The Capitals are a team in need of a top-four defenseman after the departure of Nate Schmidt to Vegas. One option to address that need is a trade, a trade that may have gotten that much easier for Washington to make with the re-signing of goalie Pheonix Copley on Wednesday.
Philipp Grubauer, the current backup to Braden Holtby, appears to be the team’s biggest trade asset. Holtby is a Vezina caliber goalie signed through the 2019-20 season. The team also boasts one of the top goalie prospects in the world in Ilya Samsonov who is expected to be Washington’s future starter. That means Grubauer, who looks ready to start now, is expendable.
Or at least, he would be if the team had another viable option at backup.
The Pittsburgh Penguins showed how important having a dependable backup can be as they had to call upon Marc-Andre Fleury for 15 games in the playoffs when starter Matt Murray suffered an injury. For a Capitals team still hoping their championship window has not officially closed, they cannot go into next season without a plan for who their No. 2 may be.
The Capitals thought enough of Copley that after trading him to the St. Louis Blues in 2015 in the T.J. Oshie deal, they reacquired him this season in the Kevin Shattenkirk trade. He enjoyed a dominant stint in his return Hershey and is someone assistant general Ross Mahoney believes is ready to “take a shot” at filling the backup role behind Holtby.
But when will he get that opportunity? Grubauer, a current restricted free agent, will likely either return on a bridge contract or be traded. The problem for Washington is that the current market for goalies in the NHL is a buyers market. There are very few teams who actually need a goalie and there are plenty of options to fill that need. The Caps have a budding starter in Grubauer who they are not going to give away free so they may just bide their time until a trade partner emerges rather than rush a trade to address their need for a defenseman.
Copley's contract seems to account for that possibility as it is a two-way deal the first year and one-way the second, meaning in the second year of his contract he will be earning an NHL salary regardless of whether he is in the AHL or NHL.
Re-signing Copley does not mean a Grubauer trade is imminent, but it does answer the question of who the Caps could potentially replace him with behind Holtby if a trade does happen.
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