The Seattle Kraken may have just wrapped up their season, but the offseason excitement is just beginning. Into the Deep is our series that dives into the different phases and developments of the Seattle Kraken offseason. This post we are taking a look at the Seattle Kraken goalies.
The most talked about and criticized piece of the Kraken roster last season was the goaltending. The team was smart with their architectural design in building the team from the net out. Original expansion picks included current Kraken goalies Chris Driedger and Joey Daccord, and (since traded) the New Jersey Devils’ Vitek Vanecek. Phillipp Grubauer was signed to be the franchise goalie after a Vezina runner-up season with Colorado. The Kraken built this team around goaltending.
Fast forward to present day and the most overly criticized position on the team has been the Kraken goalies. So what went wrong?
The expectations on the Kraken were sky high after the Vegas Golden Knights made it to the Stanley Cup Finals in their inaugural season. Impossible expectations to live up to, and the fans thinking ‘why not us?’ quickly got a taste of how an expansion team traditionally rolls. The Kraken finished their first NHL season with 27-49-6 (60 points), while finishing 8th in NHL Pacific Division.
Goalie Phillipp Grubauer went 18-31-5, with 2 shutouts, 3.16 goals against average, and a .889 save percentage. Gru’s season was the complete opposite of his previous year with Colorado. The collapse (if you will) had many hockey fans and critiques thinking ‘did we purchase a lemon?’
Was Grubauer only as good as the team he was playing behind? Colorado moved on from him and won the Stanley Cup the next season, with Darcey Keumper in net. Colorado didn’t miss a beat and Grubauer was exposed in the Kraken’s first season. Now, to be fair, the team was not very good, but they started to get better and head in the right direction.
In year two with the Kraken Grubauer started where he left off and ended up handing the crease over to Martin Jones (who was signed to a 1-year deal) after an injury against you guessed it, Colorado.
I was actually at that game in Denver and had Grubauer starting on my fantasy team. Jones got credit for the win that night.
The team in year two made massive strides and Grubauer finished the season red-hot, and back in as the franchise goalie. He looked every bit like the goalie they hoped they had gotten when they signed him. We know the story, Grubauer gets revenge against his former team in round 1, then takes the Kraken to game 7 in round 2.
The Kraken scored at will last season, receiving contributions from up and down the line up. The ‘weakest’ position on the team was goaltending, as some nights the tandem of Grubauer and Jones made just enough saves to win the game.
The team had to bail them out way too often.
Martin Jones is an unrestricted free agent, meaning he is free to go anywhere he wants. With the year he had, teams will be lining up for his services, and probably will overpay. This offseason and preparing for year 3, the Kraken have 3 options to consider in net as they look to adjust, make improvements, and ultimately take a step forward and try to make it to the Cup Finals.
1. Stick with what we have
This means letting Martin Jones walk away, and filling the void left by his departure with one of the other guys.
The Kraken currently have 4 options in net already under contract for next season. Grubauer (3 more seasons), Chris Driedger (1 more season), Niklas Kokko (signed a 3-year contract), and Ales Stezka (1-year entry level deal).
Grubauer will enter next season as the starter. No question there. His backup is what we are looking at. If the team sticks with what they have, the most logical decision for backup would be to have Driedger rostered and ready to go. He has the most NHL minutes out of the 3 possible backups and has shined at times. Driedger also has the best helmet in NHL History. He could take the role vacated by Martin Jones and improve it. He is also making $3.5 million dollars next season, so yeah, might as well play the man.
Kokko is 19 years old and will most likely be playing for Coachella Valley next season. At 19, the team will look to give him time to develop into Grubauer’s possible replacement. The Kraken used their second-round pick on him last year and will look to give him time to turn into their long-term answer in net.
Stezka is the most intriguing option here. At 26 years old he has played a ton of professional hockey in his career, just not in the NHL. Last year he posted a 25-14-0 record with HC Vítkovice, in Czech Extraliga, with a .925 save percentage, 2.14 goals-against average and five shutouts. With a 1-year prove it contract, it looks like Stezka will get every opportunity to win the second goalie spot with the Kraken. He is a name to watch come training camp.
2. Re-sign Martin Jones
Martin Jones had a career resurrecting season. Originally brought in to be the veteran back-up presence in net that the team would miss from Drieger being out, Jones came in on the cheap to the tune of a 1-year $2 million deal. He responded by going 27-13-3, with a 2.99 goals against average, a .887 save percentage and 3 shut outs. He was the main guy in net for large chunks of last season.
I would not go as far to say that he carried the team, but he played well enough to help the team make the playoffs. At times he was sensational. Can he do it again?
The team is looking to improve and adjust across the board. Would re-signing Jones make the team better heading forward? Given the season he had statistically, dude is going to get paid by a team in need of goaltending.
Think Arizona, Anaheim, or Chicago. These teams will have the cap space to over-spend. If the Kraken go this route it will not be a bad decision. We know what to expect from Jones, and given the team’s growth and development, the Kraken would look very similar next season in net. That is not a bad thing.
Grubauer and Jones were a great tandem and most likely would be even better next season as the rest of the team should improve as well. If Jones is retained, expect him to command at the very least a 2-year $10 million contract. He is 33 right now and this could be his NHL swan song.
3. Free Agency
This option makes the least sense to me, but if GM Ron Francis finds someone, he thinks will make the position group better, then its ‘in Ron we trust’. The Kraken have the money to spend here if they want to. The Kraken have a projected $20.3 million in cap space entering next season but have multiple key players that need to be re-signed. Vince Dunn, Carson Soucy, Ryan Donato, Daniel Sprong, and Morgan Geekie were all key roles that would be missed if they are not brought back. Dunn will command the largest payday out of the group and rightfully so.
With just this list of players who the team and fans would like to bring back, and any other roster upgrades that will happen via trade or free agency, goaltending does not seem to be an area of real need with respect to free agency.
Let’s entertain this option though. They goalie free agent class of 2023 is highlighted by Jonathan Quick, Semyon Varlamov, Frederik Andersen, Cam Talbot, James Reimer, and Aidin Hill. Hill who is about to win a Stanley Cup will be locked up by Vegas. If they don’t, they are just stupid.
Andersen will probably stay in Carolina. Varlamov is too expensive and honestly not much of an upgrade over Jones, James Reimer will want too much money and will probably look to either split time or be a starter.
The only options from this list that I would be happy with are Jonathan Quick and Cam Talbot. Quick is old, but he can still steal games at times, something that nobody on the Kraken roster has shown. His Stanley Cup winning career would make him a locker room leader. The Kraken are loaded with winners already, and he could help push Grubauer on and off the ice.
Talbot is solid. During his stints with Edmonton and Minnesota he was one of the best goalies in the NHL. He is older now but would bring stability to the backup position. Think of him as another Martin Jones. If we could get him on a similar 1-year, $2 million deal I would take it.
The Kraken move into the offseason with more answers than questions, this is a good position to be in. The team looks to make roster improvements across the board. Goalie is the most important position in the NHL and after the postseason that Grubauer had, the team is confident in his ability to carry the team to the Stanley Cup. Keep an eye on this heading into the draft and training camp.
Fear the deep!