With players starting to trickle into Kettler Capitals Iceplex from all corners of the world, we’re spending this week looking at the Capitals’ depth chart at each position and what we can expect heading into what promises to be a very interesting 2015-16 season. Today, we look at Caps’ depth between the pipes:
Overtime losses: 10
Goals-against average: 2.22
Save percentage: .923
2015-16 cap hit: $6.1 million
Analysis: If last year’s regular season was not enough to convince you Holtby has established himself as one of the top goaltenders in the NHL – he finished first in the league in games, minutes, shots against and saves; second in wins and shutouts; and fifth in GAA.
In 13 playoff appearances last spring, Holtby ranked second among NHL goalies in GAA (1.71) and save percentage .944). He also led all goalies with three overtime losses, including a heartbreaking 2-1 setback to the Rangers in Game 7 of the second round.
As a result, the Capitals rewarded him with a five-year, $30.5 million contract, making him the seventh highest-paid goalie in the NHL.
Holtby made drastic strides under first-year goaltending coach Mitch Korn last season and he’ll be looking to build off that foundation this season. Holtby is at his best when he finds the balance between being active in his crease and “opening up” for shooters. He is one of the league’s best at handling the puck but can be guilty of being too aggressive trying to make a stretch pass.
Projection: Mark this down. Braden Holtby will score a goal before he retires, and if it’s going to happen, why not this season? He came close a few times last season, but his main focus will be stopping goals, not scoring them. With Philipp Grubauer as his projected backup, look for Barry Trotz to reduce Holtby’s work load by about five games this season. That could cut his win totals from last season, but the framework has been build for another strong season.
Games: 49 (AHL)
Overtime losses: 2
Goals-against average: 2.30
Save percentage: .921
2015-16 cap hit: $750,000
Analysis: In the opinion of Hershey Bears head coach Troy Mann, Grubauer has accomplished everything he can at the American League level and is ready for the challenge of the NHL. Coupled with the subpar season Justin Peters had last year it is expected Grubauer will earn the role of Holtby’s backup this season, with Peters replacing him in Hershey.
A fourth-round pick of the Caps in 2010, Grubauer has been a picture of consistency since turning pro in 2011. In parts of two seasons in the ECHL he had a GAA of 2.25 and a save percentage of .916. In parts of three AHL seasons he’s had a GAA of 2.37 and a save percentage of .919. And in 20 NHL appearances he has a 2.44 GAA and .924 save percentage.
Projection: Grubauer does not have the puck-handling abilities of Holtby and he’ll work on those in his first full season under the direction of Korn. He is blessed with cat-like reflexes, is capable of making acrobatic saves, and has proven he can handle the pressures of playoff hockey, winning his first and only Stanley Cup appearance in Game 2 against the Islanders. If the Caps can give him close to 20 games this season, they’ll both be happy.
Overtime losses: 1
Goals-against average: 3.25
Save percentage: .881
2015-16 cap hit: $950,000
Analysis: Last season was a bit of a chicken-or-the-egg year for Peters. Was he not as sharp as the Capitals wanted because he didn’t play enough? Or did he not play enough because he wasn’t very sharp? Either way, the Caps appear to be moving toward Grubauer and away from Peters, who is entering the final year of a two-year, $1.9 million contract.
Expected to start this season as Hershey’s No. 1 goalie, Peters will be in familiar territory. He has 221 games of AHL experience, where he’s gone 99-96-10 with a 2.71 GAA and .910 save percentage. Comparatively, in 80 games as an NHL backup to Cam Ward and Holtby, he’s gone 25-37-9 with a 3.08 GAA and .901 save percentage.
Projection: Peters should clear waivers and begin the season in Hershey. Barring injuries to Holtby or Grubauer, he should remain in Hershey for most of the season, hoping to resurrect a career that showed more promise 12 months ago.
Games: 37 (AHL)
Overtime losses: 0
Goals-against average: 2.71
Save percentage: .904
2015-16 cap hit: $575,000
Analysis: Two days after trading goaltending prospect Pheonix Copley to the Blues in the T.J. Oshie deal, the Caps signed Ellis to a one-year, two-way contract that should bridge a gap while the Caps wait for prospects Vitek Vanecek and Ilya Samsonov to develop. Ellis has 12 years of pro experience, including three seasons in Nashville, where he played 110 games under Barry Trotz.
Ellis is no stranger to the AHL or the NHL, playing 195 games in the former and 212 in the latter, including an eight-game stint with the Florida Panthers last season, going 4-3-1.
Projection: While he lacks the consistency to be a starter in the NHL, Ellis has carved a long professional career and will battle Peters for the starting job in Hershey. If he wins that battle, Ellis would move into third on the Caps’ depth chart at goaltender, at least for this season.