By Tim Booth
The Associated Press
SEATTLE — For months, Chris Driedger seemed to be a lock to become the first goaltender for the Seattle Kraken. It made far too much sense considering his talent and success, and with no clear path to being a No. 1 goaltender in Florida.
Then Philipp Grubauer became available in free agency and he turned into the first big signing by the Kraken, shuffling Driedger to the second spot in Seattle’s tandem.
That’s OK by Driedger. In the bigger picture of what the expansion franchise is trying to accomplish, having two top goalies is going to be crucial to Seattle’s success.
“My mindset is, if we’re both playing well the team is going to play well, it’s going to benefit everyone in the long run,” Driedger said. “I’m excited to work with him and learn from him. He’s got a little bit more experience than I do, and I think it’s gonna be exciting.”
When Seattle takes the ice for its first game tonight against Vegas, Grubauer will almost certainly be in net. Seattle’s biggest financial investment in the offseason was signing the Vezina Trophy finalist to a six-year, $35.4 million deal.
The move may have been a surprise since Seattle had already taken Driedger during the expansion draft. But a glut of good goalies is a good problem to have and it’s why Seattle’s duo is considered among the top pairings in the league.
It became obvious early on Seattle wanted to be solid defensively, even at the expense of some scoring punch up front, following the blueprint laid out by Vegas four years ago.
The Golden Knights received plenty of contributions from players who were in lesser roles with their previous teams. But their success revolved around the goaltending of Marc-Andre Fleury, who went 29-13-4 during their first season and had another four shutouts in the playoffs.
He was the stabilizer Vegas could rely on at the back. Seattle hopes the combo of Grubauer and Driedger can follow suit.
“We’re going to be a hardworking team,” Grubauer said. “We’re not going to score 10 goals like Colorado did but we’re going to be a hardworking group for sure.”
Grubauer had a career-best 1.95 goals against and seven shutouts while playing 70 percent of the regular-season games for Colorado during the truncated last season. He missed a couple of weeks during the regular season due to COVID-19 protocols. In the playoffs, he wasn’t able to match his regular-season form and finished with a 2.61 goals against average. He allowed 16 goals in the final four games of a second-round series loss to Vegas.
Driedger played 23 games for Florida and had a 2.07 goals against last season but found himself in an awkward three-man rotation with 19-year-old Spencer Knight and veteran Sergei Bobrovsky at the end of the season and into the playoffs.
“I think we’re going to have a great relationship,” Driedger said. “And I like to always collaborate with my goalie partners and make sure that we’re both going at the best possible level that we can.”
The team still has to shake out the rotation. When coach Dave Hakstol was in Philadelphia, he generally went with a two-third, one-third split among his top two goalies during his first two full seasons.
That would leave Grubauer playing about 50 games and Driedger around 30 should both stay healthy through the season. If one does get injured, the Kraken feel confident in No. 3 goalie Joey Daccord, who was selected from Ottawa in the expansion draft and may have been Seattle’s No. 2 until Grubauer became available.
“The camp that Joey has had has been very good for our group to have confidence in him as a guy that’s going to contribute to our team along the way,” Hakstol said.
Five players out
The Kraken are expected to be without five players for the season opener at Vegas due to COVID-19 protocols, coach Dave Hakstol said Monday.
Forwards Jared McCann, Joonas Donskoi and Marcus Johansson, and defenseman Jamie Oleksiak were placed on the league’s COVID-19 protocol list on Monday. Forward Calle Jarnkrok has been in the protocol since late last week. McCann, Oleksiak, Donskoi and Johansson were all missing from Monday’s final practice before the team departed for Las Vegas.
Seattle general manager Ron Francis said at the start of training camp that the entire roster had been vaccinated. But it’s awful timing for the Kraken on the eve of the first game in franchise history.
“Things happen quickly and sometimes at inopportune times,” Hakstol said. “There’s different challenges as you go throughout the season and this is one of them for us early on.”