Here’s why the Kraken should take on Philipp Grubauer and Chris Driedger in a Guardian tandem
For all of the NHL’s goaltending tandems over the past few years, almost every champion has won behind a goaltender playing most of the games.
The Kraken has a choice of how it will handle its two options. There’s Chris Driedger, the Florida Panthers’ pick who probably expected to handle the majority of contests. Next, the Kraken signed a finalist for the Vézina Trophy, awarded each season to the best goalkeeper in the league.
The presence of Philipp Grubauer is a game-changer. Considering the money committed for Driedger – a three-season salary cap of $ 3.5million, with a full no-move clause – it’s hard to believe he’ll be sidelined too often .
Grubauer, however, is not the kind of goalie you would expect from a tandem. Last season, en route to the Avalanche playoff exit, Grubauer recorded a .922 save percentage and started 39 of his 56 games. He is 30-9-1 (contested in 40 games) and has a league-best 1.95 goals-against average. He will earn $ 5.9 million per season over six years.
The addition of Grubauer meant goodbye to Vitek Vanecek, fired to the Capitals less than two weeks after being selected in the NHL expansion draft. The Vanecek-Driedger pair combined to a cap of $ 4.216 million; far from that of Grubauer and Driedger.
“I think we needed two guys, and they’re going to play,” Kraken general manager Ron Francis told reporters after signing Grubauer. “We think both guys are going to play. I don’t want to speak for the coach. He has the last word. But I guess Grubauer isn’t playing (70% of the team’s games next season), and Driedger would be doing a lot more in those games.
Goalkeeper tandems have been the trend over the past decade, with varying degrees of success. The Bruins reached the 2019 Cup final behind Tuukka Rask and handled all of the playoff workload, despite Jaroslav Halak starting 37 games in the regular season. The Golden Knights had two starting caliber goalies in Robin Lehner and Marc-André Fleury, but they traded Fleury this offseason.
In the pandemic-cut short 2021 season, 66 goalies have started at least 10 games. A condensed schedule and more consecutive games will. As the schedule reverts to a normal 82-game roster for 2021-2022, shared tasks will likely turn to a 1A goalie for most teams.
The tandems took off before the wacky schedule was a problem.
Over the past 25 years, 19 of the starting goalies have collected all 16 victories en route to the Stanley Cup title. Teams built to win have a guy they can count on through their toughest times.
That’s not to say that having a legitimate 1B goalie in the regular season will limit an elite goalie in the playoffs; again, watch the 2019 Bruins, for whom Rask played every playoff game and had the rest of the most consistent season of his career.
A rare exception is 2017, when the Penguins won with Matt Murray after Fleury started every game in goal in the first two rounds. So it can happen; it’s just rare.
Playing a hard-working goalkeeper is the recipe for winning a Cup final, and the stats back it up. But the demands of the modern NHL make it nearly impossible for a goalie to go through the entire regular season on his own. The rise of tandems comes with the playoffs in mind, so teams essentially have a goalie prepared for the regular season only.
“So it’s always good to have a good tandem,” Grubauer told reporters during his Zoom introductory call. “I don’t think a single guy can play 70 games and be fresh for the playoffs. … It’s important to have two guys.
The Kraken is therefore not in a unique position. It is anticipated that several teams will have more than one goaltender to score in the regular season. Dallas has four goalies – Ben Bishop, Anton Khudobin, Jake Oettinger and Braden Holtby – to sift through. The Rangers split the time between Igor Shesterkin and Alexandar Georgiev.
Playoff teams such as the Islanders have had success with Semyon Varlamov and Ilya Sorokin. In Florida, where Driedger is gone, the Panthers have decisions to make with Sergei Bobrovsky and rookie Spencer Knight.
These teams struggled in the playoffs as their crease became a game of musical chairs, with Lightning Cup champion and starter in every game Andrei Vasilevskiy handling them.
Some elite goalies succeed exclusively with a heavy workload. One example is Carey Price, who led the Canadiens to a surprise appearance in the Cup final. His regular season workload has been slowed down to keep his body from being beaten, and the approach has worked in recent playoffs. For most of the two-month run, Price was the league’s top goaltender.
Canadiens replacement Jake Allen played 27 regular season games. It was enough to keep Price fresh for the playoffs and make his run almost historic. This is perhaps the most realistic shot of what the Kraken Tandem could be.
Given the financial commitment and playoff history, when the playoffs roll, if the Kraken succeed, Grubauer would likely be the workhorse. How the regular season plays out remains to be seen, but Driedger sees plenty of time and keeping Grubauer cool for the playoffs shouldn’t change what has proven to be a successful approach to the playoffs in the league.