The Washington Capitals are halfway through the season, and it has been nothing short of an interesting ride so far due to a number of injuries, COVID-19 and other adversity along the way. While the ever-changing lineup has made it difficult to jump to conclusions, the Capitals are certain of one thing: there needs to be consistency between the pipes.
Washington has relied on its young duo in Vitek Vanecek and Ilya Samsonov to continue to battle for the No. 1 spot, and while both have had their share of hot — and cold — streaks this season, neither has truly risen to the point of taking control of the crease as the permanent starter.
Taking that into account, one has to imagine that general manager Brian MacLellan and the Capitals could potentially look for another option in net when the trade deadline comes knocking on March 21.
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Alex Ovechkin is putting up career-best numbers at 36, Evgeny Kuznetsov is on a tear and Nicklas Backstrom is working his way back into a rhythm in his return from injury. The Stanley Cup window is still open, but it’s unknown for how long with injuries seemingly striking out of nowhere and the clock ticking on the team’s core. And, to win, the team needs consistency all the way down the lineup and in net.
So far, the rumor mill has seen several names come to light. The biggest, of course, is Chicago Blackhawks starter Marc-Andre Fleury. Multiple reports and rumors have linked Fleury tied to a number of locations, including Edmonton, Colorado and of course, Washington.
Per The Athletic’s Mark Lazerus, he doesn’t appear to be a re-signing candidate for the Hawks, and Frank Seravalli said on Sportsnet 650 on Thursday that Chicago is willing to listen to offers for No. 29.
Without a doubt, getting a guy like Fleury would be great for the Capitals. He’s a positive locker room presence, a veteran who knows how to win and has three Stanley Cup rings and a goaltender who has been consistent over the course of his career while continuing to impress with time. Through 27 games this season, the 37-year-old is 13-11-3 with a .916 save percentage, and he has helped the Blackhawks get back into the playoff conversation.
However, with this move would come a lot of maneuvering with the salary cap. Fleury has a cap hit of $7 million, and Washington currently has $2.074 million to work with in cap space, per PuckPedia. That already includes Anthony Mantha on the long-term injured reserve. Granted, the game is unpredictable, and as the Capitals know well, no team is immune from injury or adversity. So, it is possible that space opens up if another guy has to go on LTIR. Or, Chicago could even retain salary.
There’s also the return to consider. Per Lazerus, the Hawks want to get back a first-round pick for this draft. Washington went without a first-rounder last season, so it’s unclear if they would be willing to let one slip again this year, especially with Fleury being a rental. And, when it comes to the prospect pool of first-rounders from years past, it seems unlikely that the Capitals will want to part ways with Connor McMichael or Hendrix Lapierre, who have promising futures and have stepped up big time for the shorthanded club this season.
Fleury also has a partial NTC and 10 teams on his no-trade list.
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Then there’s another familiar name: Semyon Varlamov. He hasn’t been primarily linked to the Capitals, but he is on The Athletic’s “NHL Trade Deadline Big Board.” With Ilya Sorokin taking over the crease on the Island, it wouldn’t be surprising if New York wants to move Varlamov and try to find a cheaper backup option. The former Capitals goalie has a modified NTC and one year left on his deal that pays $5 million per season and allows him to list 16 teams on his no-trade list.
Despite a 3-6-1 record with New York this season, Varlamov has put up consistent numbers with a .917 save percentage and 2.61 GAA. Over each of the last five seasons, his SV% has never dipped below .909. And, in four of his last five seasons, his save percentage has been above .914.
It would be interesting to see Varlamov return back to the team he started. There’s still the question of salary, but given Varly’s cap hit and current role, the return likely shouldn’t be as demanding as Fleury’s. Still, the same questions arise: does his NTC include Washington, and can the Capitals make room for him?
Joonas Korpisalo and Jonathan Quick are also options on the big board to keep an eye on.
There are also rumors linking Vitek Vanecek’s name to Edmonton, as Jeff Marek threw his name out as a possible trade target. However, unless the return is strong — and the Capitals pick up another netminding option — this doesn’t seem likely, at least in my opinion.
Right now for Washington, the ball is in Vanecek’s court when it comes to the No. 1 spot. Head coach Peter Laviolette is giving the 26-year-old a couple of starts to see if he can get into a rhythm and in turn, steal that starting role.