Photo: NBC DFW
With goaltender Braden Holtby possibly not returning to the Washington Capitals next season, as he looks for a big payday that the Capitals can’t afford, the team will need to sign a veteran backup goalie in free agency, as Ilya Samsonov will not have the experience to start every night. Assuming the NHL salary cap stays flat for next season, the Capitals will have $10,394,872 to spend with the back-up netminder position being a priority. NoVa Caps takes a look at four free-agent candidates to fill that role.
Of all the goalies listed here, Lehner is the most unlikely, but with Holtby’s $6.1 million cap hit off the books, the Capitals have some spare space and Lehner is arguably one of the best goalies on the market. After winning the Bill Masterton Trophy as the player who has shown the most preserverence and finishing with the second-best save percentage (.930) behind Dallas Stars goaltender Ben Bishop (.934), the 28-year-old has had another solid season as he has gone 19-10-5 with a .920 save percentage, a 2.89 goals-against average, and a shutout in 36 games with the Chicago Blackhawks and Vegas Golden Knights this season. He is 3-0-0 with a .940 save percentage and a 1.67 goals-against average since the trade. Lehner could be looking to be a full-time starter, but he has shared the net the past few years and could be a great mentor for Samsonov with all of the issues he has faced. He has posted a save percentage above .920 in six of his 10 NHL seasons. Lehner has been on one-year contracts for the past two seasons so he could be looking for a more permanent home, so that could rule the Capitals out, but as long as he’s on the market, it’s worth talking about him. He will likely command a cap hit in the $5.5 million range.
Elliott has had success as a starting goaltender before and he was tied for second in the NHL with a .930 save percentage and for fourth with a 2.07 goals-against average in 2015-16 with the St. Louis Blues, where he started 42 games. He also won the Jennings Trophy for allowing the fewest team goals-against with the Blues in 2012. The 35-year-old has been on the decline since his superb season in St. Louis four seasons ago but remains a solid backup nontheless. Elliott has also been key in mentoring Carter Hart’s development the past two seasons and the 21-year-old has had a solid season with a .914 save percentage and a 2.42 goals-against average. Elliott’s experience and mentorship could also rub off on Samsonov for a couple seasons like it has with Hart. He has even more experience mentoring young goalies as Elliott has helped guide Lehner during his time with the Ottawa Senators and Jake Allen during his tenure with the Blues. Elliott will likely cost around $1.5 million per season on his next deal.
Greiss has started at least 31 games in five of the past six seasons and has posted a save percentage of at least .913 and a goals-against-average of 2.74 at most in five of those seasons. In that other season, the Islanders were one of the NHL’s worst-ever teams defensively and Greiss faced an average of 35.4 shots-per-game, the fourth-most in the league, and started the fewest amount of games personally since the season before he joined the Islanders in 2014-15. Greiss pitched five shutouts last season, which was tied for sixth in the NHL, a 2.28 goals-against average, which was fourth, and a .927 save percentage, which was tied with Blues goaltender Jordan Binnington for fifth. He has experience in a 1A-1B goalie scenario as he has played with Lehner and Jaroslav Halak with the Islanders, Antti Niemi with the San Jose Sharks, and Marc-Andre Fleury with the Pittsburgh Penguins, so his experience could also have a positive impact on Samsonov. Greiss shared the Jennings Trophy with Lehner a season ago. This year, the 34-year-old is 16-9-4 with a .913 save percentage and a 2.74 goals-against average. Greiss could cost around $2.5-3 million, which could be a bit pricey for the Capitals to pay a backup.
The 33-year-old has been an exemplary understudy to Tuukka Rask with the Boston Bruins and Bishop with Stars for the past three seasons. After posting a .923 save percentage and a 2.57 goals-against average in 41 games with the Stars last season, Khudobin has topped that this year, going 16-8-4 with a career-high .930 save percentage and a career-low 2.22 goals-against average. He has finished with a .920 save percentage or higher in seven of his 11 NHL seasons and has never had a goals-against average higher than 2.72. Khudobin has also played at least 30 games five times in his career, including a career-high 41 with the Stars last season. He brings leadership since he has played with Bishop, Rask, and Cam Ward throughout his career, quality backup goaltending, and can play 35+ games. With time running out on Khudobin, it’s about winning a Stanley Cup now so he could take a bit of a discount but could still cost around $2.5 million per season. Still, this is someone that the Capitals need to jump on to mentor Samsonov and allow him to split time in the net.
By Harrison Brown