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NHL Hot Seat Radar: Seattle Kraken

Grubauer doesn’t have to be a Vezina Trophy candidate with the Seattle Kraken this season, but he does have to be far superior to the Grubauer who failed to show up last year.
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Welcome, once again, to the newest THN Hot Seat file, an ongoing collection of THN.com columns in which we point out a member of each NHL franchise who’ll face major pressure in the 2022-23 season. Our choice for the Hot Seat could be an NHL player, team owner, GM, or head coach. Today, we’re focusing on the Seattle Kraken.

KRAKEN HOT SEAT: PHILIPP GRUBAUER, GOALTENDER

WHY: In their inaugural season, the Kraken looked exactly as most expansion teams look in their first year: overmatched, outgunned, and, simply, not deep enough at any position. Seattle GM Ron Francis saw the Kraken’s depth issues clearly, and his roster moves this summer are all about icing a deeper, more experienced lineup.

With that point made, the person dealing with the most pressure in Seattle this coming season is goalie Philipp Grubauer, the Kraken’s highest-paid player at an average of $5.9 million for five more seasons. Compared to other No. 1 netminders in the league, Grubauer is not overwhelmingly overpaid, but he also has to atone for what, by just about anyone’s perspective, was a brutal season as an individual. The 30-year-old posted the worst numbers of his seven-year NHL career, including a 3.16 goals-against average and a .889 save percentage.

Grubauer’s defenders would argue he was playing before a terrible defense corps last year, and that’s accurate. However, he was signed to his lucrative, lengthy contract to be a stable force between the pipes, and he was anything but that in 2021-22. His subpar performance, combined with the length remaining on his contract, make Grubauer untradeable – and, even worse, the ACL injury suffered by backup Kraken goalie Chris Driedger at the end of May (which will sideline him for 7-9 months) means Grubauer will be depended on more than ever.

Francis reacted to Driedger’s injury by signing longtime San Jose Sharks goalie Martin Jones to a one-year, $2-million contract – quite a bit of money on a guy who’ll be 33 in January, and who hasn’t had a SP above .900 in the past two seasons, or a G.A.A. lower than 3.00 in the past three seasons. Incredibly, Jones got Francis to agree to a modified no-trade clause, but if Driedger can return to top form, Jones won’t factor into Seattle’s plans for the rest of the season.

You can see why Grubauer has to be much better this season. Jones is not the answer if Grubauer doesn’t play up to expectations. Apologists can again point to Seattle’s group of defensemen as the root cause of Grubauer’s struggles, and again, that’s fair; any collection of D-men that gives Adam Larsson the most time-on-ice is not an elite group, but the Kraken’s back end has ample size – only one of their top-six blueliners is shorter than 6-foot-2 – and with the acquisitions of forwards Oliver Bjorkstrand and Andre Burakovsky, Grubauer will have more support on offense.

Without a doubt, Kraken head coach Dave Hakstol also will be under extreme pressure in 2022-23. He’s got to make the most out of the dog’s breakfast of young up-and-comers (including 19-year-old center and projected first-liner Matty Beniers) and solid, if unspectacular veterans (including Jordan Eberle and Jaden Schwartz). Seattle has only $1 million in cap space, so there’s no cavalry on the horizon to make them better during the year. They’ve got to do their best with what they have now, which puts Grubauer under the microscope. He doesn’t have to be a Vezina Trophy candidate as the game’s best goalie, but he does have to be far superior to the Grubauer who failed to show up last year.

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