Grubauer wants to be like Fleury for expansion Kraken

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Philipp Grubauer is looking forward to being a part of history with the Seattle Kraken and trying to repeat it.

Those were among the main reasons the goalie decided to leave the Colorado Avalanche and sign a six-year, $35.5 million contract ($5.91 average annual value) on Wednesday with the Kraken, who will begin play as the NHL’s 32nd team when they open this season at the Vegas Golden Knights on Oct. 12.

“I think it’s incredible to be part of something new and make history in terms of playing the first-ever game and being part of that group and doing the same thing Vegas did,” Grubauer said Friday. “That’s the goal.”

Vegas entered the NHL as an expansion team 2017-18 and reached the Stanley Cup Final in its first season before losing to the Washington Capitals. Grubauer was the backup behind Braden Holtby on the Capitals that season. 

He said he believes he can play the type of role with the Kraken that goalie Marc-Andre Fleury filled for the Golden Knights in their first four seasons before being traded to the Chicago Blackhawks on Tuesday. Vegas reached the Stanley Cup Playoffs in all four seasons.

Fleury, a three-time Stanley Cup winner with the Pittsburgh Penguins, helped sell the Golden Knights in a new market as one of the first faces of the team and provided elite goaltending that was pivotal to their instant success.

“The way he came in and what they did in the last few years has been incredible,” Grubauer said. “So that’s the goal, right? To be that guy, to go to the playoffs and win the Cup.”

Though Grubauer’s resume isn’t as established as Fleury’s, he owns a Stanley Cup ring and was a finalist for the Vezina Trophy as the NHL’s best goalie last season, when he finished third in the voting behind Fleury and Andrei Vasilevskiy of the Tampa Bay Lightning.

Playing 40 of Colorado’s 56 games last season, Grubauer was 30-9-1, finishing second in the NHL in wins behind Vasilevskiy (31), and tied Semyon Varlamov of the New York Islanders for the most shutouts with seven. Among goalies who played at least 20 games last season, his 1.95 goals-against average ranked second in the NHL to Alex Nedeljkovic of the Carolina Hurricanes and his .922 save percentage was eighth among those who played at least 20 games.

Grubauer was 6-4 with a 2.61 GAA and .914 save percentage in 10 playoff games (all starts).

Selected by Washington in the fourth round (No. 112) of the 2010 NHL Draft, Grubauer has played nine NHL seasons with the Capitals and the Avalanche. He is 109-61-21 with a 2.34 GAA, .920 save percentage and 18 shutouts in 214 regular-season games (187 starts), and 19-11 with a 2.50 GAA, .913 save percentage and two shutouts in 33 playoff games (32 starts).

“I’m super happy that ‘Grubi’ is coming, too,” said Kraken forward Joonas Donskoi, who played with Grubauer the past two seasons with Colorado. “He was massive for us last season. There were many games that he was able to win for us, just making some unbelievable saves. Even if the rest of the team had an off night, he was able to carry the team and make the saves that were needed to get a win. He’s a difference-maker.”

General manager Ron Francis said he wasn’t necessarily looking for Seattle’s version of Fleury. Chris Driedger was in line to be the Kraken’s No. 1 goalie after being selected from the Florida Panthers in the 2021 NHL Expansion Draft on July 21 and signing a three-year, $10.5 million contract ($3.5 million average annual value) on Saturday. 

But Seattle pounced on the chance to get Grubauer after he was unable to agree on a new contract with the Avalanche as an unrestricted free agent.

“I don’t know going into this we thought we would get somebody like [Fleury], but you look at all the teams, you look at the goalie market, going into the protection list, we felt it was kind of drying up a little bit, and then this happens on free agency day,” Francis said Wednesday. “You never know what to expect.”

Grubauer wasn’t expecting to join the Kraken either. He said he and agent Allain Roy tried to hammer out a contract with the Avalanche up until the free agent market opened at noon ET on Wednesday, but that it wasn’t possible because of NHL salary cap space. Once Grubauer was free to talk with other teams, signing with the Kraken quickly became appealing.

“Once the window opened, Seattle called and it was a no-brainer for me to join a club that’s brand new, to be part of something and make history like Vegas did, to be the first guys who they sign with this team,” Grubauer said. 

Grubauer knows duplicating what the Golden Knights have done won’t be easy. The Avalanche were one of the favorites to win the Cup last season after winning the Presidents’ Trophy, given to the team with the best regular-season record in the NHL, but lost to the Golden Knights in six games in the Stanley Cup Second Round.

Now Grubauer will be beginning again with a team starting from scratch. But he’s embracing that challenge and said he believes, with his experience, that he can help Seattle establish a winning culture in its first season.

“We’re not in this to ease our way into this,” Grubauer said. “Although we’re a new team, a new organization, we want to win, we want to make the playoffs, we win the Stanley Cup. And it starts Game 1.”

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