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Seattle Kraken’s offseason reluctantly begins after turnaround season of emergence

Mix aging veterans, budding rookies helped NHL’s newest team fall one goal short of the final four
Seattle Kraken forward Tye Kartye, front, celebrates his goal against the Colorado Avalanche with defenseman Will Borgen during the second period of Game 5 of an NHL hockey first-round playoff series Wednesday, April 26, 2023, in Denver. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)

The season saw a mind-boggling turnaround, but the Kraken wanted more.

They’re loaded with Stanley Cup winners, but also veterans whose time to lift the chalice is dwindling. There’s nothing to do but try again.

On Monday, his 33rd birthday, forward Jordan Eberle reflected on his latest, too-short chance to get his name hammered onto one of those silver rings.

“You just grow. You remember how this feels,” he said. “This is a tough league to win in — it’s a tough trophy to win. We have the foundation and the group here. We just want to keep building.

“It took me seven years to get to the postseason. You don’t want to take it for granted. These games are so much fun. This is why you play in the NHL — you play to win the Stanley Cup.”

Eberle’s fellow alternate captain Adam Larsson, another veteran who hasn’t won a title, blocked six shots in Monday’s Game 7 that might have threatened the Kraken’s chance to advance. Two others sneaked by Philipp Grubauer (26 saves), however, and that was enough. The Kraken fell, 2-1, at American Airlines Center.

“We were one win away from having an opportunity to be one of the final four teams playing,” coach Dave Hakstol said. “So you see that pain in guys, especially in the veteran guys who really understand how hard it is to get here.”

There was pain, but also plenty to look forward to.

“I love this group,” center Yanni Gourde said. “I think there’s something here.”

There are decisions ahead this summer and fall. Does playoff call-up Tye Kartye, who replaced Jared McCann while he was injured and held on to the 40-goal scorer’s spot even after he returned to the lineup, earn a permanent spot with the squad next season? Does fourth overall pick Shane Wright, whose Kraken debut never got off the ground?

Will Matty Beniers grow into the top-line center role he took on, and the captaincy he seems pointed toward? Will Grubauer build upon the second half of the season, and particularly his playoff performance?

There’s the matter of what to do with unrestricted free agents Ryan Donato, held without a goal in these playoffs, and defenseman Carson Soucy. They have a glut at goaltender at the moment, with pending UFA Martin Jones, a healthy Chris Driedger and minor-league mainstay Joey Daccord, who played well for Seattle on an emergency basis this season.

They can work the numbers, if desired, on restricted free agents Morgan Geekie, Daniel Sprong, Will Borgen and especially defenseman Vince Dunn, who is coming off a breakout regular season but put forth a quieter postseason.

And fresh off a turnaround campaign that earned Hakstol Jack Adams Award finalist honors for the NHL’s coach of the year, Seattle’s coaching staff could be eyed for other positions. Assistant coach Jay Leach was reportedly considered a front-runner for the Boston Bruins’ head-coaching vacancy last summer and interviewed for it.

Together they all crafted a style that worked, with a group made from found materials, plus the results of offseason tinkering.

“Had kind of a feeling about this group, really back in training camp,” Hakstol said Monday. “There was a different feel to it. We knew there was something there. We didn’t know exactly how or when we’d be able to come together as a group, but absolutely, did we grow over the last month? One hundred percent.”

Even if there was a lack of belief elsewhere, according to Eberle.

“From Day One, everyone’s kind of written us off … they don’t expect us to make the playoffs, don’t expect us to beat Colorado,” he said. “And I’m sure no one expected us to get to seven (games) here.”

The desperation was there Monday night for the Kraken, who blocked six shots on a single first-period power play. The Stars actually got more shots through to the net on the penalty kill than they did on that power play. They forced Grubauer to make two short-handed saves, and registered none with the man advantage.

The Stars had the better chances at even strength, but the Kraken held them off the board for nearly 36 minutes of Game 7 before Jamie Oleksiak’s attempt to corral the puck on his blue line turned into an around-the-back pass for former Stars teammate Roope Hintz. Hintz tore across the offensive zone before Borgen could panic-skate across the ice, and roofed it over Grubauer, who had been unshakable to that point — he brushed that off, saying, “That’s my job.”

It took an artist’s hands to beat him the second time. Midway through the third period, Wyatt Johnston flipped a masterful shot over Grubauer and under the crossbar to make it 2-0.

“They were relentless right up until the buzzer tonight. Hats off to them,” Dallas coach Pete DeBoer said. “Really impressive season and effort from that group. They made us earn it.”

Oliver Bjorkstrand wound up with all three of the Kraken’s Game 7 goals, scoring with Grubauer pulled for the extra attacker and 17.6 seconds left before elimination. It came soon for Seattle.

“I’m really proud of this group and how we played the whole season and the playoffs,” Grubauer said. “It’s a tough pill to swallow, for sure, in Game 7.”

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