Since the rumors first began to spread that Henrik Lundqvist could be signing with the Capitals, fans have been excited. The blow of inevitably seeing Braden Holtby walk in free agency certainly seemed to be softened by general manager Brian MacLellan quickly pouncing on Lundqvist, one of the top netminders in the NHL over the past 15 years. While there has been plenty of talk about Lundqvist and what his role will be in Washington, there has not been nearly as much about the young Ilya Samsonov, the goalie pegged to be the team's future starter.
Caps fans can and should be excited about seeing Lundqvist rocking the red in 2020-21, but let's not lose sight of the goalie situation. Fans should be cheering even harder for Samsonov in his second NHL season.
Heading into the offseason, the Caps needed a goalie to serve as backup and mentor to Samsonov who could also play a high number of games. Lundqvist certainly seems to check all those boxes quite well, perhaps even too well which has led some to wonder if Lundqvist should be the team's top goalie next season.
Samsonov suffered an upper-body injury that forced him to miss the entire 2020 postseason. All updates from the team are that he is progressing well and he is expected to be ready for training camp, whenever that might be.
After a hot start in his rookie year, Samsonov's numbers tapered off a bit before the season was paused due to the coronavirus. The injury news also seemed to dampen some of the excitement of what was otherwise a very strong rookie campaign. This has caused some fans to wonder if Lundqvist may end up taking over as the starter.
There's just one problem: that would be a complete disaster.
No need to mince words here, Samsonov absolutely should be the No. 1 goalie next season and if he's not for any reason other than injury, then this is a major problem.
Look, Lundqvist has been a great player throughout his career. but he's not that player anymore. He is coming off statistically his worst season with career lows in both save percentage (.905) and GAA (3.16). Sure, he could rebound from those numbers especially playing on a better roster than the one he had in New York last season, but let's be realistic. Lundqvist is a 38-year-old goalie. How much of a rebound can we reasonably expect? Enough to beat out a 23-year-old first-round draft pick who is expected to be the franchise starter for years to come? That should not happen.
For me, the issue is that I don't think Lundqvist has enough left in the tank to be a No. 1 goalie in the NHL anymore -- and neither does NHL.com senior writer Dan Rosen -- and if a 38-year-old non-starter is able to out-play your 23-year-old "franchise" goalie, that's not bode well for the team's future in net. I'm not saying it would be a bad thing if Lundqvist has a .925 save percentage and is unbeatable, I'm saying that there is no way Lundqvist should be able to beat out Samsonov based on realistic expectations for both goalies and if he does, then Samsonov is not playing nearly at the level in which he should be.
There is certainly a case to be made that Samsonov needs to work himself up to taking more starts. In his career, he has never played in more than 37 games in a regular season at any level. It's unreasonable then to expect him to suddenly get 60 to 65 starts in just his second NHL season. That's why Holtby remained the No. 1 in 2019-20 for the majority of the season despite Samsonov out-playing him. If the goalies split 50/50 this year, fine. If Lundqvist gets one or two more regular-season starts, fine. But if leaving the 2020-21 season, Samsonov is not clearly the better goalie and the team's starter going into the postseason, that's an issue.
Do you put more stock in experience? Fair enough. Lundqvist started the first two of New York's postseason games in 2020 and lost both with a combined save percentage of .901 and a 3.52 GAA. I'm sorry, you can't just play the experience card next postseason given what happened in 2020.
If Samsonov can't beat out a 38-year-old Lundqvist, even if he used to be one of the top goalies in the league, what does that say about the team's future between the pipes? We won't really know the answer to that question until we see exactly how it all plays out, but...it can't be good.
I'm not saying fans should be rooting against Lundqvist or hope that he does not succeed. His success will be the team's success, after all. But fans should be rooting for Samsonov just a little bit more because the better he plays, the more he justifies the team's faith in him as their future starter. That's good news for the team both in the present and the future.