The Washington Capitals are doing better this season than anyone thought they would with the amount of key players lost in the offseason. Currently sitting five points above any team in the competitive Metropolitan Division and third in the league in the points, the Capitals are proving even with important subtractions over the summer they are still a threat.
But teams can always look to get better via trades and that brings us to Philipp Grubauer. He is by far the Capitals’ best trade chip should they ever look to do so. He’s a young, cheap, and a very good goalie. If a team needs a netminder of the future, then Grubauer is the man for the job.
The question is what do the Capitals actually need to get better? They have some great forwards that should be able to make a deadly Top 9. But for that to happen, they will need Andre Burakovsky and TJ Oshie to get back on their game. Let’s assume they do. That leaves just one more hole: the third defense-pairing.
The Capitals’ Top 4 looks extremely good with Dmitry Orlov and Matt Niskanen and Christian Djoos and John Carlson leading the way. And though Madison Bowey looks like he’s improving every game, the third-pairing of Brooks Orpik and Bowey is a tire fire together (45.8 Corsi For%, 42.34xGoals For%). If the Capitals need to fix anything, it’s that.
But the issue is Grubauer is worth much more than a potential rental third-pairing defenseman. It would be terrible asset management to trade him for some decent defenseman and probably something like a third-round pick.
And that’s the key here: draft picks.
The Capitals have been putting together some great teams the last three years, but they have done so by sacrificing important draft picks as most great teams do along the way. Over the last three years, the Capitals have traded away one first-round pick, five (!!!) second-round picks, and three third-round picks. That’s a lot of good picks missed out on.
The Capitals have been hitting good-to-great picks the last 10 years or so with their picks past the third-round (Braden Holtby, Grubauer, Djoos, Connor Hobbs, Shane Gerisch, etc.) but teams never want to rely too heavily on grabbing players late in the draft. The bread and butter of every team are their first and second-round picks. That’s where you’ll find the good players.
And that’s where Grubauer needs to be used: restocking the prospect pool by acquiring some good picks.
So what is Philipp worth? To answer that, I went as far back as the last 10 years to look at goalies who were traded for just picks (or picks with unimportant additions). I found six different examples. I’m sure there might be a few more, but this is the best I could find.
The players’ stats and ranks are based on the time frame they played with the team that traded them. For example, Robin Lehner played 86 games (3,682 minutes) with the Ottawa Senators before being traded. He had a .918 save percentage overall and a 5v5 save percentage of .919, which ranked him 40th in that time frame. His return was the 21st overall pick. The full trade was Lehner+Dsvid Legwand, but Legwand was such a small piece he doesn’t really matter.
How does Grubauer compare to those goalies who were traded? As one can see, the German netminder is just as good or better than most of those goalies, at least when it comes to the numbers. The fact he’s second in 5v5 save percentage since he entered the league in 2012 is astounding. The only player better than him in that time frame is Montreal Canadiens goaltender Carey Price.
There’s an argument that most, if not all of those goalies were starters or played as starters when the primary starting goalie was injured. Grubauer has only played the majority of his goals as the backup. That’s a valid point, but Grubauer has played 81 games, that’s more than enough for a good sample size. And even more so, a lot, if not most, of Grubauer’s games were played on the back-end of back-to-backs. So he was playing behind a tired Capitals team. And Caps fans know how much he has been hung out to dry. The most recent example was a game in which he pitched a 37-save shutout against the Rangers in regulation but lost in the shootout.
Trying to determine Grubauer’s specific worth is a bit difficult. It all depends on the market. Lehner, who is the worst goaltender on this list, brought back a great pick with the 21st overall pick. But Talbot, who is much better than Lehner, didn’t even bring back a first-round pick, but second, third, and seventh-round picks. There’s an argument to be made that Grubauer is worth a mid-first-round pick; he’s at least worth a late first-rounder.
But think about that positioning: mid-round (as high as 13) to late-round (as low as 29). Almost all of those positions are saved for playoff teams. Teams that just made the playoffs rarely need a goalie so desperately.
So for the Capitals, it’s all about finding that perfect partner that is 1) in desperate need for a goalie and 2) in a good position in the draft. The best teams are the ones that missed the playoffs but have two picks in the first-round of the draft. They would be much more willing to shed their later first-round pick. That’s exactly how Ottawa got the 21st overall pick from Buffalo. Buffalo had the second overall pick and the 21st overall pick (from a trade with the Islanders) so they were much more willing to move the 21st to help their goaltending situation.
For now, it’s best to keep Grubauer in case of a Holtby injury and deal him to a team at the draft that needs an answer in net. It’s a bit too early to say who would be good trade target but teams like the Calgary Flames, Buffalo Sabres, Carolina Hurricanes, and the Arizona Coyotes could be good fits. They all have starters, but they are either old and don’t have much longer on their contracts (Mike Smith), are unrestricted free agents this summer (Cam Ward), or have younger options that haven’t worked out (Lehner, Antti Raanta, Scott Darling).
And if the Capitals can’t get a first-round pick in return, they need to get at least two second-rounders and a later pick too. Getting two second-rounders isn’t a bad thing considering this year’s draft is a good one. That would leave the Capitals with one firstst-round pick and three second-rounders. That’s a quick way to restock any prospect pool
It’s not a given that those pick/s will be available, but the point here is Grubauer is too good to be used to get a bottom-pairing or bottom-six player, or even worse, to be used on a rental. The Capitals desperately need draft picks to restock their cupboard and Philipp is the perfect candidate to get them that. So unless the Capitals can get a young player in return that can help for years to come, they really should be focused on getting draft picks in return for Grubauer should they decide to trade him.
By Luke Adomanis