Pheonix Copley

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With an eye toward Seattle, Capitals re-sign Pheonix Copley for 3 years

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With an eye toward Seattle, Capitals re-sign Pheonix Copley for 3 years

Backup goalie Pheonix Copley got rewarded for his strong play this season as he was re-signed to a three-year, $3.3 million contract extension, the Capitals announced on Monday.

"It means a lot obviously,” Copley said. “It's a great organization and I'm excited to continue to have the opportunity to help the organization and do what I can to win games."

The departure of Philipp Grubauer via trade in the offseason left backup goaltending a question mark for Washington heading into this season. In his first full NHL season, Copley has filled in well with a 10-5-3 record in 19 appearances this season.

“You can tell he's mentally ready to be an NHL goalie,” Braden Holtby said. “That's why he's done well and got a lot of wins for us. Guys see that and coaches, staff, they see that. The biggest thing about playing here is your mental ability and he has it.”

Copley, 27, was signed by the Caps as an undrafted free agent in 2014. He was sent to the St. Louis Blues in the trade package that netted the team T.J. Oshie and reacquired as part of the trade package for Kevin Shattenkirk.

After another year in Hershey, Copley finally got the call this season to the NHL as the Caps’ full-time backup.

"I think it's a great story,” Todd Reirden said. “I think it's one of a player who came into training camp with something to prove and an opportunity in front of him. It hasn't been an easy path, and he's earned every bit of it.”

“We like the person, we like his work ethic, we like the progress he’s made,” general manager Brian MacLellan said. “He continues to improve, he continues to work at his game, and I think the goalie coach really likes him and thinks there is upside still. He’s going to continue to get better, so we felt comfortable in committing to him.”

A three-year term for a backup goalie is worth noting. It does show the high level of confidence the team has in him, but there are perhaps other motivations involved as well.

With this deal, Copley is now under contract through the 2021-22 season, which is currently longer than any other goalie in the organization. By extending him that long, he will be eligible to be exposed by the Caps for the Seattle expansion draft in 2021. Every team must leave at least one goalie exposed for that draft who is signed through the 2021-22 season. Copley now fits that criteria.

MacLellan was quick to note that the expansion draft was a factor, but was not the only reason the team re-signed Copley.

“That’s not the sole consideration, but it is one consideration,” MacLellan said. “I think it’s important for an organization to have goaltending depth, guys who can come in and play. We’ve got a guy who looks like he’s going to solidify himself as a No. 2, and I don’t know what the upside is – we’ll find out – but it’s important for us to keep him in our organization.”

The move to keep Copley through the expansion draft also hints that perhaps the Caps may be thinking about their starter of the future.

Both Holtby and Ilya Samsonov will be eligible to be taken in the next expansion draft. Washington will only be able to protect one of them. Signing Copley as a way to make sure you have a goalie to expose suggests that it is at least possible the team may have only one of either Holtby or Samsonov on the roster before 2021 and will need a goalie to expose.

Holtby’s current contract expires at the end of the 2019-20 season. He is still the team’s starter and will be only 30 years old at the end of his contract. Samsonov, meanwhile, is 21 and is widely seen as the team’s future starter. He struggled initially this season in Hershey but has been absolutely dominant of late. A young potential NHL starter like Samsonov could prove to be a very valuable trade commodity should the Caps still believe Holtby has more years left as a top-tier goalie.

MacLellan was asked about the decision on Holtby or Samsonov and said, “It’ll work itself out, I think. We’ll see how Samsonov comes and what our situation is cap-wise and the signings we determine to make. I think it’s a whole lot of things that go into what’s going to happen there.”

Copley’s new deal also potentially could make him more attractive for a trade. Backup goalies are important pieces, and he is now tied up for three more years at a reasonable cap hit.

“A goaltender's life can change pretty quickly, so you've got to stay in the moment and just play,” Holtby said. “Play as hard as you can, play as well as you can and everything else will sort itself out.”

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What’s Christmas like in North Pole, Alaska? Cold, says Pheonix Copley of his hometown

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What’s Christmas like in North Pole, Alaska? Cold, says Pheonix Copley of his hometown

Ever wonder what Christmas at the North Pole is like? Just ask someone who’s been there like Capitals goalie Pheonix Copley.

