Kraken sticking to the plan after slow start, GM says: report

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The Seattle Kraken have struggled in their inaugural NHL season, but general manager Ron Francis said he’s sticking to a long-term focus with the expansion team.

Francis told ESPN he expected more from the Kraken (10-19-4), who are last in the Pacific Division, but is wary of making knee-jerk reactions.

“I think you have to assess where you are, and act accordingly,” Francis said in remarks published Tuesday. “For us, the worst thing to do would have been to panic and change course and start giving up assets for pieces that may or may not turn things around this year. The tough part is biting the bullet, sticking to the plan.”

Seattle ranks 29th in the NHL in points percentage (.364), 29th in goal differential (minus-30) and 30th in goals-against per game (3.67).

“I think it’s certainly been more challenging than we were hoping for when the season started,” Francis said. “I thought we’d be a competitive team. You’re always hoping that things go right for you, that you have a chance to make the playoffs. Unfortunately for us, it’s gone the other way: Instead of going right, some things have gone wrong.

“But the plan all along was to build this thing right from the ground up, long-term. Have a strong successful franchise. That’s how we drafted. That’s why we kept our cap space available. So that hasn’t changed.”

Goalie Philipp Grubauer (7-13-4, 3.30 goals-against average, .882 save percentage), Chris Driedger (3-4-0, 3.49 GAA, .892 save percentage) and Joey Daccord (0-2-0, 3.81 GAA, .866 save percentage), have combined for an .874 save percentage, the lowest in the NHL. 

“It’s not a secret,” Francis said. “I think if you talk to them, they’d say the same thing: They’d like to be better. We’re hoping we can get that straightened out here going forward.”

Francis said he continues to have faith in Grubauer, the No. 1 goalie who signed a six-year, $35.4 million contract (average annual value $5.9 million) on July 28, 2021.

“If you look at his career, I think he struggled a little bit going from Washington [Capitals] to Colorado [Avalanche] as well,” Francis said. “Look, this was a guy who was a finalist for the Vezina last year. I’m not giving him a total free pass. I think if you talked to him, he would say there are things he needs to be better at and there are saves he needs to make. But I still think he’s a goaltender that can be good for us moving forward, as we build around him and increase our team.”

In his first season with the Avalanche, who acquired him in a trade with the Capitals on June 22, 2018, Grubauer was 18-9-5 with a 2.64 GAA and .917 save percentage in 2018-19 after going 15-10-3 with a 2.35 GAA and .923 save percentage with Washington the season before.

Coach Dave Hakstol also received strong marks from Francis for juggling numerous challenges, including scheduling and COVID-19 interruptions and absences.

“I think he’s been good,” Francis said. “You’re trying to implement a system, you’re trying to learn about other teams … there’s a lot going on at the start of the season. But I think we’re much better now than we were at the start of the year. I’m comfortable with the job Dave has done at this point, and I know he’ll continue to do better as we move forward.”

Seattle has lost its past five games (0-4-1) by a combined score of 23-12, and had a season-long six-game losing streak from Nov. 6-19. Its longest winning streak is two games, accomplished three times this season.

Its next scheduled game is at the Colorado Avalanche on Jan. 10; its three games this week (against the New York Islanders on Tuesday, the Ottawa Senators on Thursday and at the Winnipeg Jets on Saturday) were postponed due to COVID-19 concerns. No makeup dates have been set.

During his daily assessment of the Kraken, Francis said he has heard plenty about how Seattle is not matching the success of the expansion Vegas Golden Knights, who reached the Stanley Cup Final in their first season, 2017-18.

Francis said the comparisons are misguided.

“For people to think that GMs were going to make same mistakes they made four years prior in the Vegas expansion draft was pretty naive,” he said. “They learned from that. Things were going to be different. So since those [trades] weren’t there, we took a different approach and tried to maintain our [NHL salary] cap space, which we still have as we get into who might be available in free agency or who teams might have to move because of their contracts. 

“We’re still in a position to work at that. We’re also building through the draft. We had a solid one last year and I think we can do the same this year.”

Tweet from @wyshynski: My full Q&A with @SeattleKraken GM Ron Francis on what’s gone wrong in Year 1, if this stumble hurts growing a fan base in Seattle and if Philipp Grubauer is still their franchise goalie. #NHL https://t.co/PY93fuwh71

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