The loss of Henrik Lundqvist for the season is a tough blow to the Capitals, but it seems people may be getting carried away. Since the news that Lundqvist would miss the season due to a heart condition came out, people jumped to some pretty wild conclusions over what it means. Let's get on the same page and figure out exactly what the loss of Lundqvist really means...and what it doesn't.
What it does mean: The Caps need another goalie
Heading into the season, Washington was going to have a tandem of Lundqvist and Ilya Samsonov. The loss of Lundqvist as well as the new rule stipulating each team must have a third goalie on the taxi squad means the team is going to have to sign another goalie.
Even general manager Brian MacLellan looks to promote internal options such as Vitek Vanecek or Pheonix Copley, the team would still have to sign another goalie to put on the taxi squad or to play in Hershey. The team is going to have to sign someone. If that someone is an NHL veteran like Ryan Miller, Jimmy Howard or Craig Anderson, then you can pencil them in as the No. 2. If that person is an AHL goalie, then you can presume Vanecek or Copley is going to get the nod.
What it doesn't mean: The Caps need a new No. 1
Let's be clear on one thing, Washington's success in 2021 was always going to be dependent on Samsonov playing like a No. 1.
I know fans were excited about Lundqvist and understandably so, he is a future Hall-of-Famer, but if a 38-year-old goalie coming off the worst season of his career (.905 save percentage, 3.16 GAA) can beat out a 23-year-old goalie pegged as the future of the franchise, you've got problems.
That's not to say Lundqvist could not rebound from last season, but how much of a rebound can you reasonably expect? He turns 39 in March. He was not going to come in and post a .925 save percentage and challenge for a Vezina. Those days are over.
Lundqvist was signed to push Samsonov, to split time with him and to mentor him, but the only way he was going to be the starter is if Samsonov did not come close to living up to expectations this season in which case Washington would be in big trouble. That has not changed.
What it does mean: This puts more pressure on Samsonov
What the loss of Lundqvist means more than anything is the loss of that safety net. If Samsonov struggled this season, having Lundqvist there to play a significant amount of minutes and the mentor Samsonov through those struggles is a pretty good backup plan. Now the Caps don't have that. Samsonov must perform because there are no alternatives if he does not.
What it doesn't mean: The Caps should have kept Braden Holtby
Lundqvist signed for $1.5 million. Holtby signed a two-year deal with a cap hit of $4.3 million. The money just was never going to work.
What it does mean: The Caps are much thinner in net
Of the veterans available in free agency, I don't see any that have the same ceiling as Lundqvist even at his age. Salary cap aside, if given the choice between Lundqvist, Miller, Anderson or Howard I would have picked Lundqvist. I can't see the Caps having success with any of the alternatives if the goalies get a 50/50 split in starts. The same goes for Vanecek or Copley if they are tapped to be the No. 2. I see the ceiling for both netminders to be NHL backups. Samsonov is going to have to shoulder the bulk of the load.
What it doesn't mean: The Caps can no longer be considered contenders
The team's success in 2021 was always going to be about Samsonov. The loss of Lundqvist hasn't changed that. If Lundqvist outplayed Samsonov in the regular season, then most likely that would have meant goaltending was a real weakness for Washington. If Lundqvist was the No. 1 heading into the playoffs, then we the Caps would not be true contenders. Samsonov always had to be the starter in 2021 and play like the starter for Washington to have success. Whatever they could get from Lundqvist was a bonus, but the team's success was always dependent on Samsonov and not Lundqvist.