Checking In On Former Washington Capitals Goaltenders In The 2023 Stanley Cup Playoffs

Photo: Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

The Washington Capitals did not qualify for the 2023 Stanley Cup Playoffs this season, but several former Capitals goaltenders are playing for teams that are still playing hockey, including three goaltenders that were in the Capitals’ organization last season.

The former Capitals goaltenders in the playoffs this season are Vitek Vanecek (New Jersey Devils), Ilya Samsonov (Toronto Maple Leafs), Pheonix Copley (Los Angeles Kings), Philipp Grubauer (Seattle Kraken), and Semyon Varlamov (New York Islanders).

For the 2020-21 and 2021-22 seasons, Samsonov and Vanecek were the goaltending tandem for the Capitals. However, since neither played with the required consistency to earn the Number One goaltending job, the Capitals decided to move on from them and acquire a true, definitive Number One goaltender.

Meanwhile, Copley, who had primarily played with the Hershey Bears for most of his tenure in the Capitals’ organization, left as an unrestricted free agent.

Vitek Vanecek – New Jersey Devils

The Capitals originally drafted Vanecek in the second round of the 2014 draft with pick #39 overall. He came over to North America for the 2015-16 season, playing with the Capitals’ ECHL team, the South Carolina Stingrays. After that, he mainly played with the Hershey Bears from 2016-17 through 2019-20. He joined the Capitals for the 2020-21 season and was part of a tandem with Ilya Samsonov that season and the 2021-22 season.

With Vanecek’s three-year contract with the Capitals coming to an end after the 2021-22 season and with him about to become a restricted free agent, the Capitals traded him to the New Jersey Devils during the NHL Entry Draft. He was traded with a second pick (Pick #46 overall) to the Devils in exchange for the Devils’ second round pick (Pick #37) and third round pick (#70). The Capitals chose defenseman Ryan Chesley with that second-round pick and selected forward Alexander Suzdalev with that third-round pick.

Photo: Saed Hindash

Soon after the trade, Vanecek agreed to a three-year contract with the Devils for an average value of $3.4 million. Vanecek became the Devils’ Number One goaltender for most of the season. He played in 52 games, starting 48 of them, posting a won-loss record of 33-11-4, a goals against average of 2.45, and a save percentage of .911.

But with the Devils losing their first two playoff games against the New York Rangers and Vanecek posting save percentages of below .850 in both those games, the Devils switched goaltenders. Rookie Akira Schmid has started the remaining playoff games for the Devils.

Vanecek’s playoff performance with the Devils was like his playoff track record with the Capitals. During the 2020-21 playoffs, he was injured in the first game and left in favor of Ilya Samsonov who held on for the win and was in goal for the remainder of the playoffs. In 2021-22, he performed poorly in Game One of the playoffs, continued to perform poorly during the first period of Game Two and was replaced by Samsonov who, once again, was in goal for the remainder of the playoffs.

Ilya Samsonov – Toronto Maple Leafs

The Capitals originally drafted Samsonov in the first round of the 2015 draft with the 22nd overall pick. He came over to North America to play with the Hershey Bears for the 2018-19 season and became the Capitals backup goaltender for the 2019-20 season.

After the 2021-22 season, with Ilya Samsonov being a restricted free agent with arbitration rights, the Capitals chose not to extend Samsonov a qualifying offer. The Capitals had projected that he would be awarded $3-3.5 million which the Capitals felt would be too expensive a price for a backup goaltender. Thus, Samsonov became an unrestricted free agent and signed a one-year contract with the Toronto Maple Leafs for $1.8 million just two days later.

Samsonov initially became part of a goaltending tandem with Matt Murray. However, when the season ended, Samsonov was regarded as the Leafs’ number one goaltender, as Murray’s performance declined during the second half of the season. In addition, Murray had a season-ending injury at Detroit and did not dress at all for the last six games of the season.

Photo: Getty Images

Samsonov’s statistics for the 2022-23 season were 42 games played with a won-loss record of 27-10-5. He had a save percentage of .919 which was better than his career save percentage of .908. His goals against average was 2.33.  He had four shutouts during the regular season. So far, he has started every game of the playoffs with Toronto who finished second in the Atlantic Division for the regular season.

Pheonix Copley – Los Angeles Kings

Copley signed with the Capitals during the summer of 2014 as an undrafted free agent. He played most of his professional career with the Hershey Bears. He was traded to the St. Louis Blues before the 2015-16 season in the T.J. Oshie deal but was traded back to the Capitals at the 2017 trade deadline in the Kevin Shattenkirk deal.

Copley left the Capitals organization after the 2021-22 season as he signed a one-year contract with the Los Angeles Kings for $825,000. Copley had been the Capitals’ backup goaltender for the 2018-19 season but was ultimately passed-up on the Capitals’ goaltender depth chart by Ilya Samsonov and Vitek Vanecek.

Photo: Ashley Landis / Associated Press

When the Kings signed Copley, he was expected to remain with the Kings’ AHL affiliate for the season. The Kings already had two goaltenders: their long time netminder, Jonathan Quick, and Cal Peterson, who had signed a three-year contract and was expected to take over from Quick.

However, Peterson got off to a bad start which resulted in him getting waived and sent to the Kings’ AHL affiliate. Copley was called up to take Peterson’s place. Since Quick also did not perform well in December, Copley became the Kings’ number one goaltender by default. The Kings figured they needed more goaltending which resulted in their trade of Quick to the Columbus Blue Jackets for Joonas Korpisalo.

After the trade, Copley and Korpisalo alternated starts. However, since Korpisalo posted a save percentage north of .920 with the Kings, he began the playoffs as the Kings’ starting goaltender. But after Game 5 began poorly for Korpisalo and the Kings, Copley came into the game in relief. He made six saves out of eight shots.

For the Kings during the regular season, Copley played in the most games, playing in 37 games and starting 35 of them. He posted a won-loss record of 24-6-3, a save percentage of .903 and a goals against average of 2.64. Copley has signed a one-year extension to remain with the Kings. Copley was the Kings’ nominee for the Bill Masterton Trophy.

Korpisalo’s future is murkier as he becomes an unrestricted free agent after this season. There is also a question of how sustainable his performance as a goaltender is, given that his career save percentage with Columbus was .903, although his save percentage with Columbus in 2022-23 prior to the trade was .911.

Philipp Grubauer – Seattle Kraken

The Capitals had drafted Grubauer in 2010 in the fourth round with pick #112 overall He became a full time NHL player in 2015-16. After the 2017-18 season, he was traded to  Colorado where he stayed for three seasons and performed well.

Grubauer has played with the Seattle Kraken since the 2021-22 season after signing with them as a free agent. His goaltending statistics have dropped off since joining the Kraken, yet he has started all games of the playoffs for Seattle so far.

Photo: Elaine Thompson/Associated Press

For the regular season, Grubauer played in 39 games, started 36 of them, and posted a 17-14-4 record, a save percentage of .895 and a goals against average of 2.85. While Martin Jones started more games for the Kraken this season, he posted an even worse goals against average than Grubauer. Hence, the decision to start Grubauer in the playoffs.

Semyon Varlamov – New York Islanders

Varlamov, who played for the Capitals from 2008-09 through 2010-11, was the backup goaltender on the New York Islanders, whose number one goaltender is Ilya Sorokin. The Capitals drafted Varlamov in the first round with pick #23 overall. They traded him to Colorado before the 2011-12 season. He played in seven seasons for Colorado before he signed with the New York Islanders for the 2019-20 season. He was their number one goaltender for two years before Sorokin displaced him from that role. [Author’s note: the Carolina Hurricanes eliminated the Islanders in the first round of the playoffs.]

By Diane Doyle

About Diane Doyle

Been a Caps fan since November 1975 when attending a game with my then boyfriend and now husband.
This entry was posted in Goaltending, NHL, Players, Washington Capitals and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to Checking In On Former Washington Capitals Goaltenders In The 2023 Stanley Cup Playoffs

  1. Prevent Defense says:

    Fascinating stuff. Great analysis DD and NovaCapsFans!

    My favorite “odd” statistic is with the “Bad save percentage” Pheonix Copley. Can’t stop the puck? All he does is win. PC’s lifetime NHL is 40 wins and 15 losses.

    Many NHL goalies were big-time winners with pedestrian “GAA” stats. My favorite was PIT goaltender Tom Barrasso. He was never regarded by the NHL press (some fans too) as a superstar puck-stopper. All he did was win. We can think of others too.

    I still think Samsonov is a Top-5% goalie. We’ll find out tonight vs. TBL!

    • PNW Caps says:

      Seems like the Kraken games have come on too late since you haven’t noticed Grubauer’s performance in the playoffs. Easily the best and most consistent of the former Cap goalies with a .919 save percentage. The Kraken wouldn’t be in game 7 without Grubauer’s play.

  2. novafyre says:

    Going into tonight’s game the Stingrays have 6 equal strength goals, 3 PP, 2 EN, and 1 OT. Lukosevicios has 4 goals and 1 assist, Bear has no goals but 5 assists. Rays need to win more faceoffs and stay out of the sin bin.

  3. James says:

    Caps have been extremely luck with goal tenders for decades – all the way back to Kolzig. It seems we’ve always had good goalies and more on the way. It’s not the norm for most teams. E.G. the Flyers who would have contended for several Cups if they could find dependable goalies. But – has the law of averages caught up with us? This year – no Caps drafted/developed goalies …and no play-offs.

Leave a Reply