Last season, the Seattle Kraken reached heights that almost nobody else had ever seen before.
They made the Stanley Cup Playoffs in just their second season out of expansion, notched a historic upset of the Colorado Avalanche, and nearly wiped out the Dallas Stars in seven games, one win short of the conference final.
They did all of this without a captain. All signs point to the possibility it will continue that way for the 2023-24 season. Head coach Dave Hakstol said the Kraken will move forward with no captain, at least for the time being, for the season and continue with a “leadership by committee” structure with four players wearing an alternate captain’s “A” on their jersey, designated as “assistant captains” by Hakstol.
“We’ll continue with the same group we have right now, with the assistant captains, and continue that way into this year,” said Hakstol.
Forwards Jordan Eberle, Jaden Schwartz, Yanni Gourde, and defenseman Adam Larsson are serving in the assistant roles, named shortly prior to the start of last season.
It’s typical for an NHL team to have a captain at the top of its leadership corps within the dressing room, but far from mandatory. In addition to the Kraken, five teams – Anaheim, Arizona, Calgary, Chicago, and Philadelphia – all have vacancies in the role.
The difference though is all five of those teams missed the postseason last year, and all except the Flames were in rebuilding mode. The Kraken were the exception, knitting a tapestry of leadership that has combined for three Stanley Cups, 299 playoff games, and experience in inarguably the most defining game of early Kraken history, beating the defending Stanley Cup champ Avalanche in Denver for a game seven victory. They have Matty Beniers, a budding superstar, as their top center and perhaps a captain in the waiting. He is just 20 years old and entering his second full season however, with still more runway in the meantime to cover for the committee approach.
“I think everyone’s taken a big step, with the buy in, how we need to play, and play for one another,” Schwartz told 93.3 KJR-FM. “It’s a good supporting cast for everybody. We’ve got a great group of guys. Everyone’s a little bit different in their own way, but for the leadership group, it makes it easy when you have so many guys bought in, playing the right way, wanting to be here, and enjoying it.”
Two of those three Cups among the letter-wearing committee belong to Gourde, who was a linchpin forward for the Tampa Bay Lightning with two championships between 2020-21. He was a near point per game player in the playoffs last year (13 points in 14 games), scored an overtime winner in game one at Dallas in the second round, and evolved into an anchor for one of the most effective lines in the postseason, flanked by Eeli Tolvanen and Oliver Bjorkstrand.
“I’m enjoying this role but to me I’m just going out there and trying do my best and trying to get better every single day, go on the ice and lead by example,” Gourde told 93.3 KJR-FM.
Jordan Eberle, who is in a contract year, is still seeking his first Stanley Cup title but has been to the second round or deeper in three of the last four years. Larsson, who mathematically has the least experience out of the group, anchors the top defensive pairing with Vince Dunn in a shutdown role and eats heavy minutes. Schwartz, who won a Cup with the St. Louis Blues four years ago, is 5-1 lifetime in game seven situations.
The immediate revelation in this year’s training camp follows the adage, “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”
“We’ve got a lot of faith in the core group,” said Hakstol. “It starts with the assistant captains, but it goes deeper than that as well. There are other guys in the dressing room that are involved in that and are important in that. We’ve got really good some young players who are good people, that understand the game and the process, that also in their own way can also push and lead.”