When the Seattle Kraken made their expansion draft picks, the goaltending was intriguing, but not very experienced. Sure, Chris Driedger was coming off a great year in Florida and Vitek Vanecek bailed out Washington a number of times, but neither have a ton of NHL games to their credit. Enter Philipp Grubauer.
A Vezina Trophy finalist this past season, Grubauer has signed a six-year deal with a cap hit of $5.9 million with Seattle, making him the unquestioned starter for Day 1 of the franchise. The erstwhile Colorado netminder is coming off a sensational season with the Avs where he posted a sparkling 1.95 goals-against average and .922 save percentage. Colorado, a Stanley Cup contender, disappointed in the playoffs and Grubauer was just decent during the run that ended at the hands of the Vegas Golden Knights in the second round – but overall you cannot complain about his season.
Grubauer has an OK frame, as he is listed at 6-foot-1. Having said that, he tends to make himself bigger in the crease and based on the fact he had seven shutouts in 40 games last season, it’s fair to say shooters weren’t seeing a lot of daylight behind him.
Ultimately, the biggest question is one of upside: Can the 29-year-old lead a team on a long playoff run? Depending on your expectations of the Kraken’s maiden season, that may not be a consideration for a few years, as Seattle cannot assume they will catch fire like the Vegas Golden Knights did in their first campaign.
What Grubauer does give the Kraken is a legitimate starter who can be leaned on for big starts and with six years on the deal, he’s a goalie they can build around. We know Seattle will have a very good defense corps right off the hop and the offensive elements are beginning to come together with the signings of Jaden Schwartz and Alex Wennberg (though a true No. 1 center has eluded the franchise so far), so projection-wise, the Kraken look like a team that will be tough to score on and will likely play a lot of low-scoring games next season.
Of course, adding Grubauer gives GM Ron Francis a little more leeway in terms of making other deals. Driedger is on a nice and friendly contract that sees him owed $3.5 million in each of the next three seasons while Vanecek is a restricted free agent with arbitration rights next summer. Either could be moved for help up front and it feels like the vibes point toward Vanecek being the bait.
Nabbing Grubauer is a pretty nice coup for Francis overall, as the German was the top netminder available on the free market. It says a lot about the confidence that players and their agents already have in the Kraken and it’s also a pretty tough pill to swallow if you’re an Avalanche fan – Colorado now has to find a starting netminder in order to make another run at that title, something that is definitely a ‘now’ proposition, especially with the re-signing of power forward captain Gabriel Landeskog.
So the Kraken have assets to move and a hot commodity under contract. Not a bad first day of free agency for Francis and his team.
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