The Seattle Kraken have activated goaltender Philipp Grubauer off of injured reserve. In a corresponding move, defenseman Gustav Olofsson has been reassigned to the team’s AHL affiliate, the Coachella Valley Firebirds.
Grubauer, 30, was placed on injured reserve on October 25th after suffering an injury during a game against the Colorado Avalanche, his former team. After a moderate absence, he is now healthy and ready to return to the ice.
Complicating Grubauer’s return, though, is the current state of the Kraken and the current performance of the man signed to be Grubauer’s backup: Martin Jones. The Kraken currently sit fifth place in the Western Conference, and have a solid 9-5-3 record, with seven of those wins coming in their last ten games. Jones’ play has been a major part of that, and he at the moment is giving the Kraken some of the best goaltending in their brief franchise history.
Last season, the poor play in net was one of the major reasons the Kraken were among the NHL’s worst teams. Grubauer was perhaps the worst starting netminder in hockey in 2021-22, posting a nightmarish .889 save percentage in 55 games. Backup Chris Driedger didn’t fare much better with a .899 of his own, and this season it’s been more of the same for Grubauer. In four games this season, he has a 3.70 goals-against-average and a .860 save percentage.
In contrast, Jones has posted a .912 save percentage and 2.34 goals-against-average. So the simple answer with Grubauer returning is to maintain Jones’ starring role.
But complicating the situation, and potentially necessitating a different answer from that simple one, is the contract status of each goalie.
The Kraken have significant dollars tied to Grubauer, as he makes $5.9MM each year for the next five seasons. Jones, on the other hand, is playing on an expiring one-year, $2MM deal.
So on one hand, the Kraken likely stand to have the best odds of winning as many games as possible if Jones gets the lion’s share of starts.
But on the other, playing Jones and limiting Grubauer’s game action could further damage Grubauer’s confidence, and hurt his odds of bouncing back and playing like the quality netminder he was with the Avalanche and Washington Capitals.
The Kraken are tied to Grubauer, after all, and while Jones operating as a full-on starter may have short-term benefits, it could cost them in the long term.
This could be a difficult decision for head coach Dave Hakstol to make. But since coaches are often the first to fall if a team hits a rough patch, they typically take the “win the game in front of you” approach to roster decisions, which is entirely reasonable. So with that in mind, it seems that Grubauer’s return won’t take a major chunk out of Jones’ workload.
But regardless of what the situation looks like now, Grubauer’s return to the Kraken roster and how he is deployed is certainly something worth tracking in the coming weeks.
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