Targeting A Tender: Which Goaltender Should The Capitals Acquire?


Washington Capitals General Manager Brian MacLellan made it clear in his season-ending interviews that the top priority for the Capitals this offseason is acquiring a veteran starting goaltender. The shift in strategy comes on the heels of two seasons of Vitek Vanecek and Ilya Samsonov sharing the starters net, leaving the Capitals without a true go-to option in net down the stretch and in the postseason.

The lack of solid, consistent goaltending has hamstrung the Capitals and has most certainly contributed to their four-straight first round fizzles following the 2018 Stanley Cup. As a result, the wheels of change were set in motion by MacLellan on day 2 of this year’s draft when he traded Vanecek and the 46th overall pick to the New Jersey Devils for the 37th and 70th overall picks in the draft.

In addition, Samsonov is currently a restricted free agent with arbitration rights, and it’s not completely certain that he remains with the team, if arbitration is required. All this being said, the Capitals will be in the market for a free agent goaltender when free agency opens at noon on Wednesday.

In this post, we’ll take a look at the top options in free agency, as well as potential trade targets. To learn more about the statistics used in this post, check out our analytics glossary. Statistics and contract projections referenced in this post are courtesy of Evolving Hockey, HockeyViz, and Hockey Reference.

For the sake of this post, we’ll take a look at three options in unrestricted free agency in Darcy Kuemper, Eric Comrie, and Jack Campbell. We’ll also consider the options of trading for Anaheim’s John Gibson and Minnesota’s Cam Talbot. For reference’s sake, we’ll also compare these goaltenders’ 2021-22 season performances to those turned in by Vanecek and Samsonov.

Goals Saved Above Average and Goals Saved Above Expected

Goals Saved Above Average (GSAA) and Goals Saved Above Expected (GSAx) are important metrics we can use to judge a goaltender’s performance. This allows us to take into account the defensive performances of the skaters in front of the goaltenders while also judging the quality (or lack thereof) of performances of the goaltenders in question.

Here’s a snapshot of how each of the goaltenders previously mentioned stacked up in GSAA and GSAx (adjusted for score and venue): [Click to enlarge]

Kuemper is clearly the front-runner here, posting the best marks in both GSAA and GSAx. Effectively, Kuemper saved 15.77 goals above expected, meaning that his actual goals allowed were lower than what was expected based on shot and chance quality.

Comrie also posted pretty solid results but had by far the lowest time on ice out of all of these goaltenders (1025 minutes of TOI). Campbell had decent marks in GSAA but ended up giving up more goals than expected. Talbot really struggled in GSAx. Vanecek put up mediocre results while Samsonov struggled mightily.

Save Percentage by Situation and Shot Type

Many times, goalies will post relatively solid numbers during even strength scenarios but will then struggle while on the penalty kill. There’s that old adage that says, “goaltenders have to be your best penalty killers.” Let’s see how these candidates fared:

Again, Comrie posted a very solid .935 save percentage at even strength in a small sample size, but also really struggled on the PK. Kuemper’s .923 save percentage is the top in this grouping and was 13th overall in the NHL in PK save percentage. Vanecek was actually rather solid in overall save percentage during even strength but didn’t see the same success while on the PK. Samsonov struggled in both scenarios.

Now, let’s take a look at a few visuals from HockeyViz that show how each of these goaltenders fared against different shot types. These will be in a gallery view so it’s more easily comparable: [Click to enlarge]

Overall, there’s one performance that really sticks out. It’s Kuemper, again. He was absolutely elite against wrist and snap shots, allowing only 72 goals compared to 91.2 expected goals against for that shot type. He was also elite against tip and deflection shots, allowing only 9 goals on 20.6 expected goals against.

