SEATTLE — For the players and staff who were around a season ago when the Seattle Kraken were racing to make their debut as an expansion franchise, what happened Thursday felt downright normal.
The Kraken started training camp with a group of players who had been on the ice together before, but were now able to be around each other in the locker room with COVID-19 protocols lifted to start the process of improving on what was a challenging and disappointing first season.
“It’s a lot different,” forward Jaden Schwartz said. “(We’re) more comfortable with each other. More comfortable with the city. Just kind of know the routines and stuff and just getting to know the guys more is the most important thing.”
Thanks to some key offseason additions, the Kraken should be far better than the team that finished last season 27-49-6, including a miserable nine-game losing streak in December and January and a stretch of 11 losses in 12 games in February and March.
It was a season that looked like most expansion seasons for the past 30 years, the debut season from Vegas excluded.
But what Seattle faced was even more difficult. Between health and safety protocols, the unfamiliarity of having never played with each other and the newness of an expansion franchise, nothing about last year’s inaugural training camp felt normal.
And it carried into the season.
“It was hard last year with COVID and everything to kind of get to know each other. Everybody was a little bit scared that you have to miss like three or four weeks if you hang out due to the COVID protocols,” goalie Philipp Grubauer said. “So there was not much team building off the ice. But now everybody knows each other. Everybody feels comfortable and I think that’s a huge part of this.”
The atmosphere for the first day of camp this time around was drastically different. A year ago, fans packed the team’s practice facility with excitement to get a first look at the league’s newest franchise and broke into applause when the first players hit the ice.
There were fans in attendance Thursday but not in the same numbers or exhibiting the same fervor. They seem to be taking the same approach as most that the Kraken need to show they will be better this season before fully jumping on board with a team that on paper should be significantly improved.
“Some of the good things that we did last year don’t really show up in the point totals. So we’ve got to improve every little piece of our game,” coach Dave Hakstol said. “And obviously, we have to have that show itself in the points standings.”
There are plenty of new faces in the Kraken locker room, including Oliver Bjorkstrand, a former Portland Winterhawk, and André Burakovsky. But one of the most important pieces for Seattle is going to be forward Brandon Tanev, who is returning after he missed most of last season with a major knee injury.
Tanev had 15 points in 30 games before suffering a torn ACL on Dec. 18, 2021, against Edmonton. The injury took important energy away from Seattle’s lineup and took away a personality who had quickly become a fan favorite.
Tanev was back on the ice for the start of training camp without restrictions or limitations.
“We’ve all been through it, obviously last year being the first season in Seattle,” Tanev said. “But this year it’s all business right from the get go. I don’t think there’s any time warming up to things. I think we’ve got to get out there, we have to compete, we have to get ready for the season.”