For most of the Seattle Kraken’s surprising sophomore season, veteran Martin Jones has been manning the crease. The erratic play of presumptive starter Philipp Grubauer, coupled with an early-season injury to the German netminder, led to Jones taking the reins.
Jones’ consistency brought stability to an otherwise precarious position in the franchise’s very brief history, but recent developments in the Kraken crease are threatening to rearrange the current hierarchy.
Since the turn of 2023, Grubauer has returned to the form which saw him named a Vezina Trophy finalist for the 2019-20 season. Comparatively, Jones has seen a significant dip in his play in a manner more reminiscent of his performances in recent seasons.
The 31-year-old Grubauer has reclaimed the starting job from Jones for the time being, although it remains to be seen if he can maintain his recent spate of inspired play. Let’s dive in.
New Year, New Grubauer in 2023
Before the new year, Jones looked to have a stranglehold on the Kraken’s starting role. Grubauer’s injury cleared the way for the 33-year-old Jones to make 24 appearances to Grubauer’s 13, boasting a record of 14-5-3 in that time.
What left the door open for Grubauer was that, despite Jones’ sterling record, his actual play left the Kraken wanting. His save percentage (SV%) of .886 which, slightly better than Grubauer’s .881, was one of the worst marks in the league. Not to mention, Jones allowed nearly six goals more than expected (GSAx), ranking 67th out of 77 goalies according to Evolving Hockey’s estimation.
Since the start of 2023, the difference has been even starker. Jones owns a record of 9-4-0 since the start of the year and carried a .903 SV% and a 2.70 goals-against average (GAA), but also saved nearly four more goals than expected. By traditional metrics, Jones has looked poor, but the advanced numbers look more favorably upon his recent play.
Grubauer, on the other hand, looks like someone who saw his starting gig snatched away in his absence and is desperate to reclaim his status as a bonafide primary option. He’s made seven appearances with an unremarkable record of 3-2-2. Yet, he has posted a .930 SV% and prevented over seven goals above expected., both top-10 marks among goalies to have played in at least three games since January 1st.
Grubauer’s resurgence is a big reason why the Kraken own the seventh-best points percentage (PTS%) in the NHL since the start of 2023 (.650). If he can keep up his play, the Kraken’s crease situation becomes all the clearer heading into the deadline.
Grubauer, Jones, or Trade?
For the Kraken, the problem now becomes a question of which goaltender is the better option and which version of each player is the closest to their actual talent level.
Including his 2023 resurrection, Grubauer ranks 77th out of 88 qualified goalies (at least 10 games played since 2021-22) in SV% (.892) and has conceded the second-highest cumulative total of goals above expected. For Jones, his 70th-ranked SV% (.897) and 15th-worst GSAx total paint a slightly rosier picture of a particularly bleak image.
In the aggregate, neither inspires much confidence heading into a potential playoff showdown with, say, the high-flying Edmonton Oilers. That’s despite the Kraken being one of the stingiest defensive teams at even strength. According to Natural Stat Trick, the Kraken rank 13th or higher in terms of shots, scoring chances, high-danger chances, and expected goals against per 60 minutes at 5-on-5.
For all intents and purposes, those are above-average defensive rates and should have the Kraken sitting higher than 18th in goals against per 60 and 28th in team SV% in all situations.
The team’s red-hot finishing (first in all-situations shooting percentage) has masked some of their goaltending deficiencies, but things could get dark once the scoring inevitably cools down. They’ve done well to all but pencil themselves into a Western Conference playoff spot, but that’s only one piece of the Stanley Cup puzzle.
Unfortunately, the Kraken have little recourse even if they wish to address their issues in net. With the dearth of quality options available at the deadline, the complicated cap maneuvering required to fit in more salary with a stagnant cap, and Grubauer’s sizeable cap commitment, there appears to be nowhere to turn for relief.
Kraken Set in the Crease…For Now
Even if Grubauer’s recent showings have instilled greater confidence in his ability to consistently perform at the level expected of the 10th-highest-paid goaltender in the NHL, such output is anything but guaranteed in the long term.
The 2023 NHL Trade Deadline (March 3rd) is fast approaching, and the organization possesses the assets to make a splash if so inclined. If the Kraken hope to make a deep playoff run in their first postseason outing, solidifying the crease is a must.
The team’s defensive backbone is sturdy enough to shelter any caliber of goalies, but having a strong netminder helps alleviate many teamwide issues. It could also allow the Kraken to bolster other areas of the lineup, such as adding a truly elite attacking talent to a solid but unspectacular forward group.
General manager Ron Francis and his support staff must weigh several options ranging from standing pat to parting ways with valuable assets at the deadline. The question remains – can they trust Grubauer (or Jones) to stand tall when it matters most?