Eide: Seattle Kraken goalies improving, may be good enough for next year
Over their last 10 games, the Seattle Kraken have a 5-4-1 record, which includes wins over playoff teams like the Los Angeles Kings and Dallas Stars.
It’s a stretch that is among the best Seattle has experienced this year and a bit surprising considering general manager Ron Francis moved a third of the team out at the NHL Trade Deadline. They were also officially eliminated from playoff contention during this stretch and perhaps the better play comes with the relief of pressure to win.
Head coach Dave Hakstol will take the wins and has a simple game plan over the final weeks of the season.
“We’ve been able to play with a lot of the changes and some of the individuals that have stepped forward and are proving themselves and doing good things night after night,” Hakstol said after Sunday’s 4-1 win at home against the Dallas Stars. “We want to continue that. We got a long month in front of us. But let’s try to have some fun. Let’s play our asses off, win games, and have some fun together.”
One area of the team that has been playing better is its two goaltenders.
Chris Driedger and Philipp Grubauer have somewhat righted a ship that was a big problem early in the season. The duo has been giving the Seattle Kraken consistent goaltending to the point that the team should feel comfortable with their tandem in net going into the offseason.
It just may turn out that the goaltending is going to be good enough in the long run.
“That’s where we expect these guys to be at,” Hakstol said. “I think if you asked them, they expect to be in a position to lead our team to wins and do that on a nightly and consistent basis.”
Driedger has started three of the last four Kraken games and he’s played some of the best hockey of his season, winning twice and sporting a .958 save percentage in that span. The magic save percentage mark for a goalie, in a game or season, is .900 percent. If you get above that number you’re going to win more times in not.
While neither goalie has hit that mark overall for the season – the early struggles dug quite a hole – they have been hitting it in individual games. Driedger has been well above .900 in his last three starts (.967,.931,.973) which has earned him consistent playing time.
Grubauer has carried most of the workload this season and struggled mightily early on. His save percentage has been in the mid to low .800’s and while early on the team struggled in front of him, it felt like he was never going to come up with a big save.
— Seattle Kraken (@SeattleKraken) March 20, 2022
But that hasn’t been the case over most of the second half. The goaltending has been better despite the team still losing – which says something about the lack of goal scoring, but that’s another topic for another day.
Grubauer had a four-start string of games above .900 percent broken with a recent loss in Los Angeles where he played much better than the four goals allowed indicate that he did.
The Seattle Kraken hit the road this week for a quick road trip in which it will play back-to-back games at St. Louis and Chicago starting Wednesday and Hakstol has a decision to make as to who starts. He’s got options and that’s ultimately a good thing.
“In terms of having competition at that spot Driedgs is coming off of a performance where he battled hard and he got the win,” Hakstol said. “That’s a good situation going into the next game, so we have a decision to make and that’s their job is to make that decision a difficult one, and then my job is to make the choices as to who starts.”
— Seattle Kraken (@SeattleKraken) April 4, 2022
With an offseason that promises a roster upheaval, it’s unlikely that change will happen in net.
Grubauer and Driedger most likely back
It can be hard to undo early-season narratives and there’s no question that over the first couple of months, the goaltending from both guys was a struggle… to put it mildly.
In many circles, the goaltending is still the main reason for the Kraken’s struggles, but it’s been decent the past couple of months and the team has still lost games so obviously there are other issues. With the two goalies rounding into the form we expected when both were signed as free agents this last summer, it appears more and more that both will be back next year.
Teams don’t need great goaltending to win in the NHL, but it must be good and can’t be a liability like it was to start the year for Seattle.
Goaltending can be fickle and fluctuate from start to start at times and season to season. While the early hole has overall affected the stats, the trend over the second half for the Kraken is encouraging.
Even if Francis wanted to move either player, it would be difficult. Grubauer’s contract at $5.9 million a year is good for another five years and comes with a no-trade clause for the next two seasons and then a modified no-trade clause for the final three seasons.
Driedger is locked up for two more seasons after this year at $3.5 million a year and he has a modified no-trade clause that allows him to list ten teams he would not accept a trade to.
Those clauses make trades tough to swing for either, even if the Kraken did find an interested party. The fact both players struggled early makes them less than attractive as well. The Kraken may have to lean on the fact this year was an anomaly where both goalies played well below their career numbers and expect better next season.
Goaltending is a tough position. Everyone in the building sees the puck get past them before a goal is scored. At times this season that happened more than it should and resulted in ugly numbers and even uglier results on the scoreboard. It’s hard to shake those images but Driedger and Grubauer have improved and become more consistent as the season has progressed.
Francis and the Kraken are hoping for an improved roster to take the ice next fall. That will help the anemic goal scoring which in turn will help the goalies, which should lead to more wins.
We might find out that the goalies are just good enough.