CALGARY: In this file photo taken on September 29, 2021 the Seattle Kraken celebrate after defeating the Calgary Flames 2-1 in shootout during an NHL preseason game at Scotiabank Saddledome in Calgary, Alberta, Canada. – AFP

LOS ANGELES: Jason Botterill spent seven seasons playing in the National Hockey League including stints in non-traditional hockey markets like Atlanta and Dallas where they had to build contenders from the bottom up. So when the NHL’s newest expansion franchise, the Seattle Kraken, went looking for front office talent, Botterill was a natural choice to be their new assistant general manager.

“I was a part of Atlanta the first year. I have seen different organizations from their infancy,” Botterill told AFP. “Compared to Atlanta we (Kraken) had more players available at the expansion draft. I saw us develop loyal passionate fans in the Dallas area. We are at a big advantage in our market here. There are already a lot of knowledgable hockey fans in Seattle. They have had a successful junior team here for long time. That will help us from the get go.”

The Kraken are the NHL’s 32nd team and will compete in the Pacific Division. They open the regular season today in Las Vegas against the Golden Knights. When it came to brand new teams in the NHL, losing used to be the norm. That is until the Golden Knights rewrote the playbook for expansion teams and made it all the way to the Stanley Cup finals in their inaugural 2017-18 season. So will the Kraken be like the Golden Knights or fall back into what expansion teams used to be and take their lumps like the 1974-75 Washington Capitals, who won just eight games all season. Botterill says what the Kraken lack in star power this season they will make up for in depth and versatility.

‘Versatile line-up’
“You look at some of the players we acquired (Jordan) Eberle, (Jaden) Schwartz and (Mark) Giordano. We were looking for guys with good high end hockey sense,” Botterill said. “We don’t have a (Connor) McDavid or a (Nathan) MacKinnon. It will be important to find depth throughout our lineup. We tried to put a premium on the versatility of players to create this lineup.”

Seattle’s roster is a mixture of veterans and young talent. The player with the most experience is Giordano, who spent 15 years with the Calgary Flames. The 38-year old veteran is looking forward to a fresh start with a new team. “It’s a pretty cool experience for all of us,” Giordano told NHL.com. “Most years you come back to a team, there’s 13, 14 guys that you played with the year before. This year, none of us have played together.”

Former Edmonton Oiler forward Eberle said training camp was much different than other teams he played on and it came with an added level of excitement. “All the guys were here earlier than I’ve seen groups on other teams come in,” he said. “We were all here two weeks in advance of camp. That bonding was huge.” Former Philadelphia Flyers general manager Russ Farwell said the Kraken wasted no time getting their name out in the community. “The city is really excited,” said Farwell, who runs the major junior Seattle Thunderbirds club. “They have done a wonderful job of marketing the team. You see their logo everywhere. I think they will make it work.”

Fairweather town
Once the initial novelty of a new NHL franchise wears off, Farwell said the Kraken success will hinge on whether they are able to deliver a winning team. “This is a bit of a fairweather town. It depends on how they do,” Farwell told AFP. Farwell was surprised the Kraken didn’t make more deals around the time of the expansion draft. Botterill said the Kraken, who paid a $650 million expansion fee, made up for a lack of trades by signing free agents.

“Ron (GM Francis) did a great job of overseeing that,” Botterill said. “It is a different environment from when Vegas came in. We didn’t have the same number of trades as Vegas, but we were more aggressive from our free agency standpoint. “It is difficult to predict with an expansion team but with the resources we had, the players we got in free agency and players we got in the expansion draft, we think we are going to be competitive from day one.”

Season ticket holder John Harrison said the Kraken have taken the city by storm. “This city is crazy for the Seattle Seahawks and eventually it is going to be the same thing for Kraken,” said Harrison. “They will have a rabid fan base which will support them and even help them win games.” Harrison said two things working in favor of the Kraken are a downtown rink and Seattle’s reputation as one of the US’s major tech hubs. “Downtown Seattle is growing and getting more pricey. The season ticket base is people who work for Amazon and Google. People in their 30s, living downtown,” he said. – AFP