Assuming Braden Holtby does indeed decide to leave the Capitals for that big payday this offseason (we can’t blame him), the Washington Capitals will find themselves in need of a second goaltender for the 2020-21 season. While many are suggesting that the Capitals look within the organization for the additional goaltender, the only really viable solution is to sign a veteran netminder.
The reason is several fold.
Many have suggested assigning the backup roll to netminder prospect Vitek Vanecek. While that sounds ideal in nature, it would simply be too soon. The combination of Samsonov and Vanecek would give the Capitals a grand total of 26 games of NHL experience for next season. That’s too much inexperience to make a serious run for a Stanley Cup. A good solution if you are re-building, but not ideal if you plan to make a legitimate run for a second Cup.
In addition, we have to remember that Samsonov is still young and developing. Even though he has been playing professional hockey since 2015, he has typically only averaged 20+ regular season starts in his career, topping 30 starts just one time. He would still benefit from being paired with a seasoned vet.
An NHL regular season grind is like no other. Samsonov will be asked to stretch his regular season games total this season, but 40-45 games is about the most games he will likely see without giving him too much, too soon, risking injury and possibly burning him out.
That leaves 40 games (+/-) for the backup netminder. That’s too many games to ask Vanecek to take, considering he has no NHL games under his belt, and his career high regular season starts is 39 AHL games for the Bears in the 2016-17 regular season.
Also, remember that Samsonov is coming off of an injury. An injury severe enough to have him miss all of the team’s postseason. The Capitals say he will be ready to go come training camp, but you never know for sure until camp rolls around.
However, a couple of long-shot wildcards are still plausible.
The one long-shot scenario that has Braden Holtby staying in Washington would restore the Samsonov-Holtby duo in goal. If Holtby examines the free agent market and determines this year is financially unacceptable (which is possible) and feels next offseason would provide more lucrative opportunities, he could wait-out the league’s grim financial situation in Washington and sign a one or two-year extension. It’s no secret that all teams are dumping salary and shedding costs because of the fiscal environment associated with the COVID-19 stoppage, and signing big contracts is not as appealing as it was back in January. The Capitals would jump all over a friendly short-term deal with Holtby. Again, that’s a long shot.
Another wildcard would be the Capitals own financial situation requires changes to the lineup that are not ideal. If General manger Brian MacLellan believes the team needs to trim costs in every way possible, he could decide to bite the bullet and roll the dice with the two youngsters in goal, thus saving the several million he would have spent on a veteran netminder. Again, that’s another long shot, and not ideal.
The ideal scenario would see Vitek Vanecek getting games next season with a seasoned veteran eating 45-50 regular games. Unfortunately, Vanecek is not waivers exempt, meaning once he joins the Capitals he would need to clear waivers to return to Hershey. That ties the hands of the Capitals quite a bit.
By Jon Sorensen