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With the expansion draft looming, Philipp Grubauer faces uncertain future in Washington

With the expansion draft looming, Philipp Grubauer faces uncertain future in Washington

In a normal offseason, there would be no questions about Philipp Grubauer’s return to Washington.

As a restricted free agent, his options are limited and the Caps would of course love to hold on to a goalie who was arguably the best backup netminder in the NHL this past season.

But this is no normal offseason.

With the Vegas expansion draft looming, Grubauer may find himself suiting up for the Golden Knights in October rather than the Capitals.

“Everbody's asking me, you know anything about what's going on?” Grubauer said at the Capitals’ breakdown day. “But I told everybody I know as much as you guys do. You probably don't know until the actual draft so we'll see. It's going to be really interesting. There's going to be a lot deals made and trades made so it's going to be an interesting summer for everybody.”

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Grubauer, 25, played in 24 games this season finishing with a 13-6-2 record, 2.04 GAA and .926 save percentage. Those are the type of numbers that will make teams around the league take notice.

“For me it was important this year to be more consistent, more than last year,” Grubauer said, “Help the team out every time I step on the ice and give [Braden Holtby] a good rest and I think I improved a little bit this season.”

Grubauer's improvement certainly was noticeable. Now he hopes that will lead him to the next step, a chance to be an NHL starter.

“I would like to make a push or get a chance to start as a No. 1 goalie,” he said. “I think that's the goal for anybody. Nobody wants to settle as a backup in this league. You want to go more, you want to play your own game, not sit on the bench. Hopefully I've shown this year that I can be capable of doing that.”

But with Holtby under contract for another three seasons and prospect Ilya Samsonov lighting up the KHL, the chance to be a No.1 goalie likely will not come in Washington.

General manager Brian MacLellan is still in the process of deciding what direction the team will go in this offseason. Should they choose to continue pushing for the Stanley Cup, having a dependable backup is an important piece to the puzzle. The Pittsburgh Penguins are evidence of that as starting goalie Matt Murray was injured prior to Game 1 of the team’s first round series and Marc-Andre Fleury has carried them to the conference finals.

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So even though Grubauer is not likely to become the team’s starter, there is still plenty of reason for the team to hold onto him as a backup. But it’s not just up to them.

The expansion draft allows for teams to protect only one goalie. That goalie will be Holtby which will leave Grubauer exposed. Considering the general manager of the Golden Knights, George McPhee, drafted Grubauer and the team’s goalie coach, David Prior, served as the Caps’ goalie coach from 1997 to 2014, you can understand why Vegas would be interested. A young budding starter who the organization already has some familiarity with? Makes a lot of sense.

“With George and Dave out there in Vegas, there are thoughts, but I don't have any control over that,” Grubauer said. “That's Mac, Mac's decision or Las Vegas' decision. I'm just waiting. My contract is up this year too so I don't know what's going on. It's all going to fall in place in the next couple weeks.”

Could the Caps make a deal in order to protect Grubauer from the draft? Yes, but every team is going to lose a player to the draft. If you protect Grubauer that means you lose someone else. If Washington ultimately loses its backup goalie, that’s really not a huge price to pay.

As for Grubauer, he is in the unenviable position of having zero control over where he may end up next season. Vegas would most likely offer him a chance to start, but it sounds as if he would also be fine if he should remain with the Caps.

“I don't have any control, any choice over it, where I go or where they send me or if they don't send me I stay here,” Grubauer said. “I would like to stay here. Washington is awesome and the whole organization's been awesome the last couple of years. But I'm ready if the opportunity comes to make the next step and try to be starting goalie somewhere.”


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Key Caps questions: Is Evgeny Kuznetsov a superstar?

Key Caps questions: Is Evgeny Kuznetsov a superstar?

The dog days of summer are officially here, but it's never too hot to talk some hockey.

Capitals Insider Tarik El-Bashir and Capitals correspondent JJ Regan are here to help you through the offseason doldrums. They will discuss key questions facing the Caps for the upcoming season as Washington prepares to defend its title for the first time in franchise history.

Today's question: Has Evgeny Kuznetsov made the jump from really good player to superstar?

Tarik: Yes, without a doubt, Evgeny Kuznetsov has made the leap from a very good player to a superstar.

And you know when it happened?

