Splish splash, went the Seattle Kraken on the first day of their first-ever NHL free agency period. When the waves of last week’s Expansion Draft calmed into ripples, Seattle had three relatively young goalies in the fold in Chris Driedger, Vitek Vanecek, and Joey Daccord. But the makeup of the team’s goaltending platoon changed dramatically on Wednesday when the Kraken signed the top backstop on the unrestricted free agent market, Philipp Grubauer, to a six-year deal worth north of $35 million.
The 29-year-old Rosenheim, Germany, native was a Vezina Trophy finalist this past season, after putting up outstanding numbers in Colorado. He finished the year with a 30-9-1 record, boasting a 1.95 goals against average and .922 save percentage in 40 games. Those numbers are not an anomaly. Throughout his career, which spans six seasons with the Capitals and three seasons with the Avalanche, his save percentage is an impressive .920 in 214 games. He also won a Stanley Cup with the Capitals in 2018, though he only had a couple of playoff appearances that year, with Braden Holtby getting the vast majority of playing time.
There was plenty of talk prior to the Expansion Draft that the Kraken would select Carey Price and his monster $10.5 million annual cap hit for the next five years. General manager Ron Francis confirmed at the time that he and his staff had seriously considered it, but they ultimately decided it was just too big of an investment. Instead, they went the UFA route to bring in Grubauer, who is four years younger than Price and will cost them $5.9 million against the cap. So, it’s a big contract, but in the context of what Seattle almost had, this is a fair price and term for an elite NHL netminder.
Grubauer is not gigantic by goalie standards at 6-foot-1, 188 pounds, but he plays big in the net. He has quiet feet and reads the play in front of him exceptionally well. With that anticipation, he puts himself in position to make the save just about every time.
“We’re excited to add a goaltender of Philipp’s caliber, especially coming off of a season where he was a finalist for the Vezina Trophy,” Francis said via press release. “He was a part of a Stanley Cup-winning team and has been one of the top goaltenders in the league over the past few seasons, and we’re happy that he chose to join our team.”
Seattle is poised to have a strong blue line in its inaugural season, and with a top-tier netminder playing behind it, this is going to be a hard team against which to score goals. The question remains whether the Kraken will be able to score goals of their own, although they did make a couple more moves on Thursday in adding Jaden Schwartz and Alex Wennberg to address that concern.
Vitek Vanecek traded back to Capitals
Though Francis previously made it sound like he and his staff were very comfortable going into the season with Driedger and Vanecek as their battery, we at Sound Of Hockey had a hunch the team still hoped to add a more veteran goalie either through free agency or trade. Though both of those netminders are promising, it just seemed unlikely that this team would bank so heavily on two players with essentially one full year of NHL experience each and zero years as a true No. 1 starter. Going with that combo was always Plan B.
“We took Vitek Vanacek thinking that he’d be part of our goaltending tandem with Chris Dreidger,” Francis said Wednesday. “I don’t think we expected Grubauer to get to free agency. I think any team would tell you when you’ve got a goaltender that has that experience you’ll sleep a lot better at night.”
The Grubauer signing meant that the Kraken needed to jettison one of their goalies. Driedger just signed a three-year contract and was one of the six players the Kraken trotted out on stage at the Expansion Draft, so they clearly saw him as part of the puzzle. Vanecek would require waivers to get to the AHL, so the Kraken opted to move him and get an asset out of the selection. Remarkably, they are getting a second-round pick in 2023 back from the Capitals, the team from which they snagged him just one week ago.
With Vanecek out, the Kraken still have north of $16 million in cap space. They do need to get Vince Dunn under contract still (we project him in the range of $3 million to $3.5 million), plus perhaps their three other RFA’s, Carsen Twarynski, Dennis Cholowski, and Will Borgen. Those three will likely be on two-way deals, though, so they can be assigned to the AHL and will not count against the cap.
There are likely a lot more moves coming in this condensed offseason, but starting your inaugural campaign with a good blue line, elite goal crease, decent forward group, and more than $10 million in cap space is a pretty good spot for Seattle.
