Photo: Lehigh Valley Phantoms
With goaltender Braden Holtby set to become an unrestricted free agent in the coming weeks and Ilya Samsonov, who is poised to grab a more significant role in his second NHL season, missing the entire 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs after falling off of his ATV during the NHL pause and never having been a starter for a full season, the Washington Capitals will likely need to go out and sign a goaltender in free agency.
If not, the team will have a goaltending tandem of Samsonov and Vitek Vanecek or Pheonix Copley. The three have combined for just 55 games of NHL experience and none in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. That spells trouble for a team trying to muster as many Stanley Cups as possible out of a core who’s window that appears to be closing soon. The Capitals will likely need at least 35 starts out of their No. 2 goaltender in 2020-21 as neither of the three main goalies in the system have played 40 games in a season. There is a chance the Capitals will go with Copley or Vanecek in goal but if they determine that there is room under the budget, they could look to add an experienced 1B/No. 2 goalie. After looking at possible free-agents fits at forward and defense, NoVa Caps looks at some possibilities in goal:
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 (which was tied for sixth in the NHL), a 2.28 goals-against average (fourth), and a .927 save percentage (tied with Blues goaltender Jordan Binnington for fifth) last season . He has experience in a 1A-1B goalie scenario. He has played with Lehner and Jaroslav Halak with the Islanders, Antti Niemi with the San Jose Sharks 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 went 16-9-4 with a .913 save percentage and a 2.74 goals-against average. He also posted a .922 five-on-five save percentage, a 2.53 five-on-five goals-against average, a 2.54 goals-saved above average, a .841 high-danger save percentage, and a 1.43 high-danger goals-against average. Greiss stopped 20 of 21 shots in his lone Stanley Cup Playoff appearance so far, which was in relief of Semyon Varlamov in Game 2 of the Islanders’ second-round series against the Philadelphia Flyers.
Greiss could cost around $2.5-3 million, which might be a little expensive for him.
Talbot had a solid first season with the Calgary Flames as he went 12-10-1 with a .919 save percentage, a 2.63 goals-against average, and two shutouts in the regular season, grabbing the starters’ role for the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs. He shined in August as he went 5-4-0 with a .924 save percentage, a 2.42 goals-against average, and two shutouts.
The 33-year-old has shown he can take a heavy workload before, starting a league-high 73 games for the Edmonton Oilers in 2016-17 and 67 the next season. However, like Greiss, he has experience in a 1A-1B situation as he played with Henrik Lundqvist during his time as a New York Ranger and David Rittich just this past season. He has had a save percentage of at least .917 in five of his seven seasons in the NHL.
Talbot posted a .925 five-on-five save percentage, a 2.51 five-on-five goals-against average, a 3.83 goals-saved above average, a .806 high-danger save percentage, and a 1.28 high-danger goals-against average with the Flames this past season.
He will likely make a shade more than $2 million on his next deal, which will almost certainly be a short-term one.
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. Elliott went 16-7-4 with a .904 save percentage and a 2.71 goals-against average during the 2019-20 regular season with the Flyers.
The 35-year-old has been on the decline since his superb season in St. Louis four seasons ago but remains a reliable backup. He posted a .908 five-on-five save percentage, a 2.66 five-on-five goals-against average, a -6.63 goals-saved above average, a .806 high-danger save percentage, and a 1.56 high-danger goals-against average.
Elliott has also been vital 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. His experience and mentorship could positively affect Samsonov’s development for a couple of seasons like it has with Hart’s. 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, which will also almost certainly be a short-term one.
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.
Khudobin finished with a league-best .947 five-on-five save percentage during the regular season, a league-low 1.62 five-on-five goals-against average, an 18.62 goals-saved above average (second, Bruins’ Tuukka Rask: 19.69), a .852 high-danger save percentage, and a 1.04 high-danger goals-against average.
He brings leadership since he has played with Bishop, Rask, and Cam Ward throughout his career, quality backup goaltending, and can play 35+ games. Khudobin has been admirable during the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs, posting a 6-4-0 record with a .913 save percentage and a 2.75 goals-against average for the Stars while Bishop has been unfit to play.
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 $2.5-3 million per season on a short-term deal. Still, this is someone that the Capitals should jump on to mentor Samsonov and allow him to split time in the net.
By Harrison Brown