With The Capitals Needing To Shed Salary, Could Pheonix Copley Be Moved?

Photo: WaPo

The flat salary cap is going to make it a struggle for lots of teams to be active and make necessary changes over the next three years, and the Washington Capitals are no different. They enter the offseason with $10,394,872 remaining in cap space and 16 players under contract. Change is clearly needed after a second straight first-round exit in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, but it is going to be tough to make it happen with such limited cap space.

At the start of last season, the Capitals waived goaltender Pheonix Copley after Ilya Samsonov won out the No. 2 goalie job in training camp. Copley signed a three-year contract extension that has a $1.1 million cap hit near the end of the 2018-19 season. Even though he is with the AHL’s Hershey Bears, he still accounts for $25,000 against the Capitals’ salary cap according to CapFriendly.

While $25,000 is not a pain in the neck to deal with for the Capitals, a team that has to make adjustments and some major contract decisions coming up needs every penny it could muster.

Obviously, if Copley was projected as their No. 2 for the 2020-21 season, there would be no reason to trade him. But when Samsonov tweaked his nerve during the NHL pause and missed the entire Stanley Cup Playoffs, the Capitals played Vitek Vanecek as their back-up behind Braden Holtby, indicating that they put Vanecek ahead of Copley on the goaltending depth chart.

While Copley went 17-8-6 with a .905 save percentage, a 2.47 goals-against average, and two shutouts with the Bears this season, Vanecek was even better, going 19-10-1 with a .917 save percentage, a 2.26 goals-against average, and two shutouts.

Copley is also four years older than Vanecek and he will turn 29 at the presumable start of next season.

It has been speculated that the Capitals will look for a reliable and experienced No. 2 or 1B goaltender to play with and help guide Samsonov in free agency. The 23-year-old will enter his first season as an NHL starter and the Capitals will need to give him some insurance after he was injured in an ATV accident this past summer. Especially with a condensed schedule for the 2020-21 season, a solid No. 2 will be pivotal for the Capitals. That indicates that Copley could enter next season as low as fourth on the goaltender depth chart, something that is not ideal when he counts against the NHL budget.

While trading Copley will not make much of a difference in terms of clearing cap space or net much value in return, it is better than having a player on your salary cap when he is not even on the roster. At best, the Capitals will be able to get a sixth or even low fifth-round pick in return. However, it will be worth dealing Copley if such a trade would give them some more breathing room under the NHL salary cap.

With a condensed schedule, there will be no shortage of teams that will be looking to aid their goaltending depth. Some teams that could be interested in Copley include the Chicago Blackhawks (for depth) as Corey Crawford is set to hit unrestricted free agency in a couple of weeks, Tampa Bay Lightning as backup Curtis McElhinney is set to hit the unrestricted free-agent market (though it would be understandable if the Capitals did not want to help them as the two have been among the Eastern Conference’s best for the last six seasons), and the Winnipeg Jets as backup Laurent Brossoit is set to become an unrestricted free agent on October 9.

Another reason why dealing Copley may be of interest to the Capitals is that they have only five picks in what is supposed to be one of the deepest drafts in years. While they certainly will not be able to get a high one by trading just Copley alone, it certainly would not hurt to get another pick by trading their projected No. 4 goaltender next season even if it is low.

With the Capitals in need of every penny they can get ahead of free agency and having some big names up for contract extensions in the next year, perhaps moving Copley to shed some salary would help especially if the team does not have big plans for him in the future. While part of the reason they signed Copley was to have a goalie to expose to the Seattle Kraken in the 2021 NHL Expansion Draft, the goalie that they will sign in free agency will give them one. Of course, moving Copley may give them only a little more cap flexibility to satisfy their needs and they will have to make more moves too but the more, the better.

By Harrison Brown

About Harrison Brown

Harrison is a diehard Caps fan and a hockey fanatic with a passion for sports writing. He attended his first game at age 8 and has been a season ticket holder since the 2010-2011 season. His fondest Caps memory was watching the Capitals hoist the Stanley Cup in Las Vegas. In his spare time, he enjoys travel, photography, and hanging out with his two dogs. Follow Harrison on Twitter @HarrisonB927077
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22 Responses to With The Capitals Needing To Shed Salary, Could Pheonix Copley Be Moved?

  1. hockeydruid says:

    Looking down the road not only at expansion but after that is makes more sense to drop some of the overpaid dead wood on the roster than move Copley. There is Panik who can be traded or cut and the same with Hagelin, Jensen and Kempny. All served their purpose and now is the time to go. Or are they going to wait a year and keep this load of underproductive players around just for the expansion draft and hope one gets picked? As much as I like Oshie in this lineup I see him going to Seattle more than anyone else on this roster. Or maybe they take Orlov another big salary yet productie player.