Copley calls the North Pole home. North Pole, Alaska that is.

North Pole is a small town outside of Fairbanks (population of 2,232). Copley wears two candy canes on the bottom of his goalie mask in tribute to his hometown.

As you would expect, Christmas is a big deal back home, not just in December but year round. Santa Claus Lane cuts through the center of town and visitors can see the Santa Claus House located on St. Nicholas Drive.

“They definitely try and make it a theme in the town,” Copley said. “Light poles and stuff are candy canes, Christmas lights year round at places, businesses.”

Christmas itself, however, is more low-key for the people there than you would expect, according to Copley. As fun as the town name may be, there is one big drawback to December in North Pole: the weather.

“It's so cold up there, it's like not much really to do outside [at Christmas],” Copley said. “They do do ice sculptures and stuff so they go a little bit with it, but it's so cold and dark that not a whole lot going on up there.”

According to The Weather Channel, the forecast for Christmas day calls for a high of -8 degrees. That is a veritable heat-wave considering it is not supposed to get above -13 degrees in the five days leading up to Christmas. You can also expect there to be less than four hours of daylight.

That may sound miserable to some, but Copley always enjoyed making the trip home for the holidays.

“Especially growing up when I first started leaving, I was going home at Christmas and it was nice to see the whole family again and get to celebrate the holidays and stuff,” he said. “For myself, Christmas has always been a fun time. Just being from North Pole, I always get a lot of jokes and stuff about it.”

Now on the other side of the country and with only a few days between games, Copley will not make the long trip back home during the team’s Christmas break. Instead, he will remain in D.C. and, as he admitted, will enjoy a warmer Christmas.

But he still wouldn’t mind a little snow.

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Backup goaltending doesn’t look like a question mark anymore for the Capitals

Backup goaltending doesn’t look like a question mark anymore for the Capitals

The defending Stanley Cup champion Washington Capitals did not have many question marks heading into the season, but backup goaltending was definitely one of them.

One of the few players not returning from the championship roster was backup goalie Philipp Grubauer, who was traded to the Colorado Avalanche in the offseason. Washington turned the backup duties over to a goalie with only two career NHL appearances in Pheonix Copley and he has had to prove himself ever since.

In his third appearance of the season on Saturday, Copley earned his first NHL win and may have just shut the door on whether backup goaltending was indeed a weakness for the Caps heading into this season.

Copley turned aside 27 of 30 shots against the Calgary Flames and three out of four shots on the shootout to lead Washington to the 4-3 win. The win improves his record to 1-1-1 on the season.

“It’s certainly nice to get the first win,” Copley told NBC Sports Washington’s Alan May after the game. “I’m excited for whenever I get the next chance.”

Grubauer was arguably the best backup goalie in the NHL last year, but he did not earn a win until his ninth appearance of the season. Copley could certainly relate after his first two appearances.

Despite playing well in his first two games, Copley got little support from the skaters in front of him, both in a start against the New Jersey Devils in which the Caps lost 6-0 and a game against the Florida Panthers in which he came on in relief of Braden Holtby and helped the team force a shootout after facing a 4-1 deficit.

“It’s obviously fun to see him getting the first win there,” Nicklas Backstrom said. “His first appearance against Jersey...he actually played really good and we lost 6-0 so it was nice to get this one to him and get this off his back.”

Copley saved his best performance of the season on Saturday to lead Washington to the win. The Caps gave up a 3-2 lead with less than 90 seconds left to go and Copley had to battle just to force the game to a shootout. He made his best save of the night on Sean Monahan with just nine seconds left in overtime to save the game for Washington.

The importance of having solid backup goaltending cannot be overstated. A backup’s job is not just about playing well in a given game, it’s about playing well enough to earn the trust of the coach and prevent the starter from being overworked.

Holtby may be one of the top netminders in the NHL, but he can’t play every game. If a coach does not trust a backup, he may rely too much on the starter and that catches up with a team in the playoffs.

If you want to know what backup goaltending means, look who went to get the game-winning puck for Copley at the end of the game.

After three impressive performances, Copley is showing the Caps he is capable of taking on more starts and lightening the load of Holtby. At this point, backup goaltending certainly does not look like it’s a weakness for Washington.

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