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How Vegas may have saved the Capitals' season by passing on Philipp Grubauer

How Vegas may have saved the Capitals' season by passing on Philipp Grubauer

Heading into the playoffs, one advantage the Capitals have is two starting-caliber goalies on the roster in Braden Holtby and Philipp Grubauer.

Considering how many teams struggle to find just one, having two is a luxury not seen too often in today’s NHL.

“I think we're in a good situation here,” Capitals general manager Brian MacLellan said Friday in a sitdown with the media. “Holtby's been one of the top goalies in the league over the last four years, a Vezina winner. And Grubauer's solidifying himself. Since November, he's been one of the best goalies in the league. I think we're in a good spot here where we have two goalies that are playing well and the coaching staff has options to play. I don't think they can go wrong choosing either way.”

As good as Grubauer has been, few would have predicted he would have the type of impact he has had this season.

Guess it’s a good thing he’s still in Washington since for a while it did not look like he would be.

Let’s turn the clocks back to the offseason. With the Vegas Golden Knights preparing for its first season in the league, the NHL held an expansion draft. Teams were given a limited number of players they could protect, but every team was guaranteed to lose one player.

With only one protected slot allotted for goaltenders, the Capitals of course protected Holtby, the 27-year-old Vezina Trophy winner who had just completed his third consecutive 40-win season. That left Grubauer exposed.

In the 2016-17 season, Grubauer registered a 2.04 GAA and .926 save percentage in 24 games played. At 25 years old, clearly this was a goalie with starting potential.

Typically, there are few assets in the NHL that carry as much value as a starting goalie. Grubauer looked like the perfect backup to a veteran like Marc-Andre Fleury who could pick up the torch when Fleury began to decline or a major asset Vegas could potentially flip to another goalie-desperate team in a trade.

But Vegas didn’t bite. Instead, the Golden Knights took defenseman Nate Schmidt.

MacLellan attempted to work out a trade with McPhee to keep Schmidt in Washington, but with teams like Columbus throwing a first and a second-round draft pick and David Clarkson in a package just so Vegas would select William Karlsson (who, by the way, went on to lead the Golden Knights in goals with 43), the asking price was too high and MacLellan had to walk away.

At the time, it seemed like a devastating blow. The Caps had only three top-four defensemen without Schmidt, but they already had a goalie. One possible solution was to find a trade partner and trade Grubauer for defensive help, but that did not happen either. No one apparently saw the same potential in Grubauer that the Caps did.

“I think we have had Grubauer valued more than the league has had,” MacLellan said. “So that's been kind of an issue, where we feel he was going to be a good No. 1 goalie. And the rest of the league, in general, say that he hasn't had time to prove it.”

So while teams went out and signed goalies like Steve Mason and Brian Elliott in free agency and Vegas took its new toys including Schmidt and began assembling a roster, the Capitals were caught with a hole on defense and a second goalie they couldn’t move.

History, however, has been kind to Washington.

Grubauer played a vital role for the Capitals this season playing in 35 games with a .923 save percentage and 2.35 GAA. When Holtby suffered a late-season swoon in February and March, Grubauer took over so Holtby could re-set. He started 10 of the team’s last 16 games and won seven of them. His play of late has been spectacular and on Tuesday he was named the starter for Game 1 heading into the playoffs.

Granted, there is a case to be made saying that if the Caps had kept Nate Schmidt, the defense would have been better and perhaps Holtby would not have struggled as a result. But that would have likely meant promoting Pheonix Copley as the team's backup. Copley, however, struggled immensely at the start of this season in Hershey. Had the Caps elected to promote him, trust in Copley would have eroded, potentially leading the team to overworking Holtby in much the same way he was in the 2014-15 season, when he played in 73 games with Justin Peters as the backup.

The point is, we can't say definitively if the Caps would have been better off with Schmidt instead of Grubauer.

What we can say, however, is that even with the loss of Schmidt, the expansion draft seems to have worked out pretty darn well for Washington.

“It would have been tough to call that one,” MacLellan said. “We didn't want to lose Grubauer either in the expansion draft because we valued him highly. Obviously, it's worked out for us because we've had to use him for the season. We'll see what happens here going forward.”

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NHL Trade Tracker 2019: latest deadline rumors, trades and news

NHL Trade Tracker 2019: latest deadline rumors, trades and news

The 2019 NHL trade deadline is almost here, marking the final point in the regular-season that teams can make major moves and deals to position themselves for the stretch run and the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs.

The 2019 NHL trade deadline takes place on Monday, Feb. 25, with a final cutoff time for trades to be made at 3 p.m. ET The 2019 trade deadline is the same as the year prior, which was the first season the NHL decided to move the deadline up a week.

With just a few days until the deadline, the rumors, news and reports are beginning to heat up.

All the latest rumors, news, and notes on the 2019 NHL trade deadline are right here.

2019 NHL Trade Deadline Tracker:

February 10: NEWS - If the Capitals are to make a trade deadline deal, it seems forward Andre Burakovsky might be the most viable candidate given his financial situation. Said general manager Brian MacLellan, “I think the only thing we're going to look for is, is there a hockey trade to be made, salary for salary, player for player in the forward group."