    • Jon Sorensen says:

      Druid, I think you are right about Oshie. It’s just too good of a fit for Seattle. Home town boy, popular figure head. He would make a perfect captain to start the team.

      • Anonymous says:

        I’m not convinced Oshie is a surefire pick by Seattle. (1) It’s not clear the Caps don’t still value him. He had a productive season and was one of the few players in the bubble who was playing productively. He fits easily into the 7 forwards the Caps will protect (who else would you protect instead of Oshie?) (2) If he has a poor season or worse, gets injured, his injury history may scare Seattle from the pick. Why would you waste a pick on an aging, injured player, even if he is from your hometown? The oldest player VGK picked was MAFleury who was age 31 at the time and the Pens had to give VGK a 2nd round pick to take him. Oshie will be 34 at the time of this draft.

        • hockeydruid says:

          I think Oshie would be attractive to them for several reasons: 1) local boy good for marketing, 2) a known name and great for marketing, 3) a good scorer, 4) a leader someone who could Captain the first year players. The 7 I would protect are : Backstrom, Wilson, Kuzy, Vrana, Eller (hard to find 3rd line centers), Down (Plays Center) and Ovie. If you want to switch our Dowd for Boyd I have no problem but you may have to give up salary slot with Boyd as he is a FRA this year and Dowd is signed for 2 more years at $705K.

          • Anonymous says:

            I agree that Oshie is a Seattle local boy and good leader. However, if he’s still a good scorer, why get rid of him. Where is the replacement production coming from? The Caps can’t even replace Connolly’s or Burakovsky’s production these days. And protect Nic Dowd over Oshie? Seriously? This sounds like a plan from someone who WANTS Seattle to have a better team rather than a Caps fan.

            • hockeydruid says:

              AS a Caps fan sometimes you have to make hard decisions on players and cant always just go along with what looks good or what others say. Yes Oshie will still be productive and therefore he would have value to Seattle. What the Caps need more than a scorer is cap space and that means letting one or possible more of the big salaried players go either in the draft or trade. Now sit back a moment and look at the Caps roster on who to protect and who to make available and then also look at their salary. Dowd for what he is paid has done a fine job as the 4th line center and on a team that is strapped for salary cap room takes up little. Where Oshie and Orlov both are productive yet take up huge cap space. And things are only going to get tighter with a new contract for Ovie who I doubt will take under 49 million a year and Vrana who is an RFA after next season and the need to sign Siegenthaler who is a RFA this year and then unless you are going to play 2 rookies on the D need to sign at least 1 low priced free agent on the D. And unfortunately we are stuck with Kempny and jensen for the next 2 and 3 years as although the salary is not that bad, $2.5 mil each, they are not the players they once were. Also you have to look at the goalie situation, is Copley your backup or Vanecek? If yes then one of them will have to be exposed to the draft. If no then you are in the market for a backup goalie for next year at least. So making a decision to put Oshie on the list of unprotected players is not taken lightly but after looking at the needs of the team and the salary restrictions of the next few years. The flat cap is really going to hurt this team unless they dump some salary. A player like Panik who will be available for the draft has no value to Seattle for that price as a 4th liner and the same with Hagelin; both really bad signings by the GM.

  2. Scottlew73 says:

    Funny didn’t realize ATV’s were considered training equipment!! Shows how much he values team over personal responsibility/accountability !! I’am with the belief you start shedding @ top not bottom to make room. Orlov has been dead weight for multipy seasons,Kempny & Jensen were supposed to step in & make everyone forget defenseman who were lost to retirement,free agency,or traded. As far as forwards you have 5 that would be untouchable and guess what Ovie isn’t on that list!! If this team isn’t in top two spots in division by midway a smart GM would start “feeling ” for offers on him! Because if this team isn’t looking like finalist you better get something for him,because he’s not going to stay for a “rebuild”!!

