- Greg Wyshynski is ESPN’s senior NHL writer.
I don’t care if the Seattle Kraken are good or bad. I only care that they’re weird.
The Vegas Golden Knights warped our expectations for how an NHL expansion team should perform in its first season, having leveraged the league’s new advantageous draft rules to maximum compensatory effect. None of us figured the Kraken for a Stanley Cup finalist like the inaugural Knights were, but most felt they’d be better than the .300 points percentage team that entered into action on Wednesday night. Or, at least one with a better team save percentage than the Arizona Coyotes.
Their lack of early success has been … kind of a bummer? Which is a shame, because the first season of an expansion team should be a joyous journey of small victories, embarrassing mishaps and those promising moments that portend a brighter future. It’s like freshman year at college: a time to take chances and explore new things, knowing there’s plenty of time to eventually earn that degree while silently praying that none of that exploration ends up on social media.
Even with their success, Vegas got bizarre. They had that entire arena experience, with the neon-lit drum line, the Medieval Times (dinner and tournament!) pregame show. They had that “Golden Misfits” vibe that fueled them. Their winning and their weirdness made them cult sensations in a crowded entertainment market.
Like anything that achieves cult status, there also cult heroes. For the Knights, it was Marc-Andre Fleury: King of the Misfits, the beaming smile behind the goalie mask on billboards and someone whose play thrilled local hockey fans and helped create new ones.
Every expansion team has them. So who are those cult heroes for the Kraken after just over a month of existence?
“There are so many Brandon Tanev jerseys here, you wouldn’t believe it,” said John Barr, the Seattle fan behind Sound of Hockey.
Why has Tanev, a seven-year veteran previously with the Winnipeg Jets and the Pittsburgh Penguins, become the most popular player on the Kraken?
“There are a whole bunch of reasons, actually,” said Patrick M, a Kraken fan found on Twitter at @generationxwing. “It all starts with the ‘oh my god, I’ve seen a ghost’ photo. That’s what first endeared him.”
Tanev’s cult status started with the headshot. The one he took while playing for the Penguins, bulging his eyes widely with a concerned look on his face. His explanation at the time: “I did actually see a ghost. It was walking behind the gentleman who was taking our pictures. Kinda caught me off guard.”
When Tanev was drafted by the Kraken, he was one of the players who showed up in Seattle for the roster unveiling. The photo was shown to the crowd, to rolling laughter.
“We’re a quirky set of people up here. Anyone that looks like he’s a member of a grunge band in a mugshot is going to endear himself quickly,” Patrick M said.
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