The days leading up to the expansion draft in June were jittery ones for Caps backup goalie Philipp Grubauer, who suspected there was a decent chance he’d get selected by the Golden Knights.
“A little stressful,” Grubauer acknowledged Tuesday following an informal practice at Kettler Capitals Iceplex.
“We were on the phone every day or like every couple of minutes basically.”
Being left somewhat in the dark was an nerve-racking experience, even for someone who makes a living dealing with stressful situations on the ice.
“Nobody knew what was going on,” he said, referring to his camp’s attempts to figure out which direction Las Vegas GM George McPhee might chose. “We just kinda watched from Germany.”
Grubauer said he learned of his fate—McPhee ended up selecting defenseman Nate Schmidt instead—about a day before the Golden Knights’ picks were revealed during the league’s annual award show.
“Whatever happened, happened,” Grubauer said. “Everybody was a little bit surprised. But I’m glad I got to stay here in Washington another year.”
A couple of weeks later, Grubauer, who entered the offseason as a restricted free agent with arbitration rights, agreed to a one-year, $1.5 million contract extension with Washington.
With the start of training camp still a month away, Grubauer said he decided to join the Caps’ informal skates a few weeks earlier than usual to take advantage of the team’s facility and staff and ensure that he’s as sharp as possible when camp begins. The almost daily 70-minute sessions are run by strength and conditioning coach Mark Nemish and they’ve started to ramp up in recent days as more players trickle back into town.
“We wanted to come back little bit earlier, practice here and train here with Nemo,” Grubauer said. “The facility provides us with a great, great opportunity to get ready for training camp. And there were a couple of guys are here so I wanted to come back a little bit earlier than usual to prepare myself.”
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When camp begins, the Caps’ goaltending tandem will remain unchanged—Braden Holtby will be the starter and Grubauer will be the backup—but there will be a handful of new faces in the locker room. Karl Alzner, Justin Williams, Marcus Johansson, Daniel Winnik and Kevin Shattenkirk have moved on and will be replaced by younger, less experienced players as the Caps squeeze a more top-heavy roster underneath the salary cap.
Grubauer echoed John Carlson’s recent comments on this summer’s roster retooling, saying he hopes the infusion of new blood might be a good thing for a Caps’ team that saw little change the previous two years.
“We’re going to be a little younger than last year,” Grubauer said. “If you go through the league, like Toronto is a little bit younger, Edmonton is a little bit younger, so I think that’s where the trend is going. I think that could really be our advantage—some new blood, some new energy.”
As far as Grubauer’s personal goals for the upcoming season, the 25-year-old aims to pick up where he left off last season. In fact, it could be argued that he was the league’s best No. 2. Among goalies who played in at least 20 games, Grubauer had the second best goals against average (2.04) and was tied for the fourth best save percentage (.926).
“Just be patient, work really hard and be successful out there, be ready to go every time,” Grubauer said, asked how he intends to approach another season as Holtby's backup. “I want to be ready to follow where I left off last year, keep improving and working hard, get better every day and we’ll see what will happen.”