After goaltender Braden Holtby signed a two-year contract with the Vancouver Canucks and the news that newly-signed goaltender Henrik Lundqvist will miss the entire 2020-21 season due to a heart condition, the Washington Capitals now have a hole at backup goaltender.
With Lundqvist’s and defenseman Michal Kempny’s cap hits off of the books, the team now has nearly $3 million to acquire a goaltender and possibly a right-wing. Kempny will also miss this season due to a torn Achilles tendon, though there’s an outside chance he could return for the postseason. NoVa Caps takes a look at where the team goes from here in goal.
Now that the Capitals have holes in goal and at forward, it may make sense to try to offload some contracts via trades. The two most likely candidates are likely defenseman Nick Jensen, who has three years remaining on a four-year contract that carries a $2.5 million cap hit, and forward Richard Panik, who has three years remaining on a four-year contract that carries a $2.75 million cap hit.
Jensen is likely going into training camp as the team’s seventh defenseman while Panik performed better as last season went along, but his cap hit is a bit expensive for a player who is suited better for a fourth-line role on the Capitals.
However, it may cost to move those contracts with a flat salary cap. If those two are offloaded, the team would have $6,788,457 available to acquire a goaltender and a middle-six right wing.
The Capitals have a couple of internal options at goalie as Pheonix Copley served as Holtby’s backup during the 2018-19 season and performed admirably, going 16-7-3 with a .905 save percentage, a 2.90 goals-against average, and one shutout, but he is going to turn 29 on January 18 and has never established himself as a full-time NHL goalie as he has only played 29 career NHL games.
Vanecek went 19-10-2 with a .917 save percentage, a 2.26 goals-against average, and two shutouts with the AHL’s Hershey Bears last season, but has never started an NHL game. For a team that is built to win now, having a sophomore starter and a rookie or AHL goalie as the back-up would not be ideal.
Before 2018-19, when he started 37 games with the Bears, Samsonov never played more than 28 games in his pro career. Samsonov struggled in his first season in North America, going 20-14-3 in Hershey with an .898 save percentage and a 2.70 goals-against average, but finished strong after his first 20 starts.
Since NHL teams are likely going to play somewhere between 52-56 games, the Capitals could start Samsonov for around 30 games, slightly more than his previous career-high and split the other 22-26 games between Vanecek and Copley to save some money under the salary cap.
In a regular 82-game slate, Samsonov would likely be expected to start somewhere around 45 games. They could start him for 45 this season and give Vanecek, Copley, or both the other eight-12 games but with a shortened season, it would be better for Samsonov’s development to ease him into the starter’s job.
Another option would be to sign another goaltender for cheap in free agency. The market is not that appealing with Ryan Miller, Jimmy Howard, Corey Schnieder, and Craig Anderson as the most-experienced options. Howard, 36, is coming off of the worst season in his NHL career where he went 2-23-2 with an .882 save percentage and a 4.20 goals-against average in 27 games with the Detroit Red Wings, all career-worsts.
Miller, 40, has played at least 20 games in every season since 2005-06, including 23 last year with the Anaheim Ducks where he want 9-6-4 with a .907 save percentage and a 3.10 goals-against average. He has seen his save percentage dip in each of the past three seasons.
Schnieder, 34, has seen his numbers decline in each of the past four seasons after posting a .924 save percentage and a 2.15 goals-against average in 2015-16 and got bought out by the New Jersey Devils after recording a career-worst .887 save percentage and 3.53 goals-against average last season. He signed a one-year contract with the New York Islanders in October but will likely be the No. 3 on their goalie depth chart.
Anderson, 39, was a solid goalie for a long time but posted a .902 save percentage and a 3.25 goals-against average with the Ottawa Senators last season and has not posted a save percentage higher than .903 since 2016-17.
Any of these goalies would provide the experience that the Capitals need in a back-up goalie but it is questionable whether any of them can now provide the quality of goaltending the Capitals would need as a No. 2 or 1B option.
The Capitals could also opt to go the trade route to fill their hole. Of the goaltenders eligible to hit the unrestricted free-agent market next summer who could be dealt due to their current teams’ positions in the NHL, Antti Raanta of the Arizona Coyotes and Pekka Rinne of the Nashville Predators would probably be the most appealing options for the Capitals.
