There likely wasn’t a player on the Capitals that had an offseason like goaltender Vitek Vanecek.
He entered the playoffs last season as the Capitals’ No. 1 goaltender, but just a few minutes into Game 1 against the Boston Bruins, Vanecek lost sight of the puck off a faceoff and had to stretch quickly to try and make a pad save. In doing so, he strained his hamstring and missed the remainder of the playoffs.
The 12-week injury kept him rehabbing well into the Capitals’ offseason when another shock came: He was taken by the Seattle Kraken in the NHL Expansion Draft on July 21 and needed to pack his bags to go cross-country.
But Vanacek spent all of seven days as a member of the Kraken before being traded back to the Capitals.
It was a whirlwind for the 25-year-old goalie, who finds himself back in the same spot as he was in a year ago. Only now, things are a bit different than they were last year.
“It was crazy,” Vanecek said Friday. “You start thinking about it, you’ve been here for long time, six years, and they was working hard with me here. I was just drafted by Seattle, I was thinking like, ‘It’s something new, new people and a new start.’ But it was a quick comeback, and I’m so happy I can be back with people I know and the organization.”
Vanecek was home in the Czech Republic while all of the expansion craziness happened. He didn’t do much research on Seattle as a city, nor did he even begin to look for apartments. The only work he had done was he started the process of changing his mask design, only to have that halted a few days later.
Once the Kraken signed ex-Capitals goalie Philipp Grubauer in free agency, the potential arose for a trade since Seattle had also taken Chris Driedger of the Florida Panthers. At that point, Vanecek’s agent mentioned that a trade was possible and he was aware of four teams that were interested. The Capitals were clearly a fit, since not only did they have him the season prior, but he was cheap, too. That was crucial for a team always hard against the salary cap.
“So I was just waiting and they called me at 2am, wake me up, and I am traded back to Washington,” Vanecek said. “After seven days I was back.”
On Thursday, winger T.J. Oshie had a little fun with Vanecek’s “career” in Seattle and said that he’ll still have to put money on the board when the team heads to Seattle for the first time in franchise history. That's a time-honored tradition where hockey players post dollars as an incentive for teammates to help them beat a former team.
And by that point, Vanecek might have carved out a nice little role for himself in Washington.
Last season, he was the team’s savior in net with Henrik Lundqvist sidelined for the season due to a heart condition and Ilya Samsonov recovering from two stints on the COVID-19 list. Now, he’ll be in a goalie competition with Samsonov since he’s back and the two compete for the No. 1 spot in net.
As for if Vanecek has anything tangible to remember his brief, ill-fated Seattle tenure by, he doesn’t own any Kraken merchandise at all.
“No, nothing,” Vanecek said with a smile. “Absolutely nothing.”