The Capitals are in need of a goalie for the upcoming season and free agency is looming. Is that how the team will look to add at the position?
Let's take a deep dive on the team's situation in net and look at how it may try to address the position going forward.
What they need
When it comes to areas of need, goalie is the biggest after Vitek Vanecek was taken by the Seattle Kraken in the expansion draft. Capitals general manager Brian MacLellan didn't mince words.
"Get our goaltending sorted out and get it stabilized is the key to how successful we’ll be," MacLellan said to the media Saturday when asked about where the team needed to improve.
Ilya Samsonov is going to be the No. 1, but the loss of Vanecek to the Kraken leaves the Caps in need of a 1b or a backup goalie. What's more, they need one on a cheap contract. Vanecek's cap hit was only $716,667 and the Caps salary cap situation is rough.
Pheonix Copley has experience. He played 27 games as the team's backup in 2018-19 and earned 16 wins. But considering he could not beat out Vanecek for the backup job in the 2020 playoffs when Samsonov was out injured despite Vanecek never having played a single NHL game to that point, it seems unlikely that Copley is the preferred candidate.
Even when Copley played in the NHL, there were times when it looked like he was really struggling. He gave up a lot of rebounds he should have been able to freeze and there were times when it seemed he struggled with his lateral movement. A lot of Copley's best saves came off of rebounds he should have had in the first place, thus masking some of the deficiencies in his game. Will this coaching staff think he can get 16 wins in another 27 games or give him 30+ starts to take pressure off Samsonov?
Considering we also don't really know what to expect from Samsonov as the undisputed No. 1 yet, the Caps will need a second goalie option they trust.
Zach Fucale could be an intriguing option with his $750,000 cap hit and .932 save percentage for AHL Hershey last season. He's a prospect who opened a lot of eyes in 2021, but at age 26 that's pushing the definition of "prospect" even at a position full of late bloomers like goalie.
Craig Anderson could have been a more veteran option, but MacLellan indicated Saturday that he believes Anderson will retire.
Free agent options
With the cap situation being what it is, free agency might not make sense. Any goalie making over Vanecek's $716,667 cap hit will be exacerbating the team's cap problems. Sure, there are guys such as Curtis McElhinney and Brian Elliott who would make some sense as veteran backup options, but that may just be a luxury the team cannot afford this year.
Are the Caps going to make a trade to clear up salary? Yes, they have to. Are they going to make a trade to clear up salary and bring in a backup goalie? That's much more difficult.
It's important to remember that clearing cap space is itself an asset and it comes at a cost. Trying to both shed salary and acquire a goalie who does not erase all the cap savings you just acquired -- since that would defeat the purpose of clearing cap space in the first place -- would require a significant player going to the other team in the process.
The most likely scenario
"I think we had two guys that played really well in Hershey that we might take a look at to start the year or depending on what happens in free agency and the cost of a veteran backup we could explore that, too," MacLellan said.
The first part of that statement sounds more reasonable than the second.
If there was no salary cap, would MacLellan would like to add a veteran goalie? Absolutely. But the realities of the team's cap situation is going to lead to holes on the roster and this is one. My prediction is that Copley and Fucale battle in training camp for the job while MacLellan scours the market throughout the season for a possible addition later on.
The wild card
You want a cheap veteran option? How about the guy who was supposed to fill that role last season, Henrik Lundqvist?
Lundqvist has begun workouts and MacLellan was asked about him on Saturday.
“I think they’re waiting to see if he’s medically cleared before he can approach it," MacLellan said. "I think he’s [got] the same attitude as last year, that he’d like to play and if he can get clearance I think he’s probably going to try and play.”
Lundqvist was bought out by the Rangers but then after signing with the Caps he missed the entire 2021 season with a heart condition. If he does play, it's going to be for cheap. Given Washington's cap situation, that may be a gamble worth pursuing if Lundqvist gets good news.