Why the Caps didn't trade for a goalie or defenseman

Vitek Vanecek

The Capitals’ moves at the trade deadline went, as general manager Brian MacLellan alluded to three weeks ago, as expected. 

In adding forwards Marcus Johansson and Johan Larsson, the Capitals gave themselves two forwards that will likely factor into the bottom-six for the team’s final 18 regular-season games and, eventually, playoff round(s). 

But what they didn’t do, however, was perhaps just as interesting as the moves they did make. 

The Capitals did not add a veteran netminder, nor did they add a defenseman by Monday’s 3 p.m. deadline. Meaning, their goaltending duo will be Vitek Vanecek and Ilya Samsonov for the remainder of this season and the defensive corps they currently have will carry the weight down the stretch.

“It was great what he’s done here lately,” MacLellan said of Vanecek’s play in net and the goaltending as a whole. “I think he deserves the opportunity to take the team into the playoffs. He had a real good stretch, got injured there, came back and still played well. I think we’ve got a certain comfort level with the way he’s played and the way he’s maintained it. We were comfortable with the goaltending.”

The No. 1 goaltending target at the deadline, Marc-Andre Fleury, was off the board after he went to the Wild earlier in the afternoon. From that point on, the lack of action on goaltenders showcased one of, and perhaps both, confidence in Vanecek and Samsonov as a duo and an unwillingness to pay the price for the few goalies that moved near the deadline. 


And since Jan. 1, Vanecek has the ninth-best save percentage in the NHL at .925. 

With Vanecek and Samsonov as the tandem in net moving forward, the Capitals added to a forward group that has played better in the month of March. That stretch has been aided by steady play in net and improved scoring from the forward ranks.

More importantly, though, it was getting injured players like Anthony Mantha and T.J. Oshie into the lineup.

“I think we played a lot better, but again I think it’s getting guys back, getting guys slotted properly and Vitek playing really well in net,” MacLellan said. “All those things I think contributed to our level of play increasing and our record as of late. I think the goal has been to find some chemistry in our middle six whether injuries or other things that were happening, and some depth.”

The Capitals also stood pat on defense, opting to leave their eight defensemen currently on the NHL roster as the group they’ll carry into the playoffs. Currently, Trevor van Riemsdyk is on injured reserve, but it’s a veteran group — just Martin Fehervary (22) is under the age of 30.

“I like our top six a lot, the chemistry within it,” MacLellan said. “I like the overall group. They all fit well together. (Dmitry) Orlov has had a great year. (John Carlson) has had a great year. Marty's, you know, played well for a young guy. TVR has played good too. That whole group has played well.”

While the Capitals didn’t go all in like a few teams around the league did, they opted for a more cautious and dependable route. And with the eight Eastern Conference playoff teams almost mathematically having clinched playoff spots, it’s easy to start projecting matchups for six weeks down the line. 

Come then, the moves they didn’t make will be just as easy to point to as the ones they did.

“I think on any given night, one could beat the other,” MacLellan said. “There’s probably one or two that maybe have separated. You can tell by the points how it’s going to finish up here, we’re all going to be pretty close in points. It’s going to be about health, it’s going to be about playing the right way at the right time. We’ll see what happens in the east. Good teams could get upset (in the) first round, and you never know what’s going to happen after that.”