A sea monster worth slaying? Colorado Avalanche-Kraken rivalry

SEATTLE, WASHINGTON - NOVEMBER 13: Cale Makar #8 of the Colorado Avalanche skates against the Seattle Kraken during the first period at Climate Pledge Arena on November 13, 2023 in Seattle, Washington. (Photo by Steph Chambers/Getty Images)
SEATTLE, WASHINGTON - NOVEMBER 13: Cale Makar #8 of the Colorado Avalanche skates against the Seattle Kraken during the first period at Climate Pledge Arena on November 13, 2023 in Seattle, Washington. (Photo by Steph Chambers/Getty Images) /

Are the Seattle Kraken the next big rival of the Colorado Avalanche? Or a passing opponent for the moment? The question isn’t entirely answered by the numbers in box scores over a season or two. Yes, the Avs won a cup in the 2021-2022 campaign, while the Kraken’s maiden voyage into league play ended in a 27-49-6 record good enough for last place in the Pacific Division. The reversal in fortunes last year, which shocked no small portion of Avs Faithful cut deep. Any loss in a seven-game series will do that to you, defending champs or otherwise.

Still, one recent playoff heartbreak usually doesn’t result in a blood feud.  Most of the time rivalries are forged over years of bitter matchups.  Take the Avalanche vs Red Wings.  From the mid-nineties to the early-2000’s, there was scarcely a more fierce head-to-head in all of sports. So storied that ESPN made a documentary about it.  Six playoff series all time, split three to three, or 17-17 in individual games. Talk about dead even.  The 2008 sweep by the Wings and the league realignment of 2012-13, which moved Detroit to the East seemingly changed the rivalry forever.

If a singular playoff exit doesn’t raise a foe into the category of eternal enemy,  what does it take?  I would argue it’s the larger storylines that play out off the ice; the offseason signings being a major factor.  The Kraken’s expansion draft was one thing.  Everyone ends up losing someone to the new club.  For the Avs, the expansion casualty was Joonas Donskoi. But the gut punch that surprised Colorado was the apparent coup of Seattle signing former Colorado Avalanche netminder Philipp Grubauer just prior to their inaugural season.  This was easily the biggest get for the newly-formed franchise.  Seattle also briefly courted Avalanche captain Gabe Landeskog – a scenario in which the Avs lost both of them is the stuff of my nightmares. Grubauer was a Vezina contender with a loaded team that maybe felt slighted by Colorado’s contract offer.  Grubauer’s revenge was delayed a year, and no doubt blunted considerably by an Avalanche Cup win that had to feel like vindication to the front office.  The Avs chose to extend both Landeskog and Cale Makar in 2021, to 6 and 8-year deals respectively.

The animosity of a former #1 goaltender might be significant, but it’s likely something that boils beneath the surface.  The real dislike from fanbases at large comes from big, violent hits in games.  Last year’s playoff series saw more than one injury result from rough play.  Cale Makar smashed Seattle’s Jared McCann into the boards in Game 4 and justifiably got a suspension for Game 5.  This was a bad hit, by a great player.  Still, if you gauge the reaction by Kraken fans, it seems they may mark #8 as their most hated player for years to come.  A chorus of angry boos showers the Calder, Norris, and Conn Smyth winner every time he touches a puck in Seattle. Furthermore, from an Avs perspective, the Kraken retaliated, exacting their pound of flesh.  Seattle’s Jordan Eberle committed an absolutely egregious hit on Colorado’s Andrew Cogliano in game six – a hit by the way, which Eberle received no league discipline.  Even after it was understood that the hit broke Cogs’ neck.

The tendency toward bad hits that have led to injury for the Avalanche when the two teams meet has not subsided.  Cogliano was again hurt on a hit from behind in the Nov. 9th loss to Seattle, though he has recovered quickly.  The more concerning injury was sustained by Avs forward Artturi Lehkonen.  Once again, unfortunate action near the boards ended in serious harm.  While Coach Bednar said postgame that he didn’t see it as malicious or intentional – a brush off into the boards by 6’7” Jamie Oleksiak, combined with Lehky skating at speed was enough to create brutal impact.  Again, it is a neck issue, and Artturi has been placed on LTIR by the team.

At this point, both fanbases are seemingly frothing at the mouth for different reasons.  The third and final meeting for the regular season between the two took place on Nov. 17th and ended in a 5-1 victory for the Avs.  The boos still cascaded down on Cale in Climate Pledge Arena.  On social media ( where we know rational and cogent thoughts are shared by all ) the discourse was ugly.  Support on both sides is throwing out insults of the ‘ do you even watch hockey’ variety.  Mutual disgust seems to be growing to tangible levels, but will it reach legendary loathing status?

I for one believe all the ingredients are there: former stars turned foes, a history of violent play that fuels a cycle of revenge, meaningful playoff tilts, and finally a groundswell of fan-on-fan social media sniping.  Perhaps some Avs Faithful would say that Seattle needs the Avalanche rivalry to feel relevant.  Yet, I would remind them that once upon a time Colorado was the young franchise finding a reason to light that competitive fire. If the Kraken and their supporters want to make the Colorado Avalanche their Goliath, I say we welcome it.  One of the luxuries of having a great team to root for is the belief that the  Avalanche will soon enough bury our rivals in goals.