General manager Ron Francis said the Kraken weren’t necessarily looking for another version of Marc-Andre Fleury, whom the Vegas Golden Knights selected from the Pittsburgh Penguins in the 2017 NHL Expansion Draft.
Fleury instantly became the face of the Vegas franchise and helped lead the Golden Knights to tremendous success (until they traded him to the Chicago Blackhawks on Tuesday).
“I think any GM will tell you if you have a goaltender that has that experience you sleep a lot better at night,” Francis said. “I don’t know going into this we thought we would get somebody like him.”
The Kraken had the option of selecting Carey Price from the Montreal Canadiens in the 2021 NHL Expansion Draft a week ago. Francis said they considered it but decided to go in another direction. Price had five seasons left on his contract at an average annual value of $10.5 million, and his health situation was uncertain.
Instead, they selected Chris Driedger from the Florida Panthers and signed the pending unrestricted free agent to a three-year contract with an AAV of $3.5 million. They also selected Vitek Vanecek from the Washington Capitals.
“We took Vitek Vanecek thinking that he would be part of our goaltending tandem with Chris Driedger,” Francis said. “I don’t think we expected Grubauer to get to free agency.”
Ah, but he did. The Avalanche did not meet Grubauer’s demands, and he left a Stanley Cup contender for an expansion team, telling TSN the decision was a “no-brainer.”
“They had their time and they had their opportunity, but in the end, we just couldn’t get it done,” Grubauer told TSN.
The Kraken were in position to take advantage because they had prioritized saving NHL salary cap space during the expansion draft. Grubauer agreed to a six-year contract at an AAV of $5.9 million.
That’s $4.6 million less than Price.
Price turns 34 on Aug. 16; Grubauer turns 30 on Nov. 25. Price won the Vezina Trophy in 2014-15, when the NHL general managers voted him the best goalie in the League, and he was a finalist in 2016-17. Grubauer was a finalist in 2020-21, when he went 30-9-1 with a 1.95 goals-against average, .922 save percentage and seven shutouts.
Suddenly, the Kraken assembled what would be one of the best tandems in the NHL, and, to top it off, they were able to trade Vanecek back to the Capitals for a second-round pick in the 2023 NHL Draft.
Driedger, 27, is 21-9-4 with a 2.09 goals-against average, a .929 save percentage and four shutouts in his NHL career.
“We think both guys will play,” Francis said. “I don’t want to speak for [coach Dave Hakstol]. He’s got final say. But I would assume Grubauer’s not playing 70 [games] this year and Driedger would play a lot more of those games.”
The team in front of them looks better than it did Tuesday.
In the expansion draft, teams could protect seven forwards, three defensemen and one goalie or eight skaters and one goalie. Most protected their top six forwards and third-line center. The Kraken looked to fill the void in free agency.
Schwartz, who agreed to a five-year contract with an AAV of $5.5 million, is a hard-working winger who has scored more than 20 goals four times. He had eight goals in 40 games for the St. Louis Blues last season but struggled after his father, Rick, died of a heart attack Nov. 9.
He said part of the reason he signed with Seattle was wanting to be closer to his mother, Carol, who lives in Regina, Saskatchewan, and part of it was that he had spent time in Seattle about 10 years ago. His parents moved there for about a year while his sister, Mandi, underwent cancer treatment. He and his brother, Rylan, who were both playing at Colorado College, would visit. Mandi died in April 2011.
“You’ve got the water, you’ve got the mountains, and it’s just a beautiful city to visit,” Schwartz said. “I liked it right away. I thought it’d be a really, really cool place to play. Obviously, they’re a big sports city with the other teams they have there, and the fanbase is awesome. There’s a lot of things that jumped out at me for sure, but I think a little bit of familiarity with the city definitely helped.”
Wennberg, who agreed to a three-year contract with an AAV of $4.5 million, is a two-way center who can play in all situations. He had 29 points (17 goals, 12 assists) in 56 games for the Panthers. Francis said he expects him to play in the top six.
The Kraken are still shopping and have plenty of cap space.
“I think for sure the bottom six is an area that maybe we can tweak with and try and add there, whether it’s a face-off guy, whether it’s a penalty-killing winger, that kind of stuff,” Francis said. “We looked at some things today, didn’t happen, but certainly still looking in that regard.”
You never know what other opportunities might present themselves.