February 13: TRADE - The Vancouver Canucks got some much-needed goalie depth in the form of 27-year-old Marek Mazanec. Acquired from the New York Rangers, Vancouver gave back a seventh-round pick in the 2020 NHL Draft. 

February 14: RUMOR - With a retooling looming in Minnesota, some moves could be made at the deadline. A name being thrown around is Eric Staal. Though he has a no-trade clause with 10 teams, his name will surely be mentioned leading up to the 25th. 

February 14: REPORT - The Oilers and Flyers have begun preliminary talks on a trade, most likely surrounding a swapping of goalies. In this case, Cam Talbot could be the biggest piece. 

February 14: RUMOR - It is looking more and more likely that Jeff Skinner will stay with the Sabres for the remainder of the season. While shopping him was an option, the upcoming restricted free agent and Buffalo seemed to be more focused on getting a deal done to have him be there for the rest 2019 and beyond.

February 15: RUMOR - Wayne Simmonds will most likely not be in Philadelphia after the deadline, as all signs point toward the forward and his current team parting ways. Things could change in the next week, but if Simmonds is available, plenty of teams will be interested in acquiring the 30-year old

February 15: RUMOR - The Artemi Panarin saga with the Columbus Blue Jackets will be an interesting one to follow leading up to the trade deadline. An unrestricted free agent following the season, it was reported last week that he plans to test the market. Now, it's up to Columbus to decide what to do with him for the rest of this season. 

MORE CAPITALS NEWS: 

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Capitals potential trade deadline target: The case for and against depth defense

Capitals potential trade deadline target: The case for and against depth defense

The Washington Capitals are the defending Stanley Cup Champions and are all-in on going for the repeat. Does that mean we could see a trade before the trade deadline?

With the NHL trade deadline rapidly approaching on Feb. 25, there are a number of players believed to be available. But who makes sense for the Caps?

This week, we will be exploring a possible trade deadline target from Monday through Friday and look into why they do and do not make sense for Washington to pursue.

Today’s target: Defensemen Nick Jensen (28, Detroit Red Wings), Ben Lovejoy (34, New Jersey Devils)

Why it makes sense:

Brian MacLellan has added at least one defenseman at the trade deadline every year as the Caps’ general manager and considering the team’s defensive struggles this year in addition to their home run acquisition of Michal Kempny for cheap last season, this seems a much more likely scenario than paying big for a big-name target.

If MacLellan is looking for a low-risk, high reward addition, Jensen seems to fit the bill. He does not add much offensively but is very stout defensively and a strong skater. He is also a right-shot defenseman which adds to his value. Adding a right defenseman gives Washington a bit more flexibility in their defensive pairings.

Right now, John Carlson and Matt Niskanen and Madison Bowey are the only right-handed players among the team’s eight defenseman (including Jonas Siegenthaler, though he is in Hershey). If Washington were to lose either Carlson or Niskanen to injury, they would be very thin on the right.

It doesn’t get much cheaper than Jensen’s total cap hit of $812,500. Washington could conceivably afford to add him without giving up a roster player to free up cash.

Lovejoy is also a right-shot defenseman, though he is older and more expensive than Jensen. While Jensen is a No. 4 or 5 defenseman and could play on either the second or third pairing, Lovejoy would strictly be a depth move. Because of that, however, and the fact that he is on the final year of his contract with a New Jersey team that is not headed to the playoffs this season, the Caps could probably get him with a very cheap trade.

Todd Reirden has some familiarity with Lovejoy as an assistant coach with the Pittsburgh Penguins.

Teams tend to go through a lot of defensemen on lengthy playoff runs. Adding some depth on the blue line certainly couldn’t hurt.

Why it doesn’t make sense

The Red Wings are reportedly interested in re-signing Jensen so he may not even be available. If Detroit is indeed interested in bringing him back, then his price tag on the trade market just went up. Washington would have to sweeten a trade to the point that the Red Wings decide it makes more sense to trade him than to re-sign him.

Lovejoy is older, slower, has a larger cap hit and just is not as good as Jensen. Unless the Caps take a swing at Jensen and miss, there is no real point in going after Lovejoy or giving up pretty much anything to get him. He just would not add that much to Washington’s lineup.

Experience is a double-edged sword. Sure, it’s great that Reirden knows Lovejoy and could potentially know how best to utilize him. On the other hand, coaches sometimes can rely on what’s familiar too much.

Lovejoy should not be playing over Christian Djoos or Jonas Siegenthaler, but he is a right-shot defenseman and has experience so it would not be a big surprise to see Lovejoy get into the lineup on a semi-regular basis. If Washington were to add Lovejoy and was playing more than some of the Caps’ younger talent, they would have actually made themselves worse, not better.

Verdict

The addition of Jensen would be a huge boost for Washington and, in my opinion, he should be at the top of the trade deadline wish list for MacLellan. Even if it means overpaying slightly in a trade to get Detroit on board, this looks like it would be a great move.

The same can’t be said for Lovejoy. Depth defense is important, but I would not play him over Djoos, Siegenthaler or Bowey. What is a ninth defenseman worth? Probably less than what New Jersey would ask for him.

CAPITALS POTENTIAL TRADE TARGETS: