After goaltender Henrik Lundqvist announced that he will not play for the Washington Capitals during the 2020-21 season due to a heart issue, GM Brian MacLellan told the media on Wednesday that “we want to see Vitek Vanecek play” and the goal was always to get him time with the NHL club.
MacLellan said that the Capitals are “always open” to improving roster “but we’re happy” on where the team is now after Tuesday’s signing of forward Conor Sheary.
MacLellan said that he is “not sure” where Sheary slots in the lineup but sees him as a “middle-six forward.” He added that he likes the flexibility that Sheary brings.
Lundqvist “has had a hard issue all along,” but MacLellan expected it to be the same as it has always been. He said that the doctors “did a great job” of taking care of him and everyone was excited to see him play. “It’s unfortunate … emotional for him and his family,” MacLellan said. He added that he is appreciative that he knows Lundqvist’s health situation “but thankful” that Lundqvist is safe.
On the Boston Bruins and Buffalo Sabres coming into the Capitals’ division and the Carolina Hurricanes and Columbus Blue Jackets going out for this season, MacLellan said that the East Division is “competitive, got a lot of good teams.” He added that the Capitals need a good start to the season, which will begin on Wednesday, January 13.
MacLellan expects that goaltender Ilya Samsonov, who missed the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs due to a tweaked nerve, “should be ready for camp” and will be good to go when the season starts.
According to MacLellan, the Capitals have not made any decisions regarding their taxi squad yet and will not until after training camp. He said that top center prospect Connor McMichael is “a possibility” to join the squad but is not sure because of the protocols post-World Juniors, where McMichael will play for Team Canada. He later added that “[we] don’t want young guys not playing” if they can play elsewhere but if they can’t play, “it’ll be beneficial for them to be on the taxi squad.”
Regarding looking elsewhere for a goalie, MacLellan said that “we’re open” to signing an unrestricted free agent or having Pheonix Copley on the taxi squad “but we like where we’re at.”
MacLellan said that Samsonov is “on track” to take over as the No. 1 goalie in Washington. “He’s ready for it… he’s got the skill. he’s got the mental makeup,” he said. MacLellan added that he thinks that Samsonov has “good experience.”
MacLellan told the media that no one on the team is injured or expected to opt-out of the 2020-21 season.
He said that the trade and unrestricted free agent chatter across the league are currently at a “normal level.”
When asked about the schedule for the upcoming season, MacLellan responded that “back-to-back situations will be different” and they will have knowledge of teams after one game, which will be beneficial. He likes the idea of back-to-backs with no travel but acknowledged that “routines are going to change” due to COVID-19 which will be a challenge mentally.
MacLellan said that contract discussions with captain Alex Ovechkin, who can become an unrestricted free agent on July 28, are “status quo” but hopes to talk to him before training camp opens on Sunday, January 3.
MacLellan plans to chat with Lundqvist about the next steps and whether he will go on long-term injured reserve. He assumes that Lundqvist will not be able to play this season.
By Harrison Brown