Grubauer, Anderson, Lehner, Crawford top NHL Draft storylines
Dallas, TX — During the 2017-18 NHL season, the Colorado Avalanche received quality goaltending from both starter Semyon Varlamov and backup Jonathan Bernier during the games they were able to play.
Both goaltenders were hurt multiple times during the regular season, though, and both ended up hurt at the same time during the postseason to leave Colorado with just Andrew Hammond to hold down the fort in a postseason battle against the Nashville Predators.
As a result, they went ahead and added to their depth chart at the 2018 NHL Draft via trade, despite satisfactory performances from both players they had the season prior.
It was announced just half an hour prior to the start of the 2018 NHL Entry Draft on Friday in Dallas, Texas that the Avalanche had acquired Washington Capitals backup Philipp Grubauer and defenseman Brooks Orpik, sending their 47th overall pick to the Capitals in return.
The deal was quickly followed with the news, per The Athletic’s Pierre LeBrun, Orpik would bought out by the Avalanche, which truly makes the deal a move to acquire Grubauer, who started the first two games of the Capitals run to the Stanley Cup before being replaced by Braden Holtby the rest of the way. Colorado re-signed Grubauer, who was set to become a restricted free agent on July 1, to a three-year, $10-million contract shortly after the NHL Draft ended Saturday.
Avs sign newly acquired goalie Phillip Grubauer to three-year deal worth on average $3.33 M per season ($3.35 M, $3.9 M, $2.75 M)
— Pierre LeBrun (@PierreVLeBrun) June 23, 2018
With a career .620 quality start percentage and a raw .923 save percentage in all situations over 101 regular season games, Grubauer will head to the Avalanche with a large enough sample size to, at the very least, give his new team confidence that he’s going to be able to provide serviceable backup abilities during his tenure with the club. Still in question is his durability in a bigger role.
When he appeared in 35 collective NHL regular season games in 2017-18, the German native hit a career high in single season games played. His performance was one of his best yet, but still falls far short of what would be expected of a true NHL starter; if the Avalanche need him to serve as such for whatever reason, there’s still no definitive guarantee he can carry the workload.
There’s also, of course, the question of who he’ll play with. The expectation is that Grubauer will serve as a tandem with Semyon Varlamov, but the understanding both in and out of the organization is that the injury concerns for the No. 1 are still an issue. With just one year left on Varlamov’s deal, any struggles Grubauer could potentially face with a bigger workload would create questions as to whether or not they’ll need to look elsewhere for someone else to help the team as a tandem moving forward.
For now, though, Avalanche general manager Joe Sakic has a duo he is happy with.
The plan, based on the way the league is going, is to split the starts more evenly between Varlamov and Grubauer. In this league, per Sakic, it’s hard to have a guy play 70, even 60 games during a regular season. pic.twitter.com/p0mVOikgVT
— Caatta Silverman (@catmsilverman) June 23, 2018
“We’re excited to have two No. 1 goalies,” Sakic said.
Sakic also confirmed Bernier would hit the open market as an unrestricted free agent on July 1.
SABRES CUTTING TIES WITH LEHNER, WHO BECOMES UFA
It’s the second-straight summer Bernier will take part in the annual game of musical chairs that is goaltending free agency, and the Buffalo Sabres added another name – and another seat – to the game when they confirmed during draft weekend they were cutting ties with Robin Lehner.
Lehner was set to become a restricted free agent July 1, but the Sabres choose not to extend the $4-million qualifying offer required to maintain his rights, instead making him an unrestricted free agent.
“It was a difficult decision,” Sabres general manager Jason Botterill said. “When you finish 31st, you have to make some difficult choices and we have informed Robin that he’s not coming back next year.”
Lehner, 26, was acquired by the Sabres at the 2015 NHL Draft, along with forward David Legwand, for the 21st pick that year. He played the next two seasons on an existing contract worth $2.225 million per season, bouncing back from a high ankle sprain in his first game with the Sabres to post a .924 save percentage in 21 games in 2015-16, and following that up with a .920 in 2016-17. There was talk of a long-term extension last summer, but it ended when Tim Murray, who knew Lehner from their time together in Ottawa and acquired him for the Sabres, was fired as general manager.
Lehner signed a one-year, $4-million, “show me” contract and went 14-26-9 with a .908 save percentage while again struggling with injures behind a bad Sabres team that finished last in the NHL.
With Chad Johnson also expected to leave as an unrestricted free agent on July 1, the Sabres will turn to promising Swede Linus Ullmark, while also looking to bolster their depth with a free agent addition.
“There’s a growing process here with everything,” Botterill said. “We think Linus is ready for the next challenge here but to hand over the No. 1 role, I think that’s unfair to any young goalie.”
SENATORS NO. 1 ANDERSON AVAILABLE IN TRADE?
Lehner wasn’t the only surprising name added to the goalie market: Ottawa Senators No. 1 Craig Anderson was also added to the mix after Chris Stevenson of The Athletic reported he asked for a trade:
Goaltender Craig Anderson has expressed his desire to move on from the Senators, @theathletic has confirmed. That’s usually the case when the agent is working on trying to find a deal, as @frank_seravalli reported a little while ago.
— Chris Stevenson (@CJ_Stevenson) June 22, 2018
Anderson, 37, signed a two-year extension prior to last season that kicks in for 2018-19 and is worth $4.75 million annually. He is coming off his worst statistical season since 2005-06, with a 23-25-6 record and .898 save percentage behind a Senators team that competed with Buffalo as one of the NHL’s worst.
Beyond his .914 career save percentage and a good chance he’ll be a lot better behind a decent defensive structure, Anderson has another statistical trend working in his favor: He has alternated between exceptional and average seasons for the last eight years, and is due for another bounce back.
Working against Anderson is the fact a team will have to surrender an asset to acquire him from Ottawa, something that isn’t required to sign any of a long list of free agents that includes Carter Hutton, Bernier, Lehner, Cam Ward, or Anton Khudobin, some of the top names among 30 pending free agent goalies.
BLACKHAWKS BRASS SAYS CRAWFORD CLOSE TO RETURN
The Chicago Blackhawks were among several teams being linked to Grubauer, which may seem odd until you consider the questions that continue to surround the health of their No. 1 goalie, Corey Crawford.
Crawford, 33, was 16-9-2 with a .929 save percentage and garnering buzz as a leading Vezina Trophy candidate before being placed on injured reserve Dec. 27 with an upper-body injury and missing the final 47 games of the regular season. Widely believed to be a concussion from a crease collision, Crawford still hasn’t resumed skating but is expected to do so shortly.
Quenneville on Crawford: “Reports are he’s doing well. A lot of guys are training in Chicago, and we expect him soon. I think he’s going to be fine going into camp.”
— Scott Powers (@ByScottPowers) June 22, 2018