Capitals GM Brian MacClellan has a task list on his desk when it comes to his netminders.
- Franchise goalie – CHECK (big check).
- Quality, reliable, low-cost understudy back-up goalie – CHECK.
- Pipeline of prospects and draft picks to develop – CHECK.
- Trustworthy, NHL-capable, call-up ready AHL netminders – NEGATIVE.
The Washington Capitals are pretty set with their starting goaltender for the next (at least) four years. Having 2016 Vezina Trophy winner Braden Holtby locked up to a long-term deal was a key move by GM Brian MacClellan. At (a relative bargain for top-talent goalies) $6.1M average-annual value against the salary cap, Holtby will command protection from next year’s Expansion Draft, and is the top of the depth chart pending any awful luck (close your ears Hockey Gods).
In keeping with the ‘script’ the Capitals will once again look to young back-up Philipp Grubauer, who at 24 years old is about to enter the last year of his second pro contract. “Grubi” has played in some pretty tough situations, and has shown he is capable of manning the pipes to rest Holtby, or if necessary to play a stretch for the team. Grubauer is a rather valuable option at the number two spot for the Caps, as he eats only $750k against the ($73M) salary cap. He will be a restricted free-agent come next summer, and cannot be expected to be protected under the rules of the Expansion Draft. Though whether or not he is chosen by the Las Vegas franchise is yet to be determined.
Leaving the NHL ranks the depth for the Capitals begins to grow thin. The team used a first round draft pick in 2015 (22nd overall) on Ilya Samsonov, a second round pick in 2014 (39th overall) on Vitek Vanecek, and recently signed undrafted prospect Adam Carlson to a two-year minor deal. Those three players represent all of the non-NHL depth given that the Capitals have two unrestricted free-agents in journey-man Dan Ellis and former back-up Justin Peters. Both of the UFA goalies do not expect to be re-signed by Washington.
Providing that the Capitals and Hershey Bears soon hash out their affiliate agreement, it looks like the Capitals front office will be pursuing a player or two to fill the void(s) in Hershey (AHL) and also in South Carolina (ECHL). Here’s a quick look at the signed and possible depth chart for the organization.
NHL (Player, Age, Contract Type, UFA/RFA Year, AAV Cap Hit):
Braden Holtby, 26, One-Way NHL, UFA 2020, $6,100,000
Philipp Grubauer, 24, Two-Way, RFA, 2017, $750,000
AHL (Player, Age, Contract Type, UFA/RFA Year, AAV Cap Hit):
Vitek Vanecek, 20, Entry-Level Slide (Waivers Eligible), 2019 RFA, $714,167 (NHL) / $70,000 (AHL)
- Note: Per the recent WaPo article by Caps beat reporter Isabelle Khurshudyan, Capitals wizard goalie coach Mitch Korn expects to see the jump to the AHL for Vanecek this year.
Empty AHL Spot: Given that the Capitals need at least one NHL capable netminder also at the AHL level, it can be expected that GM Brian MacClellan will look outside the organization to corral an experienced goalie. It can be expected that it will be someone relatively cheap, with possible former ties to Mitch Korn. There are a few goalies out there as unrestricted Free Agents that fit the bill:
- Anders Lindback, 28 years old, a Nashville 7th round pick in 2008, was developed under Mitch Korn and has 130 games of NHL experience. He was the most recent back-up in Arizona after bouncing around from Nashville to Tampa to Dallas to Buffalo and then to Arizona (that’s a lot of bouncing).
- Carter Hutton, 30 years old, an undrafted free agent signed by Chicago (then Nashville) has been the understudy to Pekka Rinne (a Korn prodigy), and has made 76 NHL appearances and seems to not be in the future plans with Nashville (as they have Marek Mazanec signed through next season).
- Jonas “The Monster” Gustavsson, 31 years old, played 31 games last year and has made NHL appearances with Toronto, Detroit, and Boston since signing a free agent contract to come to the NHL from his successful pro career in Sweden. Having a cheap depth goalie with years of pro experience and plenty of athleticism (and size) couldn’t hurt the Capitals organization.
From: The Legends of Landover
ECHL (Player, Age, Contract Type, UFA/RFA Year, AAV Cap Hit):
Adam Carlson, 22, Minor Pro – Waivers Exempt, 2018 RFA, $705,000 (NHL) / $70,000 (AHL)
- Note: Also noted in the WaPo article (by Isabelle Khurshudyan), the Capitals are hoping to see some pro career development from Carlson in the ECHL, and given signings or future draft picks he may be a future option at the AHL level in a couple years.
Empty ECHL Spot: Still a “to-be-determined” gap filler, the Capitals require more goaltending depth. With so many minor-pro capable former draft picks and college goalies out there, look to GM MacClellan to find a develop-able asset and sign him to a minor (AHL) deal.
Prospects in Europe (Player, Age, Contract Type, UFA/RFA Year, AAV Cap Hit):
Ilya Samsonov, 19, unsigned draft pick from 2015 1st round, Capitals hold signing rights until his 21st birthday or two years from the date of being drafted. It is expected given his size, his skill level, and being a high draft pick that the Capitals will look to lock him up to an entry-level deal this year. He will be going back to his KHL team (Metallurg) after attending Capitals Prospect camp at Kettler Capitals IcePlex this week.
That’s where the Capitals stand in net. It is pretty safe to say, that even without a pro-level AHL starter under contract, the Caps still hold some of the best goaltending depth from Holtby to Samsonov. I am very pleased with the signings, development, and utilization of goalies throughout the organization.
By Scott Zweibel
LET’S GO CAPS!