Been there, done that: Vegas Golden Knights have advice for Seattle Kraken

NHL News

Congratulations! You’ve been acquired by the Seattle Kraken, the NHL’s newest expansion team.

So now what?

Obviously you need time to process this life change. You could probably use a little help, too.

Luckily, we have a handbook prepared to assist you in all matters of expansion-team acclimation, prepared by some experts on the subject who recently experienced something quite similar.

Presenting the Vegas Golden Knights’ guide to life on an NHL expansion franchise!

Featuring Jonathan Marchessault, an original Knight from 2017-18 who remains an integral part of their team: “When I knew I was going to Vegas, I was kind of shocked to hear the news. But I figured I would probably get more ice time and probably get a bigger role there.”

And featuring Deryk Engelland, a member of the inaugural Knights who is now retired from the NHL: “From Day 1, everyone was on the same page. We knew we had to bond as a team.”

Here’s their life advice for the expansion newbies in Seattle — and perhaps anyone who finds themselves on a newly formed team.


You have a “clean slate”

Most of the players Seattle selected have multiple years of NHL experience, some of them with multiple teams. But their stat lines are essentially set to zero when they walk into the Kraken room, just as they were when the Golden Knights hit the ice for the first time.

“It’s a different vibe. There are obviously older guys and there are younger guys, but everyone comes in with a clean slate,” Marchessault said.

It’s not as if reputations don’t travel with the players. Mark Giordano still has a Norris Trophy. Jordan Eberle is still a 30-goal scorer. Yanni Gourde is still the anchor of the most successful checking line in the playoffs for the past two postseasons, winning the Stanley Cup twice with the Lightning.

“Obviously, you had your faces of the franchise. You had Flower and people like that,” Engelland said of goalie Marc-Andre Fleury. “But we were all coming into a new team. You don’t have to take Mark Stone’s ice time, to use an example. You gotta create your own. Everyone is on equal ground, and you slotted in based on how you played.”

He gives the example of William Karlsson. He started out the Golden Knights’ inaugural season as a third-line center. His ice time quickly grew as he worked hard and found chemistry with Reilly Smith and Marchessault. By the end of the season, he was “Wild Bill” Karlsson and had netted 43 goals.

“You have a fresh start to show them what you can do,” Engelland said. “Maybe you couldn’t crack that other time. Now, you have fresh eyes on you.”


Elder statesmen should act that way

Engelland was in a unique position with the Knights. He was 35 years old and entering his ninth NHL season. But he also lived in Las Vegas, which made him and his wife unofficial ambassadors for the newbies.

“I talked to some guys about where to live. But it was more the girls reaching out to my wife. As you know, guys are not big planners. Guys were ready to show up and just figure it out from there. But their families wanted to know about schools and restaurants and stuff.”

At the moment, there are only two players over 30 on the Kraken’s roster. Given their salary-cap space and positional needs, one expects that will change in the coming weeks. However many veterans they sign, they’ll need to work on bringing the team together, as Engelland and the veteran players felt with the Golden Knights.

This type of leadership also falls on the coach. Marchessault recalls Gerard Gallant helping to foster the leadership group of the nascent team.

“I remember Gerard took the six players with the most games played and gave them alternate [captaincies] for home and away,” he said.

Of course, it helps if one of your veteran leaders is a charismatic star.

“When you have a guy around like Fleury, I mean, he’s been around,” Marchessault said. “He’s a future Hall of Famer. It’s like every time we did something, we’d say, ‘Hey Flower, is this OK for you?’ and if he says ‘no’ then we’re going to change it. So we were lucky enough to have that much experience and that many Cup rings. It’s hard to argue with a guy like that.”

(Could have been you, Carey Price …)


Go on a scavenger hunt

Over the years, the Golden Knights became famous for their team bonding, whether it was playing Mario Kart in the hotel during the Stanley Cup playoffs or having a “fun committee” in the Edmonton playoff bubble last summer.

That started in their inaugural season, from the moment everyone met. Marchessault said that after everyone says their hellos, it’s important to move on to the next important phase of teammate bonding.

“The first thing you gotta do, in the first few days, is grab some party buses, do a tour of the city, grab a few beers with the boys, and that’s the best team bonding that you can do as a team,” he said.

For the Knights, that took the form of an all-day scavenger hunt around their new city.

The scavenger hunt was booked through a company in Las Vegas that organizes the races. The players met at the rink and then traveled to the scenic overlook at Red Rock Canyon, where the race started.

There were four teams. Each one received an envelope with a clue inside; when deciphered, it led them to the “Welcome to Vegas” sign. That’s where the teams eventually arrived to collect the next clue, after they all made pit stops at the nearest gas stations to load up with beer on the buses. (Each bus had a driver, so the players could … bond.)

The race took around six hours. Obviously, that was very physically taxing on the new Knights, so they did what anyone would have done in this situation: rented out the entire Bellagio spa, hopped inside their hot tubs and continued drinking.

Then it was on to a team dinner. Then it was off to the Vegas clubs.

