As if the grind to franchise launch hasn’t been sufficiently stout, the Kraken’s toil grew a bit more Thursday. The release of the 2020-21 NHL schedule of 82 games shows a five-match road trip in eight days that precedes the home opener at Climate Pledge Arena (not Climate Change Arena, as Commissioner Gary Bettman said Wednesday) against the Vancouver Canucks Oct. 23.
Though not totally unexpected, it makes clear that the complicated arena build-out, delayed by the pandemic, will have done no favors for a fledging team that has never played together.
The trip begins Oct. 12 with the regular-season opener at Las Vegas, the highly successful expansion partner with a four-year head start and a 38-28 playoff record. It’s the team against which all Kraken personnel and financial decisions will be compared and contrasted. The game is part of a doubleheader that represents the first opening-night telecasts of hockey on ESPN, the league’s new and long-sought primary broadcast partner.
Next is Nashville (Oct. 14), then Columbus (Oct. 16), Philadelphia (Oct. 18) and New Jersey (Oct. 19). That means the Kraken will get to play in every time zone but their own.
The anticipated rivalry with the Canucks goes north on Dec. 28 and renews in Seattle Jan. 1 of the new year. The series’ fourth and final match is in Vancouver April 26. The Canucks will play four-game series with Pacific Division rivals Los Angeles, San Jose, Las Vegas and Calgary. The other two division rivals, Edmonton and Anaheim, are three-game sets.
February has only two games because, in addition to the All-Star break, the NHL is holding open the possibility of returning its players to the Winter Olympics in Beijing. The league and the players association are in negotiations about terms and conditions. The league wanted a decision from the union by Saturday, but the release of the schedule with dates blocked out suggests some progress.
The other schedule unknown is arena completion. During a recent media tour, construction executives spoke confidently about hitting the target, but many finishing details remain to do. The recent increase in COVID-19 cases because of the quicker spread of the Delta variant, not only in Washington but in places where the project may need materials, is a threat to project completion.
Meanwhile, more immediate matters include the first round of the NHL entry draft that begins at 5 p.m. Friday, followed by rounds two through seven Saturday beginning at 8 a.m.
The Kraken has the second pick in the draft’s first round, and No. 3 thereafter. For the first rounder, general manager Ron Francis is speculated to be interested in the University of Michigan’s powerhouse program that has three players from its roster likely to be among the first 10 selections — defenseman Owen Power, center Matthew Beniers and winger Kent Johnson.
Meanwhile the Kraken Friday made its first trade, acquiring Calgary’s fourth-round pick in the draft in exchange for forward Tyler Pitlick, who was selected from the Arizona Coyotes in the expansion draft Wednesday.
The deal serves as a reminder that numerous players among the 30 selected Wednesday are unlikely to be in an opening-night Kraken uniform. The regular-season roster limit is 23, with only 20 active on game day. By the time Francis selects nine young players this weekend, then begins throwing money when the free-agency period opens Wednesday, the roster will be over-run with comings and goings.
Best to hold off stitching a favored name onto to a Kraken sweater just now.