Cost to Acquire

You might be thinking, “Kuemper is a sure bet, the Capitals should go out and sign him!” I wouldn’t disagree, but free agency is always a gamble. There are plenty of teams that are in need of starting goaltending and the market for starting goaltenders in unrestricted free agency is very top heavy. Let’s take a look at some contract projections from Evolving Hockey for the free agents first:

There’s some risk in handing out a six-year contract with a $6.315M cap hit to a 32-year-old goaltender. Effectively, if the Caps offer a deal like this to Kuemper, the front office will bank on Kuemper to play at an elite level for the next three or four seasons until the playoff contention window slams shut as the core group ages out.

One thing that would tell me is that MacLellan is all-in on trying to win a Stanley Cup and not just be content with getting to the playoffs and getting Ovechkin closer to breaking Wayne Gretzky’s goal scoring record.

On the other hand, you see a potential bargain candidate in Eric Comrie with a “prove it” one year deal to see if he’s the starter of the present and future. The argument against that is the Capitals have been banking on potential in net the past couple seasons over valuing present production. It is clear: unless you end up drafting elite talents like division rivals in New York with Igor Shesterkin and Ilya Sorokin, you have to spend on goaltending to win a Cup.

Essentially, with the free agent group, the trade-off is that you are spending money (potentially over-spending) in hopes it gets you over the top, instead of trading draft capital or prospects to bring in another established talent.

Trades for starting goaltenders are very unpredictable, and trades for starting goaltenders with term remaining on their deal (as in not a rental) are extraordinarily rare. There is very little history to base what a potential package for a goaltender of Gibson’s stature would entail. We can assume that the price will be on the higher end, likely to the tune of one of a team’s top prospects and a first or second round pick.

Conclusion

The Capitals have options in the free agent market for a starting veteran goaltender but it’s clear that Kuemper is the clear top of the class option. MacLellan and the front office are going to have to weigh the options in overpaying and over-extending term for a dire roster need in a 32-year-old goaltender who is coming off of a Stanley Cup, or parting with high end draft capital and prospects to acquire a goaltender of Gibson’s caliber.

For veteran goalie help, it’s clear that Gibson and Kuemper are (or should be) the top targets in net. For a potential “diamond in the rough” candidate on a prove-it deal, Comrie is a solid option as well.

By Justin Trudel

 

About Justin Trudel

Justin is a lifelong Caps fan, with some of his first memories of the sport watching the team in the USAir Arena and the 1998 Stanley Cup appearance. Now a resident of St. Augustine, FL, Justin watches the Caps from afar. Justin graduated with a Bachelor's of Science in Political Science from Towson University, and a Master's of Science in Applied Information Technology from Towson University. Justin is currently a product manager. Justin enjoys geeking out over advanced analytics, roster construction, and cap management.
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21 Responses to Targeting A Tender: Which Goaltender Should The Capitals Acquire?

  1. novafyre says:

    Ha! Someone else brave enough to state that maybe Sammy will be gone as well. Will all his baggage, with all his problems, any demand for greater than cost of living increase in salary would get him the hook.

    • Jon Sorensen says:

      I (personally) wouldn’t mind starting from scratch, as crazy as that sounds.

      • novafyre says:

        I agree with you Jon. I have raised the possibility because I cannot recall Mac saying anything good about Sammy this past week. Theory is he made both available, Devils wanted Vitek. Maybe better player, maybe no Ukraine or military service issues. But unless I missed it, Mac never came out and said Sammy, Sammy, he’s our man, if he can’t do it no one can.

        I’d rather go the Canes route with signing a new #1 and looking to Hershey for new #2.

    • You never know! I think it’s worth keeping Samsonov for the right price but if he somehow garners more money in arbitration, I could see the Caps moving on from him.

      • novafyre says:

        Sammy lost my respect with his last salary demand. I would go COLA, but if he demanded more or wanted arbitration, I’d let him walk.

  2. Diane Doyle says:

    The rumors say that Kuemper signing with the Caps is practically a done deal. (I’ll believe it when I see it.)

