Capitals general manager Brian MacLellan confirmed Wednesday what has become evident in recent weeks: The team will look into the goaltender market before the trade deadline, but won’t make a move unless there is an obvious upgrade available.
With the March 21 deadline looming, MacLellan spoke to reporters practice Wednesday and delivered a few blunt assessments of the team’s play so far this season.
One of those assessments was of the team’s goaltending, which he said isn’t a guaranteed move at the deadline for the Capitals.
“I think it's got to be an obvious upgrade for us for it to make sense, or otherwise we go with our guys,” MacLellan said. “Is this going to get us over a hump on the goaltending side? I don’t know if there’s that many guys that are out that are quality, you know — there might be one or two.”
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This season, for the team’s current goaltenders, Ilya Samsonov has played in 32 games (28 starts) and Vitek Vanecek has played in 25 (23 starts). There have been flashes of stellar play, but the inconsistency has been a problem all year — especially from Samsonov.
Samsonov has a .901 save percentage with a 2.93 goals against average, while Vanecek has a .915 with a .236 goals against average. At five-on-five, Samsonov has a .908 save percentage while Vanecek boasts a .936.
“We’ve got both guys that have had, I don’t know, low 60s NHL starts?” MacLellan said. “I mean, they’re inexperienced. I don’t know what level of NHL starts you get before, ‘Hey, this is what he is.’ Sometimes goalies take a little longer. (Samsonov) has the skill level, he has the size, he has the ability to be a No. 1, yes. I think they’re both good, young goalies. Or good inexperienced goalies.”
In the aggregate, those numbers — particularly from Vanecek — seem good enough to be a No. 1 goaltender for a Cup-contending team. As MacLellan pointed out, though, the timing of some goals allowed have been troublesome.
Of the 71 goalies that have played at least 100 minutes this season, Samsonov ranks 57th in the league with a .893 save percentage when the Capitals are leading while Vanecek ranks 23rd with a .918, per Natural Stat Trick.
“The concerning thing for me is sometimes the goals, the timing of the goals, game-situation goals that some veteran guys would tighten it up and make that save,” MacLellan said. “It’s not the overall save percentage. It’s when and how the goals happen. That’s another thing that can zap momentum from your team and you’re digging a hole and you got to dig out of it.”
MacLellan added that he has, and will soon, make calls around the league on what goaltenders might be available for the Capitals to bring in for a playoff run. But he also alluded to Washington’s recent slump, and said he expects the team to be less aggressive at the deadline considering how poorly they have played since the calendar flipped.
There have been a few goaltenders on the market rumored to be a potential fit for the Capitals, the most notable of whom is Chicago Blackhawks and longtime Pittsburgh Penguin Marc-Andre Fleury. Washington’s interest in Fleury was first reported by Elliotte Friedman in his 32 Thoughts column.
Since then, however, it’s become clear that the Blackhawks will only move Fleury and his $7 million cap hit if he wants to be traded. If he doesn’t want to come to Washington, and the reported interest is legitimate, the Capitals would likely check in on a few names (Braden Holtby, Jonathan Quick and Semyon Varlamov, to name a few) that have been reportedly involved in trade rumors.
But for a team that isn’t inclined to move prospects or be as aggressive as they’ve been in recent years, it’s unclear if those goaltenders would represent legitimate upgrades at the right cost for the Capitals.