    • hockeydruid says:

      I have absolutely no problem with Ovie being traded. I think part of the problem with this team is Ovie as he seems to be a team player once he has his points. Also he challenges and confronts coaches and that is not good and if the GM allows that to happen that is a shame. I also have no problem with trading Orlov or anyone on the defense except Carlson and Siegenthaler. Also want to keep the youngsters Alexeyev, Fehervary and Lewington; the rest can go. I also agree that NOW is the time to start your rebuild and Ovie will not be good for that, probably better in Seattle with Oshie to draw fans and give him the freedom to score a lot of goals. Would be interesting to see him play in the West rather than in the east. With Holtby gome you have already shedded some salary. And with Gudas and Dillon gone there is some more open space. If Orlov was to go you gain another $5.1 million. But now you have to fill 5 slots on the D and this organization is not that deep on the D. So unless in some trade we get back some D dont see them shedding lots of salary there until the expansion draft. Kuznetsov makes way to much for how little he scores. I say move him to the wing and lets see the goals go in more. Sad to say but this team, today, does not look like a finalist next season or for several years after that as they have just drafted to low, made poor trades and raised salaries just to try to stay competitive yesterday and today but lost their future playing for the future is now! Sad but trading Ovie may get them another Cup in 2-3 years. And they and better hurry before Pitt retools and beats them to the punch!

    • Jon Sorensen says:

      Scott, Orlov is certainly being discussed quite a bit. I wouldn’t be completely shocked if he got dealt. Someone is likely to be cut loose.

  3. Anonymous says:

    Copley wont get a return.

  4. Anonymous says:

    The Caps signed Copley to his term because of this expansion draft. Expansion draft rules say teams can protect 1 goaltender (Samsonov) but MUST expose a goaltender who is either under contract for the 2021-22 season or about to enter RFA. If you trade Copley, you must expose Vanacek. The only other option is to sign a veteran backup goalie for MORE than 1 year in order to comply with expansion draft rules (then you expose that veteran after this next season). If you do that, then what’s the point? Where’s the cap savings? The Caps will keep Copley because he was signed specifically to be exposed for the Seattle draft.

    • hockeydruid says:

      Totally agree as I believe that the Caps want to keep Vanecek. No need to sign a veteran backup as there is Copley and Vanecek who can be brought up and send down as needed and always have the ability to carry 3 goalies in Hershey which is just a short drive away if needed. Besides this team has greater needs than a goalies as I believe the 3 we have can get us to the playoffs. Yes there might be some growing pains but Copley has been there before and the other two are ready.

    • Jon Sorensen says:

      That’s what the article states. The Capitals have to sign a veteran backup before next season, that will be your exposed netminder. The point is Caps need trade pieces to address several needs for this season.

      • Anonymous says:

        Jon, the main point of your article was about shedding salary and possibly moving Copley to help that. As we said, the plan is already laid out for the draft. If you sign a veteran goalie before next season, where is the cap savings? Copley is at $1.1M AAV, it’s not worth the machinations to save that amount. Plus, what if you sign a veteran goalie like you propose and Seattle DOESN’T pick him? Then you are stuck with a higher priced alternative on your roster who you may not even want. And if Vanacek is indeed the backup this season, the only place for this veteran goalie would be in Hershey. What’s the point of wasting that money and roster spot. Just leave the trade Copley scenarios alone and everything runs smoother.

        • Jon Sorensen says:

          The Capitals have to sign a veteran backup. You can’t go with Samsonov and Vanecek as that would give a total of 26 games of NHL experience for the Capitals goaltending duo. Also, Samsonov has played more than 30 games in a season one time, and has averaged 20+ regular season games a season so far in his career. Asking him to go 35-40 games next season will be a huge leap for him, but it can be done. However, that leaves 40+ for the backup.

  5. Nokesvillejr says:

    Trading or keeping Copley doesn’t really make much difference. If McLellan can fleece some team into a 3rd or 4th round pick, trade him..

  6. Scottlew73 says:

    One of truly sad things is to watch a team give up on “Youth” just because they aren’t going to light the world on fire right away. From Bowey,Djoos,Stephenson,etc.,weren’t good enough right off,yet with more ice time & opportunity they are everyday Nhl’s,it shows either isn’t listening to scouting or vice versa. What good are draft picks when they get close they get dealt for “cheaper” older players! I’am afraid until GM’s gone nothing is going to change!

    • hockeydruid says:

      I totally agree and fail to see what the difference is between GMGM and GMBM. Sad this team is going to go to pot because of the need of the owner to always be in the playoffs and not realize that sometimes you have to retool and maybe that means a loosing season here and there but you move on and continue to play and grow. Personally I would like to see a salary dump of mega proportion and that includes NOT resigning Ovie and play all the young kids and let them grow. The result would be Better team unity and a great learning experience and also better draft picks but Im not so sure that GMBM would know what to do with better picks as he is so used to living off the scrap heap to get players for picks.

  7. Scottlew73 says:

    Sorry GM isn’t listening to scouting was what I meant to say.

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