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The goalie saga in Pittsburgh shows why trading Grubauer may not be such a good idea


The goalie saga in Pittsburgh shows why trading Grubauer may not be such a good idea

Throughout the summer and the season, it has been assumed by many that the Caps hold a rather large trade chip in goalie Philipp Grubauer.

Washington has a Vezina-caliber starter in Braden Holtby who, at 28, is still in his prime. The team also has a future starter in Ilya Samsonov who is considered one of the best goaltending prospects in the world.

At 26, Grubauer wants to be a starting goalie somewhere and given his impressive 2016-17 campaign, he certainly looks like he is ready to take that step. Starting goaltending can be hard to find so it would not be surprising to see a team in need jump at the chance to trade for a budding starter.

But the Pittsburgh Penguins may make the Caps think twice about shopping Grubauer.


While staring goalies can be hard to find, the situation in Pittsburgh may have taught teams another important lesson: consistent backup goaltending can also be hard to find and it may prove just as critical to a team’s success.

Matt Murray was drafted by the Penguins in 2012 and groomed to become the future starter behind Marc-Andre Fleury. In 2015-16, he played in 13 regular season games as the backup. When Fleury suffered a concussion on April 2 just before the playoffs, Murray was forced to take over as the starter that postseason. It was not an ideal situation, but it worked out for Pittsburgh as Murray started 21 games and led the team to a Stanley Cup.

Last season, the Penguins utilized both Fleury and Murray as a goalie tandem with Fleury getting 34 starts and Murray getting 47. This time, it was Murray who went down with an injury while warming up for Game 1 of the first round. Fleury started 15 games that postseason until Murray was able to return and helped guide the Penguins through the first two rounds of the playoffs.

Where would the Penguins have been without their goalie tandem? Probably not hoisting the Stanley Cup in either season.

But the issue with Pittsburgh’s story is the fact that having two goalies of Fleury and Murray’s caliber on the roster is a luxury few teams can afford. Washington entered the 2017-18 season with a much thinner roster than in years past due to salary cap constraints. While keeping Grubauer would be ideal, it seems clear with Holtby and Samsonov in tow that his future as a starter will be somewhere other than in Washington. Surely that makes his value to the team higher as a trade asset, right?

Perhaps…if the Penguins did not recently provide yet another example of why having a backup like Grubauer is important.

Pittsburgh lost Fleury to the Vegas Golden Knights over the summer in the expansion draft. As the full-time starter, Murray’s numbers this season have been the worst of his career (2.95 GAA, .906 save percentage). The Penguins also struggled initially to find a backup for him. Antti Niemi did not even last a month into the season before he was placed on waivers. Pittsburgh seems to have settled on Tristan Jarry for now, but the team’s goaltending situation is in flux with Murray is on injured reserve with a lower-body injury.


Murray is considered week-to-week so it is not as if his season is over, but the Penguins’ goalie saga does provide a cautionary tale.

Where would the Caps be if, hypothetically, the team traded Grubauer and Holtby suffered an injury?

Granted, that possibility was always there. It is not as if Murray is the first starting goalie to ever suffer an injury, but seeing something happen can often resonate more than just knowing that it could.

For all those armchair GMs trying to figure out possible trade partners for Grubauer, you may want to think twice. Seeing the situation that is unfolding in Pittsburgh is a stark reminder of the dangers of relying so much on just one goalie.

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Key Caps questions: Is Evgeny Kuznetsov a superstar?

Key Caps questions: Is Evgeny Kuznetsov a superstar?

The dog days of summer are officially here, but it's never too hot to talk some hockey.

Capitals Insider Tarik El-Bashir and Capitals correspondent JJ Regan are here to help you through the offseason doldrums. They will discuss key questions facing the Caps for the upcoming season as Washington prepares to defend its title for the first time in franchise history.

Today's question: Has Evgeny Kuznetsov made the jump from really good player to superstar?

Tarik: Yes, without a doubt, Evgeny Kuznetsov has made the leap from a very good player to a superstar.

And you know when it happened?

It happened over the course of 56 unforgettable days this past spring.

Kuzy has always possessed the talent to be one of the game’s most impactful players. His 83 regular season points, in fact, marked a career high and put him just inside the NHL’s top-20 in production.

