Seattle Kraken: The case for Chris Driedger getting more time in goal
There is a well-known mantra in football about the backup quarterback being the most popular person on the team, especially on a bad team.
It’s because they are unblemished, perfect in the eyes of fans who may be disappointed and frustrated by the poor performance of the starter, thus prone to think that the backup – the guy who they see sparingly and usually in mop-up situations where a lot of low-stress plays happen – will be more effective.
The same dynamic has played out this season in goal for the Seattle Kraken, where the rough start from Phillip Grubauer has strengthened calls for Chris Driedger to see more action between the pipes. But what if the push for Driedger is warranted?
After the Kraken’s expansion draft, the buzz around their goaltender situation was that splitting time between two goalies was needed because none of the three draftees had been a starter for a full season. After signing Driedger to a three-year, $3.5 million deal, though, it was clear that he was the priority of the three goalies, which made sense for a 27 year old coming off two terrific seasons with the Florida Panthers.
Signing Grubauer in free agency changed everything, however, and made a clear demarcation between starter and backup.
Grubauer’s six-year, $35.4 million contract is cumbersome and anchors him to the Kraken for most, if not the entirety, of the deal. Ideally, that would be the fine, but it now appears Grubauer’s extraordinary 2020-21 season in Colorado (1.95 goals against, .922 save percentage, seven shutouts) was more a byproduct of the stellar defensemen he had playing in front of him.
If the injury Grubauer suffered in last Wednesday’s loss to Anaheim causes him to miss significant time, the point becomes moot and we will see more of Driedger anyway. But even with a fully healthy Grubauer, the time is now to rotate Driedger in a platoon role instead of using him mainly during back-to-backs or after a long stretch where Grubauer has started.
Inside the Numbers
The season stats for the two goalies in the two most important categories – goals against average and save percentage – are strikingly similar:
• Grubauer: 22 starts, 3.29 goals against average, .882 save percentage
• Driedger: Six starts, 3.23 GAA, .896 save percentage
However, upon taking a closer look it’s clear that Driedger has steadily improved over November and December while Grubauer has become more shaky and erratic.
Driedger’s masterpiece came against his old team, the Florida Panthers, on Nov. 27: 34 saves on 35 shots (.971 save percentage) in a 4-1 win over one of the best teams in the NHL.
— Seattle Kraken (@SeattleKraken) November 27, 2021
The Kraken also won his next two starts, which came in Buffalo two nights later and Dec. 14 in San Jose. The four goals allowed in Buffalo are deceiving as the Kraken had a massive lead for most of the game and ended up winning 7-4. Driedger’s most recent outing, against Edmonton on Saturday, was a rougher one, but consider the fact that he faced 40 shots in the 5-3 loss. The .900 save percentage is better than Grubauer’s save percentage in his last two starts and in five of the last seven games that Grubauer has been between the pipes.
At this point, where is the harm in giving Chris Driedger an equal share of time as the starting goalie? Legitimate competition might awake something in Grubauer, and it certainly allows for a better picture of who Chris Driedger could become as a goalie. Plus, in looking for tradeable assets, while Grubauer’s massive contract essentially makes him immovable, Driedger could be moved easily. If he starts to play well, it makes him more enticing to other teams around the league.
It seems like a win-win situation, and when actual wins have been hard to come by for the 10-17-3 Kraken, the time is right for a change.
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