Eide: Why Seattle Kraken should give goalie Chris Driedger more time in net
Imagine a scenario where an NHL team brings in an unproven goalie to support a more credentialed player only to outplay the established guy to the point he ends up starting Game 1 of that club’s opening-round playoff series. Sounds like something in a Disney movie, but that’s exactly the scenario that Seattle Kraken goalie Chris Driedger experienced last season with the Florida Panthers.
It’s also a scenario that may be repeating itself this season in Seattle.
It’s a small sample size, but Driedger is outplaying the more experienced Philipp Grubauer and earned more playing time.
Driedger has been here before.
Prior to joining the Panthers for the 2020-2021 season, Driedger had started 11 games in his NHL career. He was brought in to support Sergei Bobrovsky, who was a Vezina-caliber goalie and had signed a massive $10 million contract.
Bobrovsky started slowly while Driedger earned more playing time and took advantage of it, ending the year with a .927 save percentage, 2.07 goals-against average, and a 23-14-6 record. It made him attractive to the Seattle Kraken at the NHL Expansion Draft and the Kraken used their free agency window to agree to a contract with Driedger, making him the pick from Florida.
The Seattle Kraken then were surprised to see Grubauer hit free agency with Colorado and jumped on bringing him in as a free agent after he turned in a career year with the Avalanche. He’s not making the big money Bobrovsky got, but his $5.9 million a year deal suggested he would be the No. 1 guy for the Kraken.
But Grubauer has struggled to start the season where he has taken the bulk of the load. Driedger didn’t see the ice until a relief appearance in Philadelphia during the Kraken’s fourth game. He was scheduled to start the next night, in the fifth game, but suffered an injury that forced him to the injured reserve.
Seattle coach Dave Hakstol has split his starters over the last four games but it’s hard to gauge if that’s an actual sea change in usage or just the combination of postponed games and a couple of back-to-backs on the schedule.
Driedger has been the better of the two goalies and it’s time that Hakstol considers giving him more time in the net.
Driedger versus Grubauer by the numbers
With Grubauer’s struggles, it’s easy to call for Driedger to play but the numbers make the strongest argument.
But even that should be taken with a grain of salt when you consider the caveat of sample sizes. Driedger has appeared in nine games this season while Grubauer has played in 24. Grubauer has seen more action and the ultimate comparison will come at some point when Driedger has more of a sample to compare.
That’s not as fun, however, so we’re going to compare now, early on.
Driedger’s main numbers are better with a .892 save percentage compared to Grubauer’s .882. When you look deeper, the scales turn towards Driedger even more. When it comes to high danger chances, Driedger has a .810 save percentage while Grubauer’s is a league-worst .769.
There’s a bigger disparity in goals saved above average where Grubauer is at minus-18.29 while Driedger is at minus-1.97. The two goalies’ individual expected goals against show similar differences as Driedger’s is 13.24 and he’s allowed 16 at even strength. Meanwhile, Grubauer’s expected goals against is 37.37 and he’s allowed 58.
Are the Kraken playing differently in front of one guy or another? Is Grubauer seeing tougher shots?
When Driedger has played, the average shot against has come from 36.7 feet and the goals have come from an average of 24.1. Comparatively, Grubauer has faced shots from an average of 36.5 feet and the goals have been from 23.74 feet on average. Those numbers are similar and suggest both goalies are getting the same type of defensive support from the team in front of them.
The path forward
Because of the difference in sample sizes, it’s too early to pound the panic button and say Driedger should be the No. 1 goalie moving forward.
However, he should get more playing time to find out if the early numbers will hold up. That sounds strange coming after Driedger gave up five to the Calgary Flames and four against the Edmonton Oilers in his last two starts. But he faced 79 shots from two high-scoring teams in those outings and played better than the goals allowed suggest.
Driedger hasn’t been perfect but right now he’s playing better and with more confidence than Grubauer.
Having competition and more rest will only benefit Grubauer and ultimately the team. That happened with Bobrovsky in Florida last year and he got his game going over the season as Driedger took more starts.
Perhaps the same can happen here and in some ways, it needs to. Seattle has lost four straight and while the struggles don’t all lay at the Goaltenders skates, even the slightest improvement in net could push the Kraken over the line in close games as we’ve seen of late.