Washington Capitals: With Henrik Lundqvist Out For Season, Who To Turn To Behind Ilya Samsonov
|Photo Credit: AP Photo/Seth Wenig|
The Washington Capitals were dealt a loss before the year even started on Thursday, finding out that goaltender Henrik Lundqvist would miss the entire upcoming season with a heart condition.
‘King’ Henrik was a mainstay in net for the New York Rangers ever since he broke into the league 15 years ago. In that time, Lundqvist became one of the best netminders in the league, winning the Vezina during the 2011-2012 season.
Although given several opportunities to seek a trade out to try and accomplish one of only things that has eluded him - a Stanley Cup championship - Lundqvist showed unwavering loyalty to the organization, and city, that drafted him all the way back in 2000.
However, with the Rangers in the midst of a rebuild, and in possession of the top goaltending prospect currently in the sport - Igor Shesterkin - Lundqvist and the only organization he has known parted ways this offseason.
That’s where the Capitals came in. They too were in a similar position that the Rangers were in. They had a goalie who was drafted and developed in-house in Braden Holtby. He had some successful years during his prime years, also winning a Vezina.
But Washington had the previous top goalie prospect in Ilya Samsonov waiting in the wings. After backing up Holtby last year, the former first round pick Samsonov was set to take the reigns as the team’s franchise goalie.
To help ease him into that role and give him a safety net of sorts, the Capitals signed Lundqvist to a one-year, $1.5 million contract.
Even though Lundqvist isn’t the same goalie as he use to be, his experience would have been a big boost to the 23-year old Samsonov.
So what do the Capitals do from here? They have some internal options in their system they can turn to, or they can look outside of the organization and add another free agent.
Within The Organization
The Capitals have three others goalies under contract within their organization, only of them has NHL experience - none of which played in Washington last year.
Originally acquired in the T.J. Oshie trade, Phoenix Copley played in 27 games as Holtby’s backup during the 2018-2019 season. He is signed through the 2021-2022 season, mostly due to the fact that Washington will have to expose at least one goalie to the upcoming expansion draft.
In those 27 games, Copley posted a .915 SV% at 5v5 and stopped .833% of high-danger shots.
Vitek Vanecek was drafted in the second round the year before the Capitals would go on to draft Samsonov in the first round.
While 24 isn’t old by any means for goaltenders, now would be the ideal time to take that next step that you might expect from a former second round pick. Vanecek has played the last five seasons in the American Hockey League (AHL), getting into 141 games and posting a .905 SV% in those contest.
Lastly, Zachary Fucale was another goalie who was highly sought after, being the first of his position off the board in 2013.
Goalies take longer than any other position to fully develop, but Fucale surely hasn’t looked like a player with his draft status. The 25 year-old Fucale has struggled to establish himself at just the AHL level (.899 SV%), playing in 69 games compared to 115 in the East Coast Hockey League (.904 SV%).
If Washington decides to go outside the organization liked they originally planed with Lundqvist, they won’t have a lot of options, but there are some players out their with NHL experience looking for a team.
Potential Free Agents
There isn’t much out there when it comes to the goaltender free agent market, but the few that remain, fit the mold as potential experienced backup.
Craig Anderson has spent the last decade with the Ottawa Senators, but like Lundqvist, is looking for a new home this offseason.
The 39-year old veteran has been a solid starter over his career, even despite playing on some bad teams for the Senators.
Jimmy Howard has spent his entire career with the Detroit Red Wings until now, as he continues to wait to get a call from an NHL team. His last impression in Detroit is going to be an unfortunate one, as he won just twice in the 27 games he played in during the 2019-2020 season.
It wasn’t too long ago when Ryan Miller was in the same position that the rest of this group was in, spending over a decade with the same organization. Miller was drafted by the Buffalo Sabres and spent over ten years with the team before moving on.
After stops with the St. Louis Blues and Vancouver Canucks, Miller has spent the last three seasons with the Anaheim Ducks, playing as the backup to John Gibson. Already playing behind a young, starting goalie, Miller fits the mold perfectly as to what the Capitals were looking for in Lundqvist.
So who should the Capitals pursue? A look at how each of the potential free agent signings fared last season in some advanced metrics, compared to the rest of the league. Also included is Samsonov and Lundqvist to see how they compare.
*Numbers are PERCENTILE based rankings, not individual performance. Percentile rankings based off of all goalies who played at least 20 games during the 2019-2020 season.
Samsonov had a very respectable year as a backup, not an easy task for a young goalie to adjust to. Lundqvist was the best out of the group in the high-danger categories, while Miller posted very similar numbers as Samsonov - outside of 5v5 SV%.
The Capitals are still in win-now mode, with veteran stars like Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom and John Carlson. They are going to need strong play from their goaltending, and while it obvious they have ever confidence in Samsonov - it certainly can’t hurt to have a veteran behind him who has been there before.
Or they could go in-house, as if they feel confident with the progression of Vanecek or even what they saw from Copley a couple of years ago. Even when the money frees up from Lundqvist, they won’t have a lot of wiggle room throughout the season when it comes to the salary cap if they bring in another goalie.
What do you think the Capitals should do with an opening for their backup goaltending position? Should they go after a traditional backup, or someone who could split time with Samsonov? Let us know in the comment section below and follow me on Twitter @AJ_Murfy and @SportBlogMurphy.