If you think of every NHL season as a zero-sum game, one team goes home happy and 31 squads can consider their campaign a failure.
The 2022-23 Seattle Kraken are an excellent counterpoint to that way of thinking.
Seattle entered its second season of existence with limited expectations, but put together a fanbase-building campaign that saw them defeat the defending Stanley Cup champions and push an excellent Dallas Stars team to the brink.
Along the way, they played excellent fundamental hockey and showed off the kind of roster depth that would normally take a half decade to assemble.
The Kraken may not be hoisting the Stanley Cup in June, but their season was an unmitigated success.
Now the question becomes how far Seattle can carry its momentum forward.
The good news for Seattle is that Carson Soucy, Daniel Sprong, Ryan Donato, and Martin Jones are their biggest impending free agents. No one in that quartet is irreplaceable for a team that projects to have $18.33 million in cap space.
Some of that money needs to go to restricted free agents, most notably Vince Dunn, but this group is a good place financially. After 2023-24, Jordan Eberle will be a free agent and Matthew Beniers and Eeli Tolvanen will need new deals — but the team has almost as much projected cap room ($42.07 million) as contract commitments ($45.43 million) for 2024-25.
Keeping the band together doesn't project to be a problem and there are some team-friendly contracts already on the books. Jared McCann's stands out, as he'll be making $5 million through 2026-27, despite producing at an elite level since joining the Kraken — and taking it up a notch in 2022-23.
If keeping this group in Seattle won't be a problem, the question becomes whether they're good enough to take the next step. Despite their strong playoff showing, that is a valid concern.
Seattle's reliance on depth scoring is unusual for a contender, and there's no doubt they would look more dangerous if they bolstered the top of their roster. Beniers and Tye Kartye are the only players younger than 24 on a veteran-heavy roster, so current players rising to the level of blue-chip stars will be hard to count on.
Because the team has come along so quickly, they won't have a parade of top-five picks to address that. Shane Wright leads a middle-of-the-pack prospect pool, and is the team's best chance of finding a star from within.
The goaltending situation is also iffy, as Philipp Grubauer's strong postseason performance doesn't erase the fact he has an .891 save percentage in two regular seasons with the Kraken. Chris Driedger just lost a year to injury and it's unclear how much he can help.
It's easy to argue that there are some missing elements in Seattle, but the team has the resources to get what it needs, whether that's cap room or a horde of picks that includes 12 selections in the first three rounds of the next three drafts.
As constructed, the Kraken have what it takes to be a team that's hard to play for the foreseeable future. If they take a swing in net — or at a free agent class following the 2023-24 season that could be stacked, they could become more than that.
The Vegas Golden Knights' blueprint of surprising early playoff success, followed by hunting for stars to solidify its contender status, seemed like it was going to be out of reach for the Kraken when they entered the league. Vegas looked like a expansion franchise unicorn rather than a model anyone else could replicate.
Although Seattle have fallen just short of the Golden Knight's early success, they seem to be on approximately the same track, which is a heck of an accomplishment.