It happened over the course of 56 unforgettable days this past spring.

Kuzy has always possessed the talent to be one of the game’s most impactful players. His 83 regular season points, in fact, marked a career high and put him just inside the NHL’s top-20 in production.

He indeed had a very good regular season. But to me, superstars are the players who are in the national sports conversation. The guys who come to mind immediately when you think about a particular team. Guys who can single-handedly break open a game or a playoffs series. Guys who’ve received a major NHL award or have been recognized with a trip to the All-Star Game. For the Caps, those guys have been Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom and Braden Holtby for the last several years.

Kuznetsov, 26, became a member of that group in the playoffs.

Ovechkin took home the Conn Smythe Trophy, but it easily could have gone to Kuznetsov. I know because I wrestled with the decision to put Ovi over Kuzy for days prior to casting my vote.

Here’s why I had such a tough time:

  • Kuznetsov led the Stanley Cup-winning team (and the entire postseason) with 32 points…five more than Ovechkin.
  • Kuznetsov scored arguably the most important goal of the run…Game 6…in OT…vs. the archrival and two-time defending champion Penguins. Without that clutch tally, we’re having a different discussion today.
  • In addition to being the most productive Capital during the playoffs, I also felt he was the most consistent from game to game. In fact, Kuznetsov recorded at least a point in all but one of the Caps’ final 13 postseason contests. And that one game? Game 2 vs. Las Vegas, and he left after just a few shifts due to a shoulder injury.

Kuznetsov is no longer the dude who centers Ovi’s line. Kuznetsov is now his own dude. He’s progressed from a star-in-the-making to just a star.

And here’s the best part: when fans outside of Washington get a load of his, um, weirdly unique and outrageously funny personality, his popularity is going to explode.

JJ: Sorry Tarik, but you are wrong. Dead wrong.

Oops, I should clarify. You're not wrong about Kuznetsov being a superstar, you're wrong because it didn't happen last spring. He already was one.

I don't know what people have been watching over the past few years, but in my book, Kuznetsov graduated from very good to superstar a long time ago, it just took the 2018 playoff run for most people to notice.

Perhaps we have a different definition of "superstar." To me, national recognition has no bearing on whether a player is a superstar talent. Heck, Backstrom has been a superstar for years with hardly any recognition at all. Maybe expectations were high for Kuznetsov given how long Washington had to wait to get him out of Russia and how good he was in the KHL and because of that, people withheld praise. But the fact is he has shown throughout his career, and not just last spring, that he is a superstar.

At the age of 22, Kuznetsov had a breakout performance in the 2015 playoffs with five goals and seven points in 14 games. We all remember his series-clinching goal against the Penguins, but that was not his first. He also scored another clutch, series-clinching goal in Game 7 against the New York Islanders in 2015. During this year's playoff run, I asked him a question about the Pittsburgh overtime goal and I called it the biggest of his career. He corrected me and told me he still considered the game-winner against Jaroslav Halak and the Islanders to be his biggest.

In only his second full season in the league, Kuznetsov rattled off 77 points to lead the Caps. He finished tied for ninth in the entire NHL that year ahead of other superstars like Vladimir Tarasenko, Anze Kopitar, Tyler Seguin and two guys named Ovechkin and Backstrom.

Yes, there was the year in which he managed only two points in 12 playoff games, but his repeated success to this point in his career shows that postseason was very much the exception and not the norm.

So to answer the question, yes, Kuznetsov is absolutely a superstar. It just took awhile for people to notice.

Other key questions

How will the Caps look different under Todd Reirden?
Will the Caps suffer a Stanley Cup hangover?
Can Alex Ovechkin still challenge for another Rocket Richard Trophy?

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Alex Ovechkin takes home ESPY for Best Male Athlete

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Alex Ovechkin takes home ESPY for Best Male Athlete

Alexander Ovechkin's offseason continues to be one for the books. 

Just a week removed from celebrating with the Stanley Cup in Moscow, Ovechkin was named Best Male Athlete Wednesday night at the 2018 ESPYs. 

The 32-year-old is the first NHL player to win the award since it was first introduced in 1993. 

"The Great Eight" beat out Jose Altuve of the Houston Astros, James Harden of the Houston Rockets and Tom Brady of the New England Patriots. 

Ovechkin was not in Los Angeles to accept the award.