Ilya Samsonov will be the Capitals No. 1 goalie next season. Who the team's second goalie will be is one of the big questions of the offseason. While a team with Stanley Cup aspirations likely will want to bring in a goalie with experience, the salary cap may limit the team's choices. That could mean Washington will have to turn to prospect goalie Vitek Vanecek and Capitals assistant general manager Ross Mahoney would be just fine with that.
A lackluster playoff performance in 2020 revealed several areas in which the team could use an upgrade. A flat salary cap, however, will dictate that the Caps will not be able to aggressively address every one of those issues and some alternative solutions will have to be explored.
Vanecek was a second-round draft pick for Washington in 2014 and has spent the last four seasons in the AHL with the Hershey Bears. In 2019-20, he registered a .917 save percentage and 2.26 GAA.
With Samsonov out with an injury, Vanecek opened eyes when he beat out Pheonix Copley in the postseason to earn the backup role behind Braden Holtby. Vanecek's cap hit of $716,667 is also eye-opening for a team tight against the cap.
Mahoney, who deals largely with the team's prospects, said that he would have confidence in a Samsonov, Vanecek tandem.
"I think Samsonov played very well last year given his opportunity," Mahoney said. "Vitek played well. Those are decisions that will be made here in the near future. But if that's the direction it did go, I'd be very confident in both those young players."
There are a few reasons why this is unlikely to happen. First, Samsonov has only 26 games of NHL experience while Vanecek has none. That's an extremely inexperienced tandem for a team that is basically Stanley Cup or bust next season. Also, a loaded free agent goalie market is likely to drive asking prices down and produce some cheap, veteran candidates for the Caps. Vanecek is seen more as a backup goalie and the NHL is straying away from the starter, backup model moving more towards goalie tandems. The traditional starter is not gone entirely, but, again, Samsonov has played in 26 NHL games so having Vanecek as backup may not provide him as much goalie support as would be ideal.
Vanecek will get another chance to impress at training camp, though, if the team has signed a veteran free agent, chances are Vanecek will be back in Hershey. But any backup is likely to be signed, it will likely only be a short-term deal and Mahoney is still "really curious" to see what Vanecek can do in training camp.