Philipp Grubauer has been arguably, the NHL’s best backup goalie over the last two seasons, and in that time, has proven himself worthy of being a starter in the league. With his contract expiring, an Expansion Draft in two months, and Braden Holtby firmly entrenched as the starter, was today’s game Grubauer’s last as a Capital?
A former fourth-round pick (112th overall), Grubauer got his first taste of extended NHL action during the Capitals’ forgettable 2013-14 season, and stood out in a three-goalie rotation (which also included Holtby and Michal Neuvirth), going 6-5-5, with a 2.38 goal-against average (GAA) and .925 save percentage in 17 games played (14 starts).
After appearing in only one game during the 2014-15 season, Grubauer became the Capitals’ full-time backup last season, and while he only played in 22 games, he went a respectable 8-9-1, with a GAA of 2.32, and save percentage of .918.
This season has seen Grubauer truly blossom into a starting-caliber goaltender. In 21 games played (18 starts), he recorded an impressive record of 12-6-2, GAA of 2.09, solid save percentage of .926, and three shutouts. And while the Capitals would love to have him back next season, the upcoming Expansion Draft puts Grubauer’s future in Washington in question. Under the Expansion Draft rules set by the league, the Capitals can only protect one goaltender, and that goalie will undoubtedly by Holtby.
Vegas Golden Knights General Manager George McPhee spent 17 seasons with the Caps in the same position, and drafted Grubauer back in 2010. It’s not hard to believe he could target Grubauer to become the number one netminder for the expansion franchise. The other big factor in determining Grubauer’s future will be his expiring contract. While he will be a restricted free agent, he will likely demand a starter’s salary, which could be $3 million or more a season, something the Capitals likely won’t be willing to meet considering their lack of cap space and numerous key players to re-sign. While it’s always possible that Grubauer could take less to stay in D.C., it’s unlikely.
While the Caps would likely prefer to keep Grubauer in Washington, it’s looking more and more like the popular backup will be playing elsewhere next season. After putting up a 27-21-8 record, 2.28 GAA, .923 save percentage, and three shutouts in 63 games as a Washington Capital, Grubauer deserves to be a starter in the NHL, and given the above situations, it likely won’t be in Washington.
By Michael Fleetwood