With one month to go before the March 21 NHL trade deadline, the Capitals are still trying to find their “guy” between the pipes.
“We're looking for that consistency and for somebody to grab it,” head coach Peter Laviolette told NBC Sports Washington in early February. “As we approach the playoffs, we'd like to get firmed up in that and say this is our guy going into the playoffs.”
The Capitals have struggled as a whole since the 2022 calendar year began, posting an 8-9-2 record while slipping from the top of the Metropolitan Division down to a Wild Card spot. Though their problems extend well beyond the crease — most notably on the power play — their goalies have combined to put up an .897 save percentage with a 3.16 GAA over that span.
Less than two weeks ago, Laviolette said Vitek Vanecek (.915 SV%, 2.39 GAA) had “emerged” as the frontrunner over Ilya Samsonov (.906 SV%, 2.84 GAA) in the Capitals’ goalie competition. However, Vanecek hasn’t suited up in a game since suffering an upper-body injury Feb. 1 against the Pittsburgh Penguins and Samsonov has started every game in his absence with a mixed bag of results.
Even after Vanecek returns, Washington GM Brian MacLellan may decide to look elsewhere for a goalie solution. The Capitals are a bit strapped by the salary cap, but the injury to Anthony Mantha may give Washington enough flexibility to make a swing — especially if any trade partners are willing to take on some salary.
Here are six goalies Capitals fans should keep an eye on as potential targets heading into the trade deadline.
Marc-Andre Fleury (CHI)
The only goalie the Capitals have been linked to in trade rumors thus far is Chicago Blackhawks netminder Marc-Andre Fleury, who knows Washington well from his time with the Penguins (2003-17) and Vegas Golden Knights (2017-21).
Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman reported in January that the Capitals were “looking into” acquiring Fleury, but later added that he “is still very much a Penguin” and may not want to play for his former rivals. It would be a shame if the Capitals are on Fleury’s 10-team no-trade list. The 37-year-old is perhaps the top goaltender available, coming off a season in which he won both the Vezina and Jennings trophies.
He’s 16-18-4 with a .912 SV% and 2.80 GAA this season for the lowly Blackhawks, who have done him few favors defensively. If he can be convinced, Fleury should be Washington’s Plan A on the trade market.
Jaroslav Halak (VAN)
The Vancouver Canucks figure to be among the busiest teams in the NHL at the trade deadline, hearing offers on nearly the entire roster as they attempt to offload some salary. Among the players Vancouver would most likely prefer to trade is goalie Jaroslav Halak, who has a no-move clause that allows him to approve any deal the Canucks attempt to include him in.
Halak and the Capitals do have some history after Washington acquired him for the stretch run in 2014 and he’d be a fit at a price point of only $1.5 million plus incentives. The two-time Jennings Trophy winner has spent a majority of the season backing up Thatcher Demko, going 2-5-2 with a .899 SV% and 2.93 GAA in 11 contests.
Those numbers took a hit after a five-goal outing against the New York Islanders on Feb. 9; in all other games, he has a .914 SV% and 2.20 GAA this season.
Joonas Korpisalo (COL)
If the Capitals want a goalie on an expiring contract with youth still on his side, Columbus Blue Jackets netminder Joonas Korpisalo stands out as a potential target despite the down year he’s endured. Only 27 years old, Korpisalo has an .887 SV% and 3.82 GAA while carrying a cap hit of $2.8 million. He’s day to day with a lower-body injury right now.
The Blue Jackets reportedly asked the Edmonton Oilers for a second- and third-round pick in trade discussions for Korpisalo earlier this season, suggesting that Columbus doesn’t want to sell low on its former All-Star goalie. As the deadline approaches, the Capitals could wait out the Blue Jackets to see if they get desperate enough to lower their asking price and avoid losing him for nothing this offseason.
Korpisalo has an impressive playoff resume that includes an 85-save outing in a five-overtime game against the Tampa Bay Lightning and two shutouts, but the Capitals would have to acquire him hoping a change of scenery and some improved blue line play in front of him is enough help him return to form.
James Reimer (SJS)
The Capitals’ goalie issues won’t disappear this offseason. Acquiring a rental would provide just a band-aid for a situation that can only be improved by either Vanecek or Samsonov taking the next step in their development. As such, Washington could target goaltenders with multiple years of control to add a new option to the mix for 2022 and beyond.
Among the top options in San Jose Sharks goalie James Reimer. The 33-year-old veteran is 13-11-4 with a stellar .913 SV% and 2.91 GAA despite playing for the team with the fourth-fewest points in the West. He has two years left on his contract with a cap hit of $2.25 million both seasons.
The Capitals would have to give up a lot to get Reimer, as any package for the steady netminder would likely have to include a first-round pick. If the Sharks are interested, they could also try to package either Vanecek or Samsonov as part of the return and use whoever remains as their backup moving forward.
Chris Driedger (SEA)
Chris Driedger was the first player to join the Seattle Kraken’s roster when he signed a three-year, $10 million deal ahead of last offseason’s expansion draft. Now, he may end up on another team before the season is up following the emergence of Philipp Grubauer as Seattle’s top option between the pipes.
Driedger, 27, has appeared in just 14 games this year, posting a 4-7-0 record with an .890 SV% and 3.24 GAA. He joined the Kraken after a two-year stint with the Florida Panthers that saw him register a .931 SV% and 2.07 GAA as the backup for Sergei Bobrovsky.
The Kraken have been one of the worst defensive teams in the NHL and both Driedger and Grubauer have seen their numbers suffer as a result. Given his age and years of control, Driedger has the upside that could entice the Capitals to acquire him as long as they’re not on his 10-team no trade list.
Braden Holtby (DAL)
A Capitals-Braden Holtby reunion is already set for March 20, when the Dallas Stars take on Washington in the 2018 Stanley Cup champion goalie’s return to Capital One Arena one day before the trade deadline. But the Capitals could just ditch the video tribute and outright acquire him instead.
Holtby, 32, has bounced back nicely from his down year in Vancouver with a .912 SV% and 2.78 GAA over 23 games. He’s split starts with the up-and-coming Jake Oettinger, both of whom have helped keep Dallas in the playoff hunt. Entering play Monday, the Stars are three points behind the Los Angeles Kings for the second Wild Card spot in the West.
Should the Stars remain in the running for a playoff spot, Holtby may not be available. But as a player with an expiring contract worth only $2 million, Holtby’s name will likely still find itself in the rumor mill all the way up to the deadline.