Raanta, 31, went 15-14-3 with a .921 save percentage, a 2.63 goals-against average, and two shutouts after missing most of the 2018-19 campaign due to injury. He has finished five of his seven NHL seasons with a save percentage of at least .919 and a goals-against-average of 2.63 at the highest. One problem with trading for Raanta would be the cost. He has been one of the top netminders in the NHL for the most part of the last three seasons and the Coyotes could very well demand a first-round pick (and more) for him as they lost their first-round pick in 2021 for violating the NHL Combine’s testing policy. That may not make sense if Samsonov is going to get the majority of the starts.
Rinne, 38, went 18-14-4 with an .895 save percentage, a 3.17 goals-against average, and three shutouts last season and lost the starting job in Nashville to Juusse Saros. Before his down season, Rinne posted a save percentage of at least .918 in four of the past five seasons and was a Vezina Trophy winner as recently as 2017-18. After the Predators selected the best goaltender in the 2020 NHL Draft in Iaroslav Askarov and started Saros in the Stanley Cup Qualifiers, they hinted that they do not see Rinne as the future in net. Rinne would make a lot of sense for the Capitals as he brings experience and was known as one of the best goalies in the league before the 2019-20 season. He carries a cap hit of $5 million but as he is expected to enter the season as the No. 2 on the Predators. Perhaps the Predators would even be willing to take on some salary or sweeten the pot for the Capitals to take Rinne. If the Capitals could get Rinne for around a third-round pick, it makes a lot of sense.
While there are plenty of ways to go about solving this hole, there is not much time to do it and the Capitals still have another need to fill at some point. How will they ultimately solve this hole? Stay tuned.
By Harrison Brown
I doubt the Predators trade Rinne in the last year of his contract & they don’t need cap relief as they have over $12 million in cap space. Rinne is an icon in Nashville and is likely to retire after this season. Also, I’m not sure the Predators are 100% confident that Saros can carry the load by himself after his poor playoff performance.
Agree. IMHO the need is for a seasoned vet to tutor Sammy and Vanecek for a season, and eat a dozen games.
If it were me, I’d just promote the goalies already in the system. This season is looking more and more like a throwaway. That leaves the organization a little breathing room for when the next shoe drops.
I tend to agree with promotion part. Also, the rosters will likely be expanded from 23 to 26, and allowing a 4-man taxi squad, so it’s likely they could go with three netminders on the roster/taxi squad.
Hershey is the one that is going to be hurting goalie wise if the AHL plays. If they lose both Vanecek & Copley, they’re left with Fucale & Shepard. I like Shepard, but he is a rookie. I’m not a big fan of Fucale & he hasn’t played much in the AHL the past few seasons. If Vanecek & Copley both are in DC, the organization may need to add some depth at the AHL level
Agreed. Hershey’s picture in goal is even less clear. It’s difficult to project what the Capitals will exactly do with expanded roster and taxi squad. Will they go with three netminders, having one sit for a majority of the season, or will they try to sign a vet and leave one in Hershey. Samsonov and Vanecek need a seasoned vet for guidance this season, so I’d like to see a vet signed, and have Cops start the season in Hershey.
UFA’s still available.
With the expanded roster adn taxi squad they can carry 3 goalies. Unless they sign someone they already have 3 that can carry the load in Samsonov Copley and Vanecek. As for forwards why bother as there are plenty already in the fold and in Hershey. With the draft coming up there is no need to bring in more players until we see what is lost in the draft and how much cap space that creates. Also dont see anyone taking of of the salaries off our hands without taking high draft picks which at this time due to past blunders this team cannot afford to lose. Finally with the shuffled divisions I think that the Caps are in real trouble next season even if they get an experienced goalie. If they are playing 56 games then they will play each team 8 times. I dont see them winning many against the Islanders or Flyers or Sabers or Bruins. I think they will split with the Pens and probably the Rangers. The Devils will be real interesting but they should win most of the games against them. One good thing that this throw-away season will do is if it plays out like expected with the Caps not doing well against most of the teams in their division they should get a high draft pick which is something they need. So lets go into the season with what we have on board now and let the guys play and see what they can do not only for pride but also for a new coach. And remember that after this season the will have to sign Ovie, Vrana, Siegenthaler and Samsonov. And just wondering if Ovie wants to come back here to play or maybe go to Seattle or back to Russia. Having lost now 4 seasons he will not Catch Gretzky as he is still is 186 behind and that is over 6 seasons of 30+ goals.