Four Pending UFA Goalies That Could Make Sense For The Capitals

Photo: NHL.com

After losing goaltender Vitek Vanecek to the Seattle Kraken in the 2021 NHL Expansion Draft, the Washington Capitals have a need in goal. While Ilya Samsonov showed flashes of brilliance in his second season, he was inconsistent and missed the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs after an ATV accident and significant time this past season after being placed on the NHL COVID-19 protocol list. With the free-agent market set to open at 12 noon ET on Wednesday, NoVa Caps looks at four goalies that could be available for the Capitals.

The Capitals have $3,418,695 to sign a goaltender and a replacement for left-handed defenseman Brenden Dillon, who was traded to the Winnipeg Jets for second-round picks in the 2022 and 2023 NHL Drafts on Monday night. Left-wing and captain Alex Ovechkin signed a five-year contract on July 27 that carries a $9.5 million cap hit, so the Capitals could look to clear cap space by moving a player like left-wing Carl Hagelin (who carries a $2.75 cap hit), right-handed defensemen Nick Jensen ($2.5 million), or Justin Schultz ($4 million).

Antti Raanta 

The 32-year-old has been limited to just 12 games in two of the past three seasons but has been solid when healthy. Raanta went 5-5-2 with a .905 save percentage and a 3.36 goals-against average last season, both career-highs on an Arizona Coyotes team that finished nine points out of a Stanley Cup Playoff spot and allowed 3.11 goals-per-game (11th-most in the NHL last season).

Raanta has finished with a .919 save percentage or higher in five of his eight NHL seasons and has pushed Corey Crawford when he was with the Chicago Blackhawks and Henrik Lundqvist when he was with the New York Rangers for playing time. It could be beneficial for Samsonov’s development to add a veteran to the roster. In 2019-20, Raanta went 15-14-3 with a .921 save percentage, a 2.63 goals-against average, and two shutouts.

At five-on-five this past season, Raanta finished with a .920 save percentage, a 2.75 goals-against average, a 0.98 goals-saved above average, a .831 high-danger save percentage, and a 0 goals-saved above expected. He also posted an .884 save percentage on the penalty kill.

Raanta, who is 93-65-20 with a .919 save percentage, a 2.46 goals-against average, and 13 shutouts in 198 career NHL games with the Blackhawks, Rangers, and Coyotes, will likely make slightly less than $3 million per season for two-to-three seasons on his next deal.

Bally Sports’ Andy Strickland reported that Raanta had linked to the Carolina Hurricanes but did not confirm that was where he is headed on Wednesday.

Linus Ullmark

The 27-year-old has performed admirably on one of the NHL’s worst teams in the Buffalo Sabres in each of the past two seasons as he has gone 26-20-6 with a .916 save percentage, a 2.66 goals-against average, and one shutout over that team, including 9-6-3 with a .917 save percentage (which tied his career-best) and a 2.63 goals-against average last season.

Ullmark started 34 games in each of the prior two seasons before 2020-21 and had success in 2019-20. In 117 career NHL games, he has gone 50-47-13 with a .912 save percentage, a 2.78 goals-against average, and three shutouts. Ullmark is been in a tandem situation with Carter Hutton in Buffalo for the past two seasons but as the 1A, so perhaps it would be good for Samsonov to be pushed by someone who has been in his skates fairly recently.

Ullmark posted a .937 save percentage, a 1.96 goals-against average, a 9.13 goals-saved above average, a .861 high-danger save percentage, and a 4.3 goals-saved above expected at five-on-five last season. He also turned in an .860 save percentage with a man down.

He could command $3-3.5 million on the open market so acquiring Ullmark may require some additional salary-cap maneuvering.

Jaroslav Halak

During the 2020-21 season, the 36-year-old posted a 9-6-4 record, a .905 save percentage, a 2.48 goals-against average, and two shutouts with the Boston Bruins last season but has finished with a save percentage of at least .914 in the seven prior. The only time he did not hit that mark over that time was in 2017-18 when he was playing in front of a New York Islanders defense that allowed a league-high 3.57 goals-per-game and 35.6 shots-per-game.

Halak has mostly been used as a tandem goalie throughout his NHL career as he has worked with Carey Price with the Montreal Canadiens, Elliott with the Blues, Braden Holtby during his brief stint with the Capitals, Thomas Greiss with the Islanders, and Tuukka Rask with the Bruins. He had some success with all of those teams, including in 2013-14 when he went 5-4-3 with a .930 save percentage, a 2.31 goals-against average, and a shutout with the Capitals after he was acquired at the NHL Trade Deadline. He also won the Jennings Trophy for allowing the fewest team goals-against with Elliott and the Blues in 2012 and with Rask in Boston in 2020.

In his final season with the Bruins, Halak tallied a .912 save percentage, a 2.23 goals-against average, a -1.88 goals-saved above average, a .814 high-danger save percentage, and a -3.6 goals-saved above expected at five-on-five. His .924 penalty-killing save percentage ranked fifth among all NHL goalies.

Halak will likely make $2.25-2.5 million for a year or two on his next contract.

Braden Holtby

After getting bought out of the final year of his two-year, $4.3 million contract by the Vancouver Canucks on Tuesday, the 31-year-old will become an unrestricted free agent.

Holtby is coming off of the two worst seasons of his career. He played just 21 games last season, finishing with a career-worst 7-11-3 record, .889 save percentage, and a 3.67 goals-against average. Holtby set career-worsts in each category in his final season with the Capitals in 2019-20, where he went 25-14-6 with an .897 save percentage and a 3.11 goals-against average. In 489 career NHL games with the Capitals and Canucks, Holtby, who ranks second among the Capitals’ all-time wins leaders, has gone 289-133-49 with a .915 save percentage, a 2.58 goals-against average, and 35 shutouts.

Last season in Vancouver, Holtby posted a .892 save percentage, a 3.64 goals-against average, a -14.59 goals-saved above average, a .747 high-danger save percentage, and a -11 goals saved above expected and at five-on-five. He also posted a .878 save percentage while shorthanded.

After sitting out the first five periods of the team’s run to the Stanley Cup in 2018 to Philipp Grubauer, Holtby went 16-7 with a .923 save percentage, a 2.16 goals-against average, and two shutouts, including back-to-back whitewashes in Games 6 and 7 against the Tampa Bay Lightning in the Eastern Conference Final.

Holtby will likely make $2 million for one season as he tries to regain his elite form and prove that teams should be willing to give him another shot.

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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2 Responses to Four Pending UFA Goalies That Could Make Sense For The Capitals

  1. Mark Eiben says:

    I’d really like to see Zachary Fucale in the back up spot. He was really good in limited time in Hershey but he’s hungry after salvaging his career and could have a VV type of surprise season I think. If he doesn’t work out, the Caps could always bring up Copley (if they have some cap space) or trade for a backup in season.

  2. novafyre says:

    no to Holts. Not even for $2 million. Why bring him here where Sammy has not yet performed to expectations so that Holts can struggle to find his form.

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