How are the Washington Capitals’ Former Goaltenders Doing in 2023?

Washington Capitals, Ilya Samsonov, Pheonix Copley. (Photo by Scott Taetsch/Getty Images)
Washington Capitals, Ilya Samsonov, Pheonix Copley. (Photo by Scott Taetsch/Getty Images) /

Last summer, the big goaltending free agent prize was Darcy Kuemper. Coming off a Stanley Cup win with the Colorado Avalanche was enough to make up for the fact Kuemper was far from elite like Cup-winning goaltenders of the recent past. The Washington Capitals invested heavily when they gave him in the crease in the form of a five-year and $26.25 million contract.

In the process, the Capitals let their goaltender tandem from last season seek employment elsewhere. Vitek Vanecek was traded to the New Jersey Devils for a third-round pick. Ilya Samsonov went untendered and signed a one-year deal with the Toronto Maple Leafs.

Third-string goaltender Pheonix Copley, who was in the AHL but played in 27 games in 2018-2019, also left to sign with the Los Angeles Kings organization.

The goaltenders of Capitals’ past seem to be doing pretty well for themselves.

All three of the goalies Washington let go are having pretty good, perhaps even career-best, years. Vitek Vanecek is finally making a name for himself and has emerged as New Jersey’s number one.

The Devils were in desperate need of just “league average” goaltending and got a whole lot more out of Vanecek. He currently has a 2.30 goals against average and a 0.916 save percentage. That 2.30 goals against average is good for sixth in the NHL entering Thursday.

Those stats have Devils fans happy enough to chant “VI-TEK” whenever he makes a save at Prudential Center. Vanecek was awarded for his services before the season even began with a three-year, $10.2 million extension. That could buy a lot of hibachi.

Next is Ilya Samsonov. Jack Campbell might have emerged as a surprise star for the Maple Leafs in net last season, but with cap concerns, Toronto knew he was bound to leave.

He signed with the Edmonton Oilers and so far has failed to live up to the expectations he set with Toronto. The Maple Leafs committed with a new tandem increase with Matt Murray and Samsonov.

Samsonov signed a one-year “show me” deal at $1.8 million and said he turned down longer offers from other clubs for the chance to be in Toronto.

Samsonov has pretty similar stats in Toronto that Vanecek has in New Jersey, with a 2.20 goals against average and a .921 save percentage. That .921 save percentage is good enough for sixth in the NHL entering Thursday.

Considering Vanecek is sixth in another goaltending category, that adds another interesting coincidence between the former Capitals netminders.

Even more impressive is that Samsonov is ninth in the NHL in goals saved above expected with 13.8. He’s also ninth in goals saved above expected per 60 minutes with 0.645.

The highest-rated Capitals goalie this season in both categories is Charlie Lindgren, whose way further down at 43rd in goals saved against expected (1.00) and 50th in goals saved above expected per 60 minutes (0.05).

The third time is the charm, and perhaps the most interesting former Capitals goaltender story of the year might be the best goaltending story of the year, period.

Pheonix Copley was an AHL journeyman who could back up in the NHL when needed. The Kings signed him with low expectations considering they had Johnathan Quick and his heir apparent, Cal Peterson, tending the twine.

Well, Peterson was ineffective enough to get sent down to the AHL, Quick is having one of his worst seasons ever, and a spot opened up for Copley in LA. The AHL depth signing has become the King’s number one in net.

That 2.80 goals against average is nice, but that .897 save percentage is a little below what a normal team would want it to be. Considering his record of 14-3, including 13 wins in his first 16 games, the Kings will find a way to let that slide.

Both Copley and Vanecek were listed in the latest NHL Super 16 Power Rankings as All-Star snubs. Copley is the feel-good story that has kept the Kings in contention. Samsonov is playing like a goaltender picked in the first round should.

He’s living up to his nickname “Washington’s goaltender of the future”, even if he isn’t on the Capitals anymore.

Speaking of Washington, how are they doing? They’re hanging in the Wild Card race, which has been tough given the numerous amount of injuries. Their coach, Peter Laviolette, should get some Jack Adams votes for that.

Kuemper has been a mixed bag in the win-loss column, but with good stats. He’s got a 15-13-3 record along with a 2.54 goals against average and .917 save percentage.

Those numbers aren’t too far off from Samsonov and Vanecek, so I won’t say the Capitals made a downgrade at the position. Backup Charlie Lindgren has the better win-loss record at 11-6-2 but a 2.66 goals against average and a .908 save percentage.

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It may seem like the goalies that left Washington found greener pastures, but the goalies currently with the Capitals are doing just fine. With so many injuries in front of them, the Capitals goalies have a bit more to worry about.

It may have been a huge gamble going after Kuemper, but Washington hasn’t lost it yet.