After a season which saw three goaltenders being given a chance to grab hold of the No. 1 job but none of them running with the opportunity, Washington Capitals GM Brian MacLellan told the media that addressing the situation in net will be the team’s No. 1 priority this offseason.
That almost certainly means one of Ilya Samsonov or Vitek Vanecek will be moved after the Capitals lock their man in via free agency or trade. Which one will it be? NoVa Caps examines a few factors that will be major in the decision.
As you can see, Vanecek turned in the stronger regular season of the two netminders. He held a considerable advantage in almost all of the basic statistical categories, including save percentage, goals against average and goals differential (XGA- GA). [Click to enlarge]
However, the script was completely flipped in the postseason. Ilya Samsonov took over in Game 2 and finished the series for the Capitals.
While Vanecek has had the better save percentage and goals-against average in each of the past two seasons, there are a few other factors to consider.
Restricted Free Agency
Both Vanecek and Samsonov can become restricted free agents with arbitration rights on July 17. The Capitals’ qualifying offer to Samsonov will have to be at least $2.2 million (110% of his previous cap hit) and the team must decide whether he is worth that or not before the deadline to tender qualifying offers.
Vanecek’s qualifying offer should not be as interesting since he accounted for just $716,667 against the NHL salary cap this past season and he will make more than $788,334 in 2022-23.
The Capitals could also not tender a qualifying offer to Samsonov and get him lower than $2 million against the salary cap but would risk him testing unrestricted free agency and losing him.
Caliber of Goaltender Acquired
The Capitals’ decision will likely come after they have another goaltender under contract for next season to determine which of Vanecek or Samsonov fits their need as a No. 2, tandem, or No. 1 goaltender.
Would they sign a less experienced netminder such as pending unrestricted free agent Villie Husso, who has just 57 games of NHL regular season experience and just coughed up the St. Louis Blues’ starting job to Jordan Binnington in the first round of the 2022 Stanley Cup Playoffs, for example? In that instance, perhaps keeping Vanecek would be the best move since Vanecek has proven that he can run with the ball for longer stretches of time than Samsonov.
Or would the Capitals sign a proven veteran like Darcy Kuemper who has shown that he can take hold of the No. 1 job? In that event, maybe Samsonov would be the best goaltender to keep since he has shown higher upside and athleticism level. There would be less pressure on Samsonov to play at a high level for 50+ games since a goaltender of Kuemper’s ilk would provide a security blanket and be ahead of him on the depth chart.
While both goaltenders have shown signs of promise, neither has demonstrated that they could be the top goaltender for the Capitals yet.
So, the team could opt to put both on the trade block and test the market.
Vanecek could net a better return considering he has had the better stats for the past two seasons and is the more mature of the two. If it gets to a point where the Capitals really like an offer, they could just take it and go from there.
Vanecek is about 13 and a half months older than Samsonov. Since they are close in age, this could not have a major impact but it could come down to age if the Capitals see the two pretty similar in other factors.
The Time Is Drawing Near
The aforementioned represents just a few of the primary factors that will be considered should the Capitals look to deal one of their current goaltenders.
When asked if it was possible the Capitals could keep both netminders for next season, MacLellan agreed it was possible. However, considering the state of flux at the position over the past two seasons, one could easily surmise that the days of the two-headed question mark are over.
By Harrison Brown