On October 23, 2021, the Seattle Kraken of the National Hockey League (NHL) play their first home game. The result, a 4-2 loss to the Vancouver Canucks, fails to dim the celebratory mood as Seattle welcomes back major league hockey after an absence of nearly 100 years. A crowd of 17,151 turns out at sparkling new Climate Pledge Arena, a $1.2 billion palace built on the footprint of the old Seattle Center Coliseum. Defenseman Vince Dunn scores the first home goal in franchise history late in the first period, and the Kraken take a 2-1 lead in the third period on a goal by captain Mark Giordano before Vancouver rallies.
The Waiting Game
Seattle's first major league team, the Metropolitans, made its mark in hockey history, appearning in three Stanley Cup Finals and winning the Cup in 1917. The Metropolitans enjoyed tremendous fan support, but the franchise was forced to disband in 1924 after its downtown arena was sold and converted into a parking garage.
It would be a long and frustrating wait for another team. The first NHL rejection came in 1967 when the league added six teams, doubling in size, but spurned Seattle. Seven years later, the NHL announced more expansion for the 1976 season and awarded a franchise to Seattle, only to withdraw the offer when Seattle's ownership group failed to come up with the necessary money. In 1992, Bill MacFarland (1932-2011), a minor-league hockey legend with the Seattle Totems, put together a bid that was expected to secure an expansion franchise, but business partner Bill Ackerley -- a reviled name in Seattle sports history -- pulled out of the deal at the last minute, slipping out a back door during a meeting with NHL owners. "He double-crossed us," MacFarland said ("Blending of Board Work …").
In 2017, NHL officials said they would again consider granting Seattle a franchise. On March 1, 2018, a prospective Seattle ownership group led by David Bonderman (b. 1942), Jerry Bruckheimer (b. 1943), and Tod Leiweke (b. 1960) launched a season-ticket drive to gauge interest. The response was overwhelming; more than 32,000 people made deposits in the first 48 hours. Nine months later, on December 4, 2018, the NHL announced it was awarding Seattle an an expansion team. The franchise fee was $650 million, to be split among the NHL's other 31 teams. Leiweke, former CEO of the Seattle Seahawks and Seattle Sounders FC, would serve as president and CEO.
Meet the Kraken
With a franchise in hand, Leiweke and company turned their attention to naming it. ESPN reported that an original list of more than 1,000 potential names was eventually culled to five. The local newspaper conducted a reader poll "that garnered more than 146,144 votes. Though the Seattle Times' poll narrowed it down to Sockeyes and Totems as finalists, Kraken had a strong showing" ("How Seattle's NHL Team ..."). Wrote ESPN's Emily Kaplan: "It's unclear who first suggested Kraken internally, though film producer Jerry Bruckheimer, another part-owner of the team, has used the mythical sea creature in his Pirates of the Caribbean movies. Fans latched on. So did Seattle's branding committee. Around Christmas 2019, the group was all but settled on it" ("How Seattle's NHL Team ..."). On July 20, 2020, came the big reveal: The team would be called the Kraken; the fancifully-named team colors would be deep sea blue, ice blue, boundless blue, shadow blue, and red alert; and the team logo -- an 'S' in shades of blue, with a single tentacle, and a menacing red eye -- would conjure a mysterious beast from the depths of Puget Sound.
Seattle's front office, led by general manager Ron Francis (b. 1963), then went about building the roster. On June 24, 2021, the club hired Dave Hakstol (b. 1968) as its first head coach, and on July 13, the Kraken acquired their first player: Luke Henman, a center who signed a three-year, entry-level contract and began the season in the minor leagues. A week later, the Kraken selected 30 players in the NHL expansion draft. Chief among them were defenseman Mark Giordano, a 15-year NHL veteran; defenseman Jamie Oleksiak, who agreed to five-year, $23 million contract; defenseman Adam Larsson, who signed for four years, $20 million; goaltender Chris Driedger, who agreed to a three-year, $10.5 million deal; centers Morgan Geekie, Yanni Gourde, Calle Jarnkrok, and Colin Blackwell; and wingers Jordan Eberle, Brandon Tanev, Joonas Donskoi, and Mason Appleton.
A week after the expansion draft, the Kraken signed three free agents: goaltender Philipp Grubauer (six years, $35.4 million), and forwards Jaden Schwartz (five years, $27.5 million) and Alex Wennberg (three years, $13.5 million). On August 5, forward Marcus Johansson agreed to a one-year contract ($1.5 million), and on September 11, forward Ryan Donato ($750,000) did likewise.
Into the Season
While construction workers put the finishing touches on Climate Pledge Arena, the Kraken began the season with five consecutive road games, starting on October 12 in Las Vegas against the Vegas Golden Knights. After Vegas jumped ahead 3-0, Ryan Donato scored the first goal in Kraken history midway through the second period. Subsequent goals by Jared McCann and Morgan Geekie tied the score at 3 early in the third period, but Vegas scored just 35 seconds later and held on for a 4-3 victory.
