Let’s face it, the Caps need help on defense. Yes, they held the NHL’s best offense to only two goals on Tuesday and one of them was an empty-netter, but with two rookies in the lineup, a 37-year-old Brooks Orpik logging top-four minutes and Matt Niskanen on LTIR, chances are Tuesday’s game was more the exception and not the norm.
The Capitals roster certainly took a step back from last season, but the team is still very much in win-now mode. That means they need an upgrade to their defense and they need it fast.
Should they trade their top prospect in Ilya Samsonov to get it?
The Caps do also have an A-plus piece in Ilya Samsonov, the best goaltending prospect in hockey. He’s still playing in the KHL and has no chance to pass Braden Holtby on the depth chart once he does come to North America, so Samsonov is worth far more to MacLellan as a trading chip. Don’t get too spooked by the Filip Forsberg debacle, Caps fans. It was one of the worst trades in NHL history, but it was an anomaly. Samsonov would likely yield the Caps something that really helps them. It wouldn’t be Martin Erat 2.0.
My response? No, no, a thousand times, NO!
Yes, the Capitals would get a good return for trading away the best goalie prospect in the NHL, but Larkin is missing something important. Erat is only half of what makes the Forsberg trade sting. The other half is seeing Forsberg absolutely live up to his potential as a top-line player. It’s seeing him lead the Nashville Predators to the Stanley Cup Final in 2017. That latter point is what should give the Caps pause when considering trading away Samsonov.
Imagine watching Samsonov become one of the top goalies in the NHL while playing with another team, leading them to the conference finals or even beyond. That will all be totally worth it considering the package the Caps got in exchange helped them make the playoffs once, right?
History will not be kind to a Samsonov trade.
Yes, if the Caps trade Samsonov and the return helps the team win a Stanley Cup, no one will care if he goes on to become the next Dominik Hasek and yes, history has shown that in the NHL all you have to do is make the playoffs and you have a shot. But allow me to ask one very tough question: Are the Capitals really one defenseman away from winning a Stanley Cup? If not, what else do they need and would a Samsonov trade really net them all of that?
The answer to both questions is no. Defense is certainly the team’s biggest weakness, but let’s not gloss over the fact that Washington has 22 goals in their first seven games and 17 of those goals have come from three players. That’s not sustainable. Let’s not gloss over the fact that Washington is third in the NHL with a shooting percentage of 12.03 when the highest shooting percentage in the entire NHL last season was 9.20. That’s not sustainable.
There’s another issue with trading Samsonov that Larkin does not address: Money. The Caps have none. Moving Samsonov would do nothing to help the team’s cap constraints and any trade the team could make would have to include moving a player off the active roster as well.
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Samsonov is under contract through the 2017-18 season. When he does eventually come to North America, no, he will not pass Holtby on the depth chart…initially. But how many people thought the same thing about Andrei Vasilevskiy and Ben Bishop in Tampa Bay? Vasilevskiy is now the starter and that happened a lot sooner than many expected. Plus, with all due respect to Holtby, isn’t that the ideal scenario to have a starting goalie play out his prime and have another goalie ready to take his place already on your bench?
Would a Samsonov trade be as bad as the Forsberg trade? No. The history of that trade continues to hang over the franchise and I cannot see general manager Brian MacLellan taking anything less than a king’s ransom before he parts with the young netminder. But the bar should not be set at “do better than the Forsberg trade.”
Granted, the Caps can’t do nothing. They need to fix the defense soon or they will have dug themselves a hole in the standings they can’t dig out of. Trading away your best asset and potential franchise goalie, however, seems shortsighted.