NHL Hockey

Kraken make splash to start free agency by signing Grubauer

(AP Photo/David Zalubowski, File)

By TIM BOOTH

AP Sports Writer

SEATTLE (AP) Philipp Grubauer is going from anchoring a Presidents Trophy-winning roster to the unknowns of playing for an expansion franchise.

The Seattle Kraken had plenty of money to throw at Grubauer to make it happen.

After a somewhat underwhelming expansion draft, where Seattle landed some foundational pieces but also focused on preserving salary cap space, the Kraken made a trio of signings on the first day of NHL free agency Wednesday. There was no bigger splash than agreeing to terms with Grubauer on a six-year, $35.4 million contract with an annual average value of $5.9 million.

"I don't think we expected Grubauer to get to free agency. ... But he made it to free agency and that's when we had discussions and we were fortunate enough to get him signed," Seattle general manager Ron Francis said.

Seattle also bolstered its forward lines by signing Jaden Schwartz and Alexander Wennberg. Schwartz agreed to a five-year, $27.5 million deal with an average value of $5.5 million, while Wennberg agreed to a three-year deal worth $13.5 million and an average value of $4.5 million.

Grubauer is the star of the three after finishing as a finalist for the Vezina Trophy for the first time last season. The 29-year-old Grubauer was 30-9-1 last season with the Colorado Avalanche with a 1.95 goals-against average and a .922 save percentage. He also led the league in shutouts with seven and didn't lose consecutive games all season.

He will be paired with Chris Dreidger to form Seattle's primary goaltending duo. Grubauer appeared in 40 of Colorado's 56 games last season but Francis doesn't expect his percentage of games played to be that high in Seattle with Dreidger on board.

"Looking at our schedule, the back-to-back games, the travel west coast to east coast, a lot of times we think we needed two guys and they're going to play," Francis said.

With Grubauer and Dreidger locked in, the Kraken moved Vitek Vanecek after selecting him from Washington in the expansion draft. Vanecek was traded back to the Capitals for a 2023 second-round pick after appearing in 36 games for Washington last season.

Francis said once the deal with Grubauer was finished he had "at least six teams" reach out about acquiring Vanecek.

Schwartz appeared in 40 games and had 21 points last season for St. Louis. He became a star during the Blues' run to the Stanley Cup in 2019 when he had a team-high 12 goals.

"The opportunity to play for a new franchise not a lot of people get to do that. So I'm super excited to join them," Schwartz said. "I knew right away that was a place that I was going to look at and I'm really happy that it got done."

Wennberg, 26, had a career-high 17 goals and had 29 points total in 56 regular-season games for Florida and Francis said he views Wennberg as one of their top-six forwards with the Kraken.

"He was kind of the guy when maybe it was a bit of a firestorm happening it seemed to be he was the guy that went on the ice and calm things down," Francis said. "I think he's a smart player."

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Updated July 28, 2021

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