Granted, some of this might be difficult to reproduce in Seattle. But the details aren’t the point.

“It might be my favorite day of all time in pro hockey,” Marchessault said.

The hunt was in line with Engelland’s best advice to the new Kraken players: Bond as a team, by any means necessary.

“That was our No. 1 thing,” he said. “We didn’t expect to make the playoffs. We didn’t expect to go to the Stanley Cup Final. But we knew if we wanted to compete, we had to bond as a team and get together as quick as possible.”

In fairness, we didn’t think the Golden Knights were going to the Stanley Cup Final, either.

“Yeah, no one did,” Engelland said with a laugh.


Shatter all the cliques

Walking into an NHL dressing room can be like walking into the cafeteria in high school. Everyone has their friends and their inside jokes. Every table has a clique. If you’re the new kid in school … well, sometimes you just want to take your tray and eat your PB&J out in the hallway instead.

“We’ve been on other teams. It gets that way. And we didn’t want it to get that way for us,” Engelland said about cliques within the team.

There are some time-tested tricks for trying to amalgamate a locker room and avoid cliques. For example, placing players’ lockers next to teammates they might not know as well, which was something the Knights adopted.

But from their first activities together, the goal was to get everyone comfortable by taking them out of their comfort zone.

Marchessault said he knew four or five players on the initial Vegas roster, which made it an easier transition. Smith was his teammate in Florida and has been his linemate with the Golden Knights, for example. But during the scavenger hunt, they were split up onto different teams. Ditto other players who had established relationships.

“It’s a long season. You’ll have plenty of time to get to know your teammates. But that first bonding experience, at first sight in the first few weeks, is great,” he said. “It’s pretty cool. You see everybody showing up and showing their personality. Normally when you’re on a team, you get to know one or two guys that were [added in the offseason]. You don’t get to know 30 guys right away. It’s pretty different.”

The key, according to Engelland?

“Everyone was invited to everything,” Engelland said. “Single guys. Married guys. Guys with kids. Everyone was invited. For the majority of the time, the guys or their families always made it.

“I don’t think there were many times that five guys went out together. It was like the team went out together all the time. There was just a tight bond that year that helped us get going from the start.”


Let revenge be your fuel

As a member of the Seattle Kraken, it obviously means your team didn’t feel compelled to protect you from becoming a member of the Seattle Kraken.

And that probably grinds your gears a bit.

It did for Marchessault, when the Florida Panthers exposed him and Smith to the Golden Knights.

“I was coming off a 30-goal year, so for me it was surprising,” Marchessault said. “I thought I should have been protected by Florida. But it just happens. That’s the way it went.”

So it wasn’t “Hey, I had to uproot my entire life and move to a new city” rage. That’s part of the business, from trades to free agency.

“I don’t think it was coming to the new team. It was more, ‘You guys protected this guy and not me,'” Engelland said. “A lot of the guys wanted to stick it to their old team. We got their best those nights. They wanted to show them all what a mistake they made.”

This is what made the “Golden Misfits” shine in their first season. That they were the castoffs from their teams, imps who were locked out of hockey heaven. That indignation became their motivation.

“You want to prove to them that they made a mistake,” Marchessault said. “A lot of that group in our first year, we did that. We showed that the team did not make a good decision. It made us successful.”

Oh, and let’s not forget that with revenge comes financial incentive to make the key play that allows a teammate or coach get one over on the team that discarded them.

“There was definitely money on the board. Let’s be honest,” Marchessault said.

play

1:28

Sue Bird welcomes the Seattle Kraken to the city. Kraken select Jordan Eberle from the Islanders.


Finally, enjoy the challenge

It’s hard to remember this now, but the initial projections for the Golden Knights in Year 1 were not kind. Hockey fans’ brains were trained to believe that an expansion team needed to be horrible in its first season. The roster looked like, at best, one where assets could be flipped at the trade deadline. Even the players weren’t high on their chances.

“I remember I thought we were going to win 10 games in the entire season. Heck, I was surprised we even won the first game,” Marchessault said.

That was before we realized the NHL finally decided with its new expansion-draft rules: “Hey, we have teams paying between $500-650 million to gain entrance into our club, maybe we give them a few good players for the effort?”

Hence Marchessault is more bullish on his team’s new division rival.

“I think they’re going to have a good team. They’re probably going to make the playoffs,” he said. “But I think some of the teams when we came in took us lightly. Maybe now the teams are going to be more ready.”

The Golden Knights probably did set the bar a little higher for the Kraken by, you know, playing for the Stanley Cup in the first season of their existence.

“Yeah, I think so too,” Marchessault said with a laugh. “There may be no surprise factor for them anymore.”

His best advice to the Kraken?

“I know what’s going to happen to them. They’re all coming into the same situation,” Marchessault said. “Between teammates and the wives and the family room, it was honestly such a fun environment to be in. Everyone is going to be really nice. Honestly, it’s going to be nicer than any situation that they’ve ever seen in the NHL.

“Just enjoy it. Enjoy the challenges that you face as a team. Because there will be a lot of them.”


