The NHL’s newest expansion team, the Seattle Kraken, was announced in 2019. Since then, it’s been a long, winding road to the draft, filled with speculation and genuine, budding excitement from new and old hockey fans alike. With the stress of COVID-19, an abbreviated season and mostly fan-less games, the excitement of Seattle’s roster was something for fans to look forward to.
As the expansion draft drew closer, fans reflected on the past season and weighed point percentages, playoff performances and cap space, anticipating first the protected lists, and then, the revealing of the drafted players themselves. The draft was set to be one of the most exhilarating events of the year, but a barrage of leaked draft picks left fans with little to look forward to on the eve of July 21.
The NHL was expecting to be the first to know of the Kraken’s final picks when the finalized list was due by 10 a.m. ET on July 21 — however, Daily Faceoff Insider Frank Seravalli spilled the beans to his twitter followers on the UFA signings of Jamie Oleksiak (DAL) and Adam Larsson (EDM) at 8:58 am ET. From there, it was a tidal wave of leaked draft picks, with the likes of Pierre LeBrun from The Athletic and Chris Johnston from Sportsnet, among others, getting in on the action.
By noon, the magic had worn off the NHL’s big night. The major storylines that had thrown hockey-twitter into a frenzy and guaranteed fans’ viewership of the event were moot. Beloved Montreal Canadiens goaltender Carey Price would escape from the clutches of the Kraken, Gabriel Landeskog would be left unsigned from the Colorado Avalanche, and Vladimir Tarasenko and his $7.5 million dollar cap hit would remain on the St. Louis Blues.
The lack of collective drama and frenetic energy from fans anxiously awaiting the draft meant that, for some, there was no reason to tune into the live broadcast. After all, if they knew which player would don the Kraken jersey from their favorite team ahead of time, then what was the point of watching it unfold live? The air of suspense had dissipated.
It’s not just fans who lost out on the excitement and anticipation of the draft — ESPN and the NHL had the wind taken out of their sails too.
Earlier this season, the NHL inked their first TV rights deal with ESPN in 17 years, their most recent contract with the superstar sports network ending in 2004. The Seattle Kraken expansion draft was ESPN’s first big production with the NHL, and promised a look into what a $2.8 billion-dollar TV deal with the NHL will look like for fans watching.
There’s a real, economic effect to losing fan interest. Sports revenue is determined significantly through TV rights, and the value of TV rights is decided by audience size. With the reason for people to tune into the draft spoiled ahead of time, I wonder if ratings fell below expected values for this landmark event. Combined with the NHL’s real concern for recouping the lost revenue from 2020, every ounce of TV and streaming viewership, fan participation and consumption of league events matters in this flat cap era for the NHL.
It’s undeniable that the leaked draft picks led to an underwhelming (though still enjoyable; I’m looking at you, Licorice the Octopus) fan experience of the Seattle Kraken expansion draft. But should Frank Seravalli be blamed for the tidal wave of leaked draft picks that potentially ruined the Kraken’s big day? Well, not really. While not every reporter or journalist is comfortable leaking confidential information, I have to assume that the understanding between Seravalli and the other reporters who also leaked draft picks and their sources was that they were going to share the information publicly. He was doing his job — and if the NHL is upset about insiders within their ranks willingly giving out sensitive information to reporters who will ‘break the news’ to the public, then that’s an issue the NHL will have to sort out internally.
The expansion draft may have been over before it even began, but the Seattle Kraken’s starting roster is anything but decided, which leaves fans with something new to look forward to.
Ten trades were announced in 2017 for the Vegas Golden Knights expansion draft, while the Seattle Kraken announced zero, intending instead to flip certain players after the trade freeze thaws on Thursday. For fans, the most exciting time is to look ahead to the entry draft on July 2 and free agency, as the whole of the league seeks to revamp their rosters with trades.
While the question of ‘who will be drafted’ by Seattle was answered early, the question of who will remain in Seattle for their opening night game against their new rivals, the Vancouver Canucks, on October 23 remains a mystery — for now, at least.