The Washington Capitals aren’t necessarily in a state of flux, but they are in an interesting place.
They are perennial playoff contenders. The ageless wonder Alex Ovechkin found the fountain of youth and is incredibly fun to watch. Yet, you wouldn’t necessarily consider them Stanley Cup contenders.
They are the type of team you expect to play in April playoff season, if only for one or two weeks.
Washington’s crease has seemingly been up for grabs since the departure of Braden Holtby. Actually, it wasn’t as much of a “departure” as the team itself deciding to move on from the goalie that brought them their only Stanley Cup in franchise history.
In the Capitals’ defense (and no, we’re not talking about John Carlson), Holtby fell off a cliff after the playoff run. The unfortunately doomed Henrik Lundqvist signing didn’t help either.
It was almost as if the hockey gods were saying “he was only a New York Ranger and he’s going to stay only a New York Ranger!”
Without a new goalie, the Capitals’ goaltending might be among the NHL’s worst.
As 2022 free agency is about to begin, the Capitals have shipped off Vitek Vanecek. In addition, they did not extend a qualifying offer to goalie Ilya Samsonov.
Washington seems to be betting big free agents Darcy Kuemper, fresh off his Stanley Cup win with the Colorado Avalanche, or Jack Campbell from the Toronto Maple Leafs will want to sign in the nation’s capital.
Is that a smart strategy for Washington? While Kuemper or Campbell would be suitable replacement options, they shipped off both their insurance policy goalies away before either Kuemper or Campbell officially signed with the team.
You can make the argument that maybe the New Jersey Devils’ offer on the second day of the draft was too good for Washington to pass up, but you could have always extended a qualifying offer to Samsonov to play it safe.
If Samsonov became expendable, you could always explore trade options. At least the Capitals would have been able to hedge their bets. Samsonov could always re-sign with the Capitals if he agrees to take less than the $3 million the Capitals seemingly didn’t want to pay.
If Washington is left without Samsonov, Kuemper, or Campbell, their next best option in net is Phoenix Copley, who has never played more than 27 games in a season and only played two this past year.
The trade market isn’t looking much better. Prime redemption trade candidate Matt Murray was shipped from the Ottawa Senators to the Toronto Maple Leafs.
There has been talk the New Jersey Devils might want to move away from Mackenzie Blackwood (the second-best “MB” in franchise history). With Jonathan Bernier likely headed to the LTIR or retirement, the Devils might want to hold on to Blackwood, unless Washington gives them a more than fair offer.
Since teams can talk to free agents beforehand, Washington must be very confident either Campbell or Kuemper is DC bound. In the immortal words of Yogi Berra, “it ain’t over until it’s over.”
Until that ink dries on that contract, they can change their mind. That would leave Washington with a huge gap in goal and back to square one.