Two nights later, the Kraken recorded their first victory, 4-3 at Nashville. Brandon Tanev scored twice, and McCann and Alex Wennberg each had a goal and an assist. Philipp Grubauer made 27 saves. "It's phenomenal," Grubauer said of the historic win. "It doesn’t only speak for the group, it speaks for the organization and rewards the people that put in the work for two years or longer" ("Kraken Post 1st NHL Victory ..."). The Kraken then lost consecutive games at Columbus (2-1), Philadelphia (6-1), and New Jersey (4-2) before returning to Seattle for the home opener.
A Festive Day
The Kraken's first home date featured a daylong celebation. In the morning, Cammi Granato, a renowned former player and the first female scout in NHL history, raised the Kraken flag at the top of the Space Needle. The Kraken then took to the ice at Climate Pledge Arena for a morning skate, their first opportunity to set foot on home ice. In Fremont, the "Waiting For The Interurban" sculpture was adorned with Kraken gear, as was the statue of Edgar Martinez outside T-Mobile Park. A "KRAKEN NATION" sign was affixed to a bronze of Jimi Hendrix on Capitol Hill. Nearby Dick's Drive-In hosted a Kraken Home Opener Party, with bands playing in the parking lot and poutine (french fries with cheese curds and brown gravy, a Canadian original like hockey) on the menu.
Doors to the arena were opened at 4 p.m., three hours ahead of game time, allowing fans to tour the facility. Wrote NHL.com: "The world's first certified carbon-neutral arena is 740,000 square feet and seats 17,100 hockey fans. The pre-game show is dedicated to everyone, including the fans, who helped bring the franchise to life. Construction workers who helped build Climate Pledge Arena will also be in attendance and honored for their work throughout the pandemic" ("Kraken Home Opener Has Seattle Buzzing"). A chorus of boos was heard when NHL Commissioner Gary Bettmann was introduced, followed by a thunderous ovation after Ann Wilson of Heart sang the national anthem. Local celebrities Sue Bird, Russell Wilson, D K Metcalf, Macklemore, and Bobby Wagner took turns firing up the crowd from a balcony above the south goal.
Game on Ice
The puck was dropped shortly after 7 p.m. The Canucks and Kraken played a back-and-forth first period, and then, with the final seconds ticking away, Seattle got an historic goal from an unlikely source. Wrote Nick Patterson, who chronicled opening day for the Everett Herald: "The lamp is lit! The first goal in Climate Pledge Arena history is scored by Seattle defenseman Vince Dunn. The teams were engaged in a long scrum in the corner just after the Seattle power play expired, and the fans booed the lack of a whistle as Vancouver tried to kill the remainder of the first-period clock. But the puck eventually squirted free, Seattle worked it to Dunn gliding in from the left point, and Dunn wired a shot that beat Vancouver goalie Thatcher Demko to the far-upper corner with just 3.2 seconds remaining in the period. Seattle’s goal song, "Lithium," by yet another Seattle grunge band Nirvana, can barely be heard over the cheers from the fans" ("Kraken's First Home Game ...").
Vancouver scored the only goal in the second period, and the Kraken reclaimed the lead early in the third period on a goal by Mark Giordano. From there it was all Vancouver as the Canucks scored three goals in the final 7 minutes, 8 seconds. Bo Horvat tallied on the power play at 12:52 of the period to tie the score at 2; Conor Garland capitalized on a Kraken turnover to pocket a breakaway goal at 15:58; and after Seattle pulled goalie Philipp Grubauer for an extra attacker, Vancouver's Justin Dowling scored into an empty net to make it 4-2 with a minute left.
The crowd was loud, animated, and fully engaged throughout. Said Giordano in his post-game media session: "It was electric in there, then we got the lead in the third. It stings, there's no other way to put it. It stings to lose the way we did ... You could feel the buzz in the air, the crowd. Everyone was excited" ("Kraken's First Home Game ..."). "That was outstanding," Kraken coach Dave Hakstol said. "It was an amazing atmosphere. The bottom line is, we wanted to reward the group in the stands with a win tonight. So, it's a sour taste walking off the rink and walking out of the rink tonight. That's a part of it, because they were awesome tonight" ("Kraken Inaugural ...").
"In the end, the Canucks stole a 4-2 win," wrote NBC Sports. "That stings, as the Kraken played well, but beyond the result, the team’s first home game was a slam dunk. (Shawn Kemp was in attendance, and would probably agree.) Before player introductions, Tod Leiweke noted that the Kraken — the NHL’s 32nd active franchise — proved viable when they drew 32,000 depositors for tickets. With all that in mind, the Kraken retired the number 32 before participating in their first-ever home game" ("Kraken Open First ...").