He indeed had a very good regular season. But to me, superstars are the players who are in the national sports conversation. The guys who come to mind immediately when you think about a particular team. Guys who can single-handedly break open a game or a playoffs series. Guys who’ve received a major NHL award or have been recognized with a trip to the All-Star Game. For the Caps, those guys have been Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom and Braden Holtby for the last several years.

Kuznetsov, 26, became a member of that group in the playoffs.

Ovechkin took home the Conn Smythe Trophy, but it easily could have gone to Kuznetsov. I know because I wrestled with the decision to put Ovi over Kuzy for days prior to casting my vote.

Here’s why I had such a tough time:

  • Kuznetsov led the Stanley Cup-winning team (and the entire postseason) with 32 points…five more than Ovechkin.
  • Kuznetsov scored arguably the most important goal of the run…Game 6…in OT…vs. the archrival and two-time defending champion Penguins. Without that clutch tally, we’re having a different discussion today.
  • In addition to being the most productive Capital during the playoffs, I also felt he was the most consistent from game to game. In fact, Kuznetsov recorded at least a point in all but one of the Caps’ final 13 postseason contests. And that one game? Game 2 vs. Las Vegas, and he left after just a few shifts due to a shoulder injury.

Kuznetsov is no longer the dude who centers Ovi’s line. Kuznetsov is now his own dude. He’s progressed from a star-in-the-making to just a star.

And here’s the best part: when fans outside of Washington get a load of his, um, weirdly unique and outrageously funny personality, his popularity is going to explode.

JJ: Sorry Tarik, but you are wrong. Dead wrong.

Oops, I should clarify. You're not wrong about Kuznetsov being a superstar, you're wrong because it didn't happen last spring. He already was one.

I don't know what people have been watching over the past few years, but in my book, Kuznetsov graduated from very good to superstar a long time ago, it just took the 2018 playoff run for most people to notice.

Perhaps we have a different definition of "superstar." To me, national recognition has no bearing on whether a player is a superstar talent. Heck, Backstrom has been a superstar for years with hardly any recognition at all. Maybe expectations were high for Kuznetsov given how long Washington had to wait to get him out of Russia and how good he was in the KHL and because of that, people withheld praise. But the fact is he has shown throughout his career, and not just last spring, that he is a superstar.

At the age of 22, Kuznetsov had a breakout performance in the 2015 playoffs with five goals and seven points in 14 games. We all remember his series-clinching goal against the Penguins, but that was not his first. He also scored another clutch, series-clinching goal in Game 7 against the New York Islanders in 2015. During this year's playoff run, I asked him a question about the Pittsburgh overtime goal and I called it the biggest of his career. He corrected me and told me he still considered the game-winner against Jaroslav Halak and the Islanders to be his biggest.

In only his second full season in the league, Kuznetsov rattled off 77 points to lead the Caps. He finished tied for ninth in the entire NHL that year ahead of other superstars like Vladimir Tarasenko, Anze Kopitar, Tyler Seguin and two guys named Ovechkin and Backstrom.

Yes, there was the year in which he managed only two points in 12 playoff games, but his repeated success to this point in his career shows that postseason was very much the exception and not the norm.

So to answer the question, yes, Kuznetsov is absolutely a superstar. It just took awhile for people to notice.

Other key questions

How will the Caps look different under Todd Reirden?
Will the Caps suffer a Stanley Cup hangover?
Can Alex Ovechkin still challenge for another Rocket Richard Trophy?

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Alex Ovechkin takes home ESPY for Best Male Athlete Award

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Alex Ovechkin takes home ESPY for Best Male Athlete Award

Alexander Ovechkin's offseason continues to be one for the books. 

Just a week removed from celebrating with the Stanley Cup in Moscow, Ovechkin was named Best Male Athlete Wednesday night at the 2018 ESPYs. 

The 32-year-old is the first NHL player to win the award since it was first introduced in 1993. 

"The Great Eight" beat out Jose Altuve of the Houston Astros, James Harden of the Houston Rockets and Tom Brady of the New England Patriots. 

Ovechkin was not in Los Angeles to accept the award.