The Winnipeg Jets’ Nikolaj Ehlers (27) scores on Seattle Kraken goaltender Philipp Grubauer (31) during the second period of their game Tuesday in Winnipeg, Manitoba. (Fred Greenslade/The Canadian Press via AP)

The Winnipeg Jets’ Nikolaj Ehlers (27) scores on Seattle Kraken goaltender Philipp Grubauer (31) during the second period of their game Tuesday in Winnipeg, Manitoba. (Fred Greenslade/The Canadian Press via AP)

Kraken need to consider effort levels when building roster

With a playoff-less season winding down, Seattle’s players are auditioning for next season.

  • Geoff Baker, The Seattle Times
  • Wednesday, April 17, 2024 4:18pm
  • SportsKraken

WINNIPEG, Manitoba — Seattle Kraken forward Yanni Gourde, as usual, was the last player off the ice at Tuesday’s morning skate and feeling the fatigue of a long season.

Gourde isn’t ready to call it a day yet. As with a handful of Kraken veterans, including Jared McCann postgame after a loss to the Blues, Gourde is passionate about his team needing to keep showing up regardless of how playoff motivated their opponents may be.

“It can’t be about who we’re playing and who we’re not playing,” Gourde said. “It’s just got to be about the guys in this locker room and what we can do to set our momentum. Our level of play. We’ve got to do a better job of that, obviously.”

Gourde certainly showed no quit in Tuesday night’s ensuing 4-3 loss to the Winnipeg Jets, igniting a second period comeback from two goals down by deflecting home a Ryker Evans point shot. Then, right before the period’s end, Gourde stole a puck in Winnipeg’s end for a 2-on-0 break, slid a pass across to Tye Kartye and watched the rookie tie things up with his 10th goal of the season.

On Sunday, after a third consecutive defeat in which the Kraken yet again scored only one goal, McCann — who authored the goal — admitted: “It’s hard to find motivation, but we’ve got to play for each other in here. We can’t shy away from battles or anything like that.”

And then, after a slight pause, he added: “If anything, these are tryouts for next year.”

Indeed, some of the performances — or nonperformances — of the past month might wind up costing some players their jobs. For the Kraken to truly improve next season, the front office will also need to look beyond the obvious candidates to move on from — folks such as fourth liners Kailer Yamamoto, Tomas Tatar and Pierre-Edouard Bellemare, or free-agent defenseman Justin Schultz.

They’ll need to take a hard, realistic look at why things went off the rails the way they did. Did a playoff team from last season suddenly forget how to shoot straight up and down the roster? Or was their effort level not conducive to, or not geared for, the system they were expected to play?

The subtext to what Gourde, McCann and some others keep saying is they clearly aren’t happy with how things have gone from an effort level they can control.

Chalking it all up to bad luck seems a cop-out.

The Kraken set an analytics-era record a year ago with a shooting percentage — shots on goal that wind up in the net — of 10.34% during even-strength play. This season, while expected to regress closer to the NHL average, they’ve tumbled well beyond to a fifth-worst 7.61%, according to MoneyPuck.

So, attributing too much of the team’s downfall to luck or injury might actually harm any ability to turn things around. Especially when players keep suggesting the effort and energy level has gone absent too many nights.

Entering Tuesday night’s game against another of playoff-bound opponent in the Winnipeg Jets, the Kraken had scored just 207 times this season. Meanwhile, the Jets, the NHL’s best defensive team, allowed just 193 goals over the same number of games.

That’s a difference of just 14 goals over 82 games between one team’s ability to put a puck in the net and the other’s proficiency at keeping them out. In other words, the Kraken offense has played as if it’s facing Vezina Trophy front-running goaltender Connor Hellebuyck of the Jets on a nightly basis.

And the reality is, other than playing for pride, nothing much the team does the final game or two from here is really going to impact next season. The Kraken have no more home games with which to impress or disappoint paying fans, while those still tuning in to TV broadcasts likely aren’t going to have their frustrations about this season eased much by a final win or two.

Gourde was candid when asked whether there was anything the team could learn from the experience of having to find their own kind of motivation the past month with playoff hopes realistically dashed by mid-March.

“The lesson would be to not get to this point,” Gourde said. “It’s a lot harder to play in a situation like this than to play in a situation where you want to get to the playoffs. Or, where you’re battling for spots in the standings.

“Where we’re at is not ideal for anybody. No one likes to be in that situation for 20 games, or 15 games, or whatever it is at the end of the year where we’re playing to build next year. We’ve got to be better and find a way to compete from day one to get in a good spot at this time of the year.”

Gourde said he “can’t control” how the front office plans to build from here. “Let’s focus on what we can control,” he said, once again alluding to the effort level.

That part, he’s right about. The job of the folks above him signing his paycheck will be to figure out why the Kraken players never really got control of those things from the season’s outset. And what steps can be taken to avoid a repeat.

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