Kraken make big, baffling free-agent splashes with Grubauer, Schwartz

Kraken make big free-agent splashes with Grubauer, Schwartz
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For the most part, the Seattle Kraken resisted making big splashes during the expansion draft. Instead, they settled on making big free-agent moves, including a big shocker by landing goalie Philipp Grubauer.

Let’s go over the Kraken’s most noteworthy free-agent signings: Grubauer, Jaden Schwartz, and Alexander Wennberg. The biggest takeaway: the Kraken are … confusing?

For more on 2021 NHL Free Agency, check PHT’s tracker. Trades are a big factor too, so keep track of them here.

Kraken snatch free-agent goalie Grubauer from Avs

On Tuesday night, the Avalanche found a way to keep Gabriel Landeskog from hitting the free-agent market. Clearly, Philipp Grubauer’s asking price ended up being too rich for Colorado.

Grubauer ended up signing a six-year, $35.4 million deal to leave a Stanley Cup contender for the NHL’s newest franchise.

After years of being a strong backup (and briefly grabbing the starting job) with the Capitals, Grubauer got a real shot to run with the ball in Colorado. Grubauer posted an impressive .923 save percentage during six scattered seasons with the Capitals. In an enhanced role, Grubauer didn’t really slip much with the Avalanche. During three seasons, Grubauer went 66-30-10 with a strong .918 save percentage.

Of course, that culminated with the 2020-21 season, when Grubauer was a (surprise) Vezina finalist.

That set the stage for a strong free-agent market, and seemed to price Colorado out. It’s not that surprising that Grubauer left Colorado, but it’s definitely surprising that the Kraken became his free-agent destination.

[Catch up on other parts of the free-agent goalie carousel]

Between Grubauer and Chris Driedger, the Kraken will have $9.4 million in cap space locked into two goalies. Grubauer’s 29, while Driedger is 27.

It remains to be seen if Grubauer can reach anywhere near the same level behind Seattle’s defense after enjoying a great situation with the Avalanche. If nothing else, the Kraken could have a decent defense to start — at least on paper.

Overall, though? Kind of baffling from the Kraken. It only makes their lack of expansion draft side deals more confusing.

It sounds like Vitek Vanecek might be on the way out, possibly back to Washington.

Kraken also add Schwartz, Wennberg to the mix

Grubauer was the splashiest Kraken free-agent move. Not the only one, though.

In the case of Jaden Schwartz, it’s a five-year deal with a $5.5M cap hit for the 29-year-old. Earlier, the Kraken announced that Alexander Wennberg, 26, signed a three-year, $13.5M contract ($4.5M AAV).

It’s all curious, really.

In isolation, Grubauer, Schwartz, and Wennberg all bring something to the table. These are quality players that can help most teams. With Schwartz and Wennberg, they bring varying degrees of potential to put someone already good “over the top.”

It’s a little odd for the Kraken, though, at least after they made such modest moves in the expansion draft.

Take Schwartz for example. He’s a good player, but getting a little older, and he’s dealt with injury issues. That seems more like fodder for a contending team on a shorter contract.

Meanwhile, Wennberg feels most appropriate as a hidden gem, which is basically how the Panthers unearthed him. Instead, the Kraken give Wennberg a contract that’s closer to “full value.”

Again, the players themselves present a nice free-agent infusion for the Kraken. It just creates a strange impression.

Then again, the Golden Knights seemingly underwhelmed in other ways before their first season, and surprised just about everyone. We’ll see?

Speaking of “We’ll see,” it should also be interesting to see how the Avalanche react to losing Grubauer. Stay tuned.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.