TV and radio broadcaster for Springfield of the American Hockey League from 1984-91. After arriving in Hartford, he sensed the impact Francis made on the Whalers and in the community by the reaction to his absence.
They became friends while Francis played for the Hurricanes from 1998-2004, and Forslund emceed the ceremony when they retired Francis’ No. 10 on Jan. 28, 2006. They maintained a professional relationship when Francis worked in Carolina’s front office from 2006-18, the last four seasons as GM.
Though the Hurricanes fired Francis on April 30, 2018, he helped set the foundation for them to make the Eastern Conference Final in 2018-19 and return to the Stanley Cup Playoffs in 2019-20, a good sign for the Kraken.
“Unfortunately, he didn’t get to see it through,” Forslund said, “But his footprint is on that team. There’s no question.”
After months of dialogue, Forslund and the Kraken agreed to a five-year contract, while the Kraken reached a multiyear agreement with Root Sports to be their regional sports network.
Forslund will continue working for NBC Sports this season, move to Seattle after the playoffs and will be able to call national games while working for the Kraken. (The NHL media rights beyond this season have yet to be determined.)
“If I’m lucky enough to be part of the national package, good,” Forslund said. “But my prime focus is the Kraken. … There’s absolutely nothing like being a broadcaster for a team, because it’s a connection with a fan base. You’re helping, in this case, grow from Day One, marking all these moments in time.
“It’s a dream. It’s a dream come true for any broadcaster to be involved with an expansion team or a team like Carolina.”
There are significant differences between Carolina and Seattle.
Carolina was a relocation done in a matter of months. The Hurricanes played in Greensboro, North Carolina, for two seasons before moving into their new home at what is now PNC Arena in Raleigh.
Seattle is an expansion team that has been in the works since an online portal opened at 10 a.m. PT on March 1, 2018, and 32,000 people made season-ticket deposits in 31 hours. The NHL awarded the franchise to the city Dec. 4, 2018. A new arena and training center are under construction and scheduled to be ready for the 2021-22 season. Marketing is at another level in the social media age.
“When we got [to Carolina], there were people wondering why,” Forslund said. “No one’s wondering why with the Kraken.”
But Forslund helped people get hooked on hockey in Carolina, where the arena roared when the Hurricanes went to the Stanley Cup Final in 2002, won the Stanley Cup in 2006 and hosted the NHL All-Star Game in 2011.
He’ll do the same in Seattle, a place with a rich hockey history and a mix of established fans and newcomers. He wants to develop trust with the audience and bring the same high standard the crew did with the Hurricanes.
“You have to be cognizant of people that are aware of the game and already have their ideas about hockey,” Forslund said. “They love the game. They love the team — or another team. There will be some of that too.
“And then there’ll be people that are brand new, and those are the people that I love connecting with in North Carolina. It was the people that had never seen the game before, that figured out this is really cool to go see in person, this is great to follow on television and radio. That’s where you get the most bang for your buck as a broadcaster.
“That’s kind of what this is going to be, and I want to attack it the same way.”