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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