Darren Brown is the Chief Content Officer at Sound Of Hockey and the host, producer, and editor of the Sound Of Hockey Podcast. He is an inconsistent beer league goalie who believes that five players have to make a mistake before the puck gets to him. Follow him on Twitter @DarrenFunBrown or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Kraken let the Caps off the hook between the expansion draft and this. Washington paid a 2nd rounder to basically sit out the draft, then got two seconds in return for the guy who probably would have been picked if they worked out a side deal with the Kraken to protect VV, which they were obviously motivated to do. So the net result for the Capitals is no lost players and an additional 2nd rounder.
*one lost player
Sure, it worked out for the Capitals, but I don’t think Francis or Brian MacLellan were banking on Seattle landing Grubauer. I would have been very comfortable heading into the season with Driedger and Vanicek, but when an opportunity for Grubauer comes along, you make it work.
I just feel like that shows how much teams learned from the Vegas expansion draft. Washington actually kind of finessed the situation.
No one expected Dillon to net two 2nd round picks at age 30 though. That’s a steeper price than what the Caps initially traded for him when he was 28. Pretty unfair to judge Francis with this 20/20 hindsight.
No complaints in adding a player as accomplished and dynamic as Grub, but I too was very stoked and optimistic on a Driedger/VV combo. I understand that the team didn’t think Grub would be available so you can’t go back in time to select a different player in expansion (nor can you know that you could have gotten 2 2nds for Dillon), BUT, I do question if they really HAD to trade VV today, or could they have waited until closer to camp or even during camp to trade him and gotten more value if teams were more desperate or there was a camp injury on a contender… oh well, Kraken got arguable the best goalie tandem in the league- that’s pretty great!
I am a Capitals fan, but I moved to Tacoma a year ago and couldn’t wait to add The Kraken as my Western conference and #2 team.
I don’t think Francis is going about building this roster properly. As a Caps fan, I am very familiar with Gruby and Vanny. I have seen first hand that a goalie is only as good as the team around them. Gruby has been average when he doesn’t have an elite team in front of him, as are most goalies. So, unless you are trotting out a team that can match Colorado’s talent, you are not going to get the same goalie that you saw in Colorado, IMO making this an overpay. Look at Braden Holtby in DC vs Holtby in Vancouver. There is a reason why he looked like a fringe NHL goalie in Vancouver, after a great run in DC.
Francis is putting the cart before the horse here. He should be dumping money into solid center depth and a legit top D pairing. You can never have too many of those types of players and right now this roster has neither.
I hope there are some moves that smooth this out, but this initial roster construction has been pretty bumpy, despite very favorable expansion draft rules.
Trying to use Holtby as a comparison to Grubauer can be done, but only if looked at it correctly.
Holtby had been on the decline for his last two seasons in Washington and then completely fell off a cliff playing in that Canucks defensive system that consistantly allows 40+ shots, with quite a few of them from pretty good angles/positions on the ice.
Grubauer has shown he’s one of the more consistant goalies in the league, even though he certainly did profit from playing in Colorado.
Though, you don’t put up those numbers and performances if it’s just because of a good defense in front of you.
Overall it’s certainly somewhat of an overpayment for Grubauer(like it is with every UFA) and you gotta hope he stays healthy, but comparing him to Holtby doesn’t make that much sense given the paths both of them have been on for the past three seasons or so.
BTW: I’m not sure what centers Francis should’ve gotten.
Danault makes about as much as Grubauer but mostly plays just one side and you won’t find real top notch centers in free agency anyways.
Grubauer is a good signing, as are some of the new Kraken but history will show, Francis not the best of GM’s, has made some terrible selections in the entry draft, wasn’t aggressive enough to make other GM’s sweat and missed the boat on making the Kraken an impact team out of the gate in year 1.
I hope he puts a competitive team on the ice or fans will just stay away after a couple of years.
Lots of interesting points and counterpoints being made here. Thanks everybody for stopping by and commenting!