  3. Anonymous says:

    I dont want to overpay for a better then average goalie. Sammy has a high ceiling and has shown thar at times. Keep him around, personally I would take Campbell on 1-2 year deal for 3-4 mil he’s a diamond in the rough. I don’t want to commit 5-6mil per to Kuemper though just bc He got a SC on a loaded team. He wasn’t the reason they won.

    • novafyre says:

      I don’t mind the $6mil as much as the 6 years. I’d prefer to go with a 1-2 year contract at this point. And you’re right, DK wasn’t the reason they won.

      • Marky says:

        I would hope the Caps would front load a Keumper contract kinda like Pit did with Letang, then when 3 or 4 years are up, the last few will be tradeable or at least not burdensome. The yearly cap hit would be 6 but, in 4 years when the team is down, who cares. With less actual money to pay him in years 5 and 6, he would be more agreeably taken in any trade out of here.

      • I think a lot of people are getting caught up on the term for Kuemper. If he wants six years, give it to him. In five years, this team will be in the midst of a rebuild. If there is a desire by Leonsis and the Caps’ front office to win another Stanley Cup in the Ovi Era, they’ll need to splurge here.

        I also think lots of folks are getting caught up on Kuemper being on an elite Colorado team and him “not being the reason they won the Cup”. The difference is the timely saves and the saves being made that should be made. Kuemper’s GSAA and GSAx were elite. GSAx accounts for expected goals against. For example, if we just took an easy number with Colorado and Kuemper and said that they were expected to give up 100 expected goals, this means that Kuemper would have only allowed 85. That 15.77 GSAx number is extremely solid.

        Personally, I’d rather throw a contract at Kuemper that’s a little bit too long than throwing draft capital and prospects at Anaheim for Gibson. Gibson is younger, yes, but unless we want to have a Detroit style rebuild where we mortgage the entire future for the sake of making the playoffs every season, we should probably hold onto those assets. Or use those assets to upgrade other positions of need, like potentially a left defenseman or a top six forward.

        • Marky says:

          I have thought for a while that the Gibson rumor/talk has been a pipe dream. They are well under the salary FLOOR already and subtracting another 6.4 million would actually be no bueno for Anaheim. I am not worried at all about a Gibson trade. I hope they can get one of these two free agents that are left although, I would not be surprised if those two choose younger cup ready teams like Toronto and Edmonton. If we are left with no one at that point you might as well sign Comrie or trade for Reimer or Allen at that point and call it a day.

          • It’s probably unlikely that Anaheim moves Gibson out, but for the right price…never say never. Kevin Weekes mentioned Gibson to DC as a potential thing to keep an eye on, and I don’t think he puts that out without a source telling him it’s a possibility.

            From what I’ve seen, Montreal is planning on holding onto Allen with Carey Price’s future still up in the air. I do think Reimer is a viable candidate to acquire, but I wonder if MacLellan would want to acquire a goalie with only a year remaining on his contract. Seems more like a “kick the can down the road” move. I would expect MacLellan to try to get a long-term piece in place, so he doesn’t have to deal with this problem next season too.

            • Marky says:

              I don’t mind if they kick the can on goalies honestly…If Reimer does well, you try and resign him, if not, you let him walk. We would also know, beyond a shadow of a doubt if Sammy finally becomes who they projected. BUT, I agree that Bmac doesn’t seem to have the patience anymore for this and I can see his point too.

  4. Lance says:

    The Caps D corps has been weak for years now. That’s the biggest problem. All our D-men get torched too often. No goalie is safe.

    Samsonov is a top physical talent at stopping pucks. He just seems to lose intensity and focus too often. To me, that mental inconsistency keeps Sammy from being a top 8 NHL goalie.

    I’d rather see an Orpik-style free agent signing but I don’t see a D that good being available.

    • I partially agree with your comment, but I don’t think the need for another high-end defenseman and a higher producing goaltender are mutually exclusive. I also agree that there isn’t a great option in free agency, but that’s where draft capital and prospects would actually make sense to deal to acquire a top four defenseman.

