It became standard over the past month for the Seattle Kraken to have three goalies on the ice for their practices, as Chris Driedger worked his way back from an offseason ACL tear. At Thursday’s morning skate, only Philipp Grubauer and Martin Jones were present, though Driedger was spotted in Seattle’s dressing room after the skate, chatting with Grubauer.
We didn’t think much of Driedger’s absence at the time, as the netminder has been on his own program and has often been seen working separately from the team. But as coach Dave Hakstol addressed media Thursday, we learned the Kraken had placed Driedger on waivers with the hope of sending him to AHL affiliate Coachella Valley.
Asked why the team had made that move, Hakstol said, “That’s the step in the process that Driedgs is at. He’s worked really hard through his rehab here. He’s done everything that he can do without getting into games.”
There are a few more layers of the onion that need peeling back, though, so we’ll try to explain the situation here as best we can.
Why no conditioning stint for Driedger?
We always knew this time would eventually come, when the team would need to decide what to do with a (mostly) healthy Driedger. It had become apparent that he was ready for game action, based on watching him take reps from his teammates at game speed and seeing him moving without hesitation or restraint.
So, a two-week AHL conditioning stint was surely on the horizon, right?
Here’s our theory on why that didn’t happen. Roster size can expand after the deadline, but the salary cap remains through the end of the regular season. Driedger has a significant cap hit at $3.5 million, and if Seattle had sent him for a conditioning stint, it would have had to keep him on the NHL roster and absorb his full cap hit during that stint.
That is, unless the Kraken had placed Driedger on long-term injured reserve, though we never saw any indication the team had taken this step. It is our belief they left him on regular injured reserve largely because bonuses due to Matty Beniers would have ended up coming off next year’s cap, had the team dipped into the LTIR pool. It’s all very confusing, but our own Curtis Isacke explained this in detail back in January.
That’s a long, circuitous way of saying Seattle likely would have waived Driedger at the end of his conditioning stint anyway, so they might as well start accruing cap savings now, assuming he clears. If Driedger gets claimed, his whole $3.5 million cap hit would come off the books, but that obviously would hurt the Kraken’s goalie depth.
With Driedger coming off a serious knee injury and having no game action so far to prove he’s ready to play in the NHL, the Kraken took the bet that no team would claim him at this point in time. If they’re wrong, and he does get snatched up by another club, then at least they get the cap savings and their three-goalie conundrum is solved.
We hope Driedger stays in the organization. We’ve been big fans of his since he joined the team, and he has been a great fit in the community. We will find out tomorrow if he will make it to Coachella Valley.
Jesper Froden in; what’s the deal with Daniel Sprong?
Hakstol confirmed Thursday that Jesper Froden will make his Kraken debut against his former NHL team, the Boston Bruins. Based on what we saw at morning skate, it appears he will take Daniel Sprong’s spot in the lineup and will play in a top-six role, supplanting Brandon Tanev back to the fourth line (at least to start the game).
“He’s earned his way to have this opportunity,” said Hakstol. “We’re not just bringing him to hope that it goes well. We’re bringing him in, and he’s part of a plan tonight. He’s got a job to do, he’s confident in his abilities and his readiness to jump in and do it, and we feel the same way.”
So that explains Hakstol’s thoughts on getting Froden—the second-leading goal scorer in the AHL this season—into the NHL lineup. But what did Sprong do to get himself into this oft-healthy-scratch territory?
When asked about his decision to scratch Sprong in Seattle’s game against the New York Islanders on Feb. 7, Hakstol said it was just about having competition and multiple guys that deserved to play. But calling guys up from the AHL and replacing Sprong in the lineup with those players tells us there’s a little more to it.
Here’s our theory on this piece, and please note, this truly is just a theory; it’s nothing we’ve heard directly from Hakstol or any other source.
We know the knock on Sprong over the years has been his two-way play, and Hakstol has been on record in the past saying he wanted Sprong to improve his play away from the puck. Hakstol has also said this season he doesn’t necessarily care if his fourth line is scoring goals, which really is where Sprong excels.
The role of the fourth line is to grind down opponents, bring energy, and be hard to play against in all three zones. Sprong isn’t the perfect fit for that type of role, but early in the season, he was scoring like crazy and racked up a career-high 15 goals. As a coach, even if you don’t expect your fourth line to go out and score, how do you take that kind of production out of the lineup?
Well, Sprong’s offensive output has slowed dramatically, and he has zero goals and two assists in his last 10 games, dating back to Jan. 19. He is no longer forcing Hakstol to put him in the lineup by scoring away any defensive concerns.
For Sprong, it still seems like the way for him to maintain trust from the coaching staff is to score, despite that not really being his role.
As for Froden, it will be interesting to see how he performs in his first NHL action this season. He has had an outstanding season in the AHL, but that doesn’t always translate to success at the highest level. If he does stick in a top-six role for the entirety of Thursday’s game, he will have a good opportunity to show his abilities at both ends of the ice.