Jersey Foul of the week

This FrankenJersey is a holdover from the Stanley Cup Final but deserves its day in the spotlight. Perhaps they’re just huge Julien Brisebois fans? Or just fans of hedging their bets? Whatever the case … pick a team, will ya?


Three NHL draft prospects I like

1. Mason McTavish. I’ve mentioned McTavish here before, mainly because The Draft Analyst said that “violence and aggression are just two of several commonplaces in your typical McTavish shift.” Which, naturally, is endearing. He’s earned comparisons to everyone from Ryan O’Reilly to Nazem Kadri. He’ll forever be endearing to me for doing his draft media availability outdoors in an Ottawa windstorm because his Wi-Fi stunk.

2. Kent Johnson. The rags-to-riches story of the draft. He never played for Team Canada. He was drafted by the Everett Silvertips at 208th overall in the 2017 WHL Bantam Draft, and ended up dominating the British Columbia Hockey League with the Trail Smoke Eaters through the 2019-20 season, when he had 101 points in 52 games. He goes to the University of Michigan, has an outstanding freshman season and then, boom, he’s likely a lottery pick. Add some heartfelt songs, and this story is a Disney musical.

3. Zachary L’Heureux. If you asked me which potential first-rounder I wanted to watch in the NHL the most, the answer is Zachary L’Heureux. He hits. He fights. He’s “a heel.” He’s “a loose cannon with a cannon shot.” He’s the kind of total hot head whom opponents in the QMJHL would target in the first period in the hopes that he’d snap and take a misconduct penalty. The scouting reports make him sound like if Martin Riggs took up hockey. Minus, you know, the heroism and the mullet.


Winners and losers of the week

Winner: Cap space

The Seattle Kraken drafted a roster meant to be competitive but also one that leaves open a tremendous amount of cap space. True to their analytics dogma, they left big names with big cap hits in the expansion pool while opting for cost-effective options and cap flexibility. It’s a choice, and perhaps the right one under a flat salary cap.

Loser: Leverage

If we’re to believe GM Ron Francis — and why wouldn’t we? — the Kraken were unable to exert the same kind of pressure on the 30 other teams as the Golden Knights did in 2017. They planned better, having more time to do so. A couple of them used the Knights as a safe harbor for trades, to avoid exposing players to Seattle. And, overall, they smartened up to the concept of not making silly trades out of expansion worries.

“Last time, general managers were more willing to overpay to protect certain assets. This time, they learned from that and they weren’t willing to make the mistakes that they made last time,” Francis said.

Winner: Chris Driedger

In 2017, he had played three games in the NHL. He didn’t appear in an NHL game from Oct. 28, 201,6 through Nov. 30, 2019. But after one career year with the Florida Panthers, where he posted a .927 save percentage in 23 games and outplayed Sergei Bobrovsky, he’s now likely the starting goalie for the Seattle Kraken. What a ride.

Loser: Carey Price

Nothing really good came from Price waiving his no-movement clause to be placed in the expansion draft. The Kraken’s refusal to select him underscored his albatross of a contract and his rickety health. Canadiens fans who had praised him to the heavens two weeks ago in the playoffs were now rationalizing why it would be good to move on from him.

OK, one good thing came from it: Jake Allen is still in Montreal, so when Price misses time next season or needs someone to pick up his regular-season slack, Allen is there.

Winner: Marshawn Lynch

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1:21

Former Seattle Seahawks star Marshawn Lynch announces the Kraken’s pick of Calle Jarnkrok.

The expansion-draft announcer who officially changed the name of Calle Jarnkrok to “The Boy Boy Calle Tho.”

Loser: Minnesota Wild

I always held a grudge against the 13-year, $98 million contracts that the Wild gave Zach Parise and Ryan Suter on July 4, 2012, because they ruined a perfectly good day at the pool for me. So keep that in mind when I say that, in the end, the gambit didn’t work.

The young class of prospects who drew them to Minnesota didn’t pan out. They made eight postseason appearances with the Wild but never advanced past the second round and never reached the second round after the 2014-15 season. In the end, their contracts are a pox on the Minnesota salary cap, while they were a disruption in the dressing room. But for an alternate perspective, Chip Scoggins explains why it actually did work.

Winner: Nolan Patrick

If it was ever going to happen for the 22-year-old center, it probably wasn’t going to happen in Philly. Not with a general manager who didn’t draft him. Not with a coach who didn’t play him more than 13:17 per game. After being traded to Vegas, he’s reunited with Kelly McCrimmon, who owned his junior team, and will get a chance to be the center many still believe he could become — perhaps with Mark Stone on his right side.

Loser: Philadelphia Flyers

I hesitate to put the Flyers here because I’m a fan of the Ryan Ellis trade. They never replaced Matt Niskanen last season; Ellis fills that hole and then some. But the Seattle draft was an ideal time to get either Jakub Voracek ($8.25 million average annual value through 2023-24) or James van Riemsdyk ($7 million AAV through 2022-23) off their cap. And instead the Kraken drafted Carsen Twarynski.


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