      In an ideal scenario, you have a solid veteran who compliments Carlson well and you let Fehervary pair up with TvR on the third pairing. Think of how much better this team would be with another true top four defenseman AND a goalie of Kuemper’s caliber.

      • Lance says:

        I’ll buy that! The Caps D was tough to play against with Orpik, Niskanen, Carlson, Orlov and Kempny. Most of those guys could really skate and transition the puck and Orpik would El KaBong guys.

        Orlov has actually improved but he’s getting older now. Jensen can skate and move the puck well enough but he’s not big and strong enough to defend against top forwards. He might be ok if he had a really good physical defensive partner. Fehervary looks like a good one. Not sure how physical he’ll be but he can skate and competes. Carlson concentrates on offense but Lavi expects too many minutes out of him. I’d say we need two physical D men and we have none right now unless you count Irwin who will drop the gloves if necessary.

        I’m ok with Kuemper on a short-term deal. But I’m not convinced he’s any better than Sammy.

      • steven says:

        I think that Ted and the GM have to be honest with themselves first and realize that no matter who they bring in as a goalie they are still NOT a Cup winning team as they have age and holes all over the place and slow. Their time to win their 2nd Cup was in 2019 but they refused to sign Trotz.

        Itmay take a change os scenery to cure the headcase that Sammy has. Sp maybe offer him a min raise and then get
        Mikko Koskinen and sign him to a 3 year deal. If not him then Jack Campbell. as we dont need to 1) pay for a huge contract adn 2) give out 5 or 6 years to snu=yone over 20. The guys in Hershey will be ready in 2 or 3 years so you just need someone to keep the net warm until they arrive.

        As far a D goes maybe NOW if the time to unload Carlsons contract and resign Orlov. Then go out and sign someone like: Ben Chiarot or Erik Gudbranson or Robert Hagg or Noah Dobson or even Jan Rutta. Only need to sign 1 or 2 and the years can be 2 to 4. For insurance bring back Irwin as he has shown that he can sit for spells and still play well andhis contract will not be expensive.

        No large contracts, no long term deals. Sad to say this but at this time with age and needed youth adn salary cap space, especially for next year, Backy; and I really like this guy; should retire and his cap money not be used. This team has gone on for many a year now with the same core players and they are getting old and high priced and it is well past the time to move some of them to get youngre, cheaper and faster. A rebuild is on its way the question to ask is do you want to miss the playoffs for 1 or 2 years or maybe 6 or 7?

        • Lance says:

          I agree that the Stanley Cup is almost certainly beyond the reach of the team right now. That’s gotta be a tough pill to swallow for management. But I’d rather suffer for 2-3 years than for 10 or 20 years. I’ve been a Caps fan since the late 1970s and I’ve seen plenty of lean times in DC and elsewhere. Thanks goodness we won the Cup in 2018. With 32 teams it might be 100 years before we win another one.

          The good news is that we have enough solid prospects to remain decent even if we trade a few core guys. So the Caps should still be fun to watch. We might not make the playoffs but I don’t think we’ll be in the cellar either.

          • novafyre says:

            I love your phrase “fun to watch.” I know that it’s supposed to be that each year you have one winner and 31 losers but I don’t follow hockey that way. I watch it to be entertained. Yes, winning is more entertaining than losing, but watching players set records is also exciting (Nicky’s apple?). And even a well played loss can be entertaining. So as long as the Caps continue to be fun to watch, I’ll watch them.

            • Lance says:

              Yeah, I see Caps prospects as a kind of distant family and pull for them to be reach their potential as individual players. And hopefully they gel as a team at some point and they go for a Cup run. I think they should’ve won 5 Cups with Ovie and Backstrom. Ah well.

              I’ve seen so many players and prospects come and go (Reggie Savage, Pat Peake. Alexander Volchkov, Kris Beech, etc.). Some reach their hockey potential and others have to find another way. Pat Peake was terrific. Would’ve been a 35 goal scorer in the NHL if he could’ve stayed healthy.

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