Despite COVID-19 struggles and inconsistency, the Washington Capitals still see a No. 1 netminder in Ilya Samsonov. Now, he has a season to prove it on a deal that’ll pay off for both the player and the team.
Samsonov inked a one-year, $2 million extension with the Capitals on Monday. He was a restricted free agent and arbitration-eligible, but he elected not to file.
For Washington, the contract is a victory. It’s a one-year, low-risk deal that’s cap-friendly and allows flexibility going forward. Samsonov will become an RFA at the end of the year, at which point both parties can re-evaluate based on how Samsonov performs.
Samsonov is expected to compete with Vitek Vanecek, who was re-acquired after being taken in the Seattle expansion draft, for the starting job.
READ MORE ON WHN: Breaking Down Washington Capitals’ Re-Acquisition Of Vitek Vanecek
He finds himself in a similar situation this season: that position is his to lose, but he’ll have to compete again with Vanecek, who had a strong rookie campaign and will be looking to take his game further in his sophomore year. Vanecek will also be an RFA next summer.
“He has to earn it… I think that’s up to him,” MacLellan said of Samsonov. “He has the potential to be a No. 1 and I think he has to show it.”
As for Samsonov, the deal is also one that will mark a turning point for his career. With a bridge deal, a player understands that they’ve been given a shorter term in order to prove their capability. The 24-year-old is still looking to cement his role as a starter in the NHL. This deal is one that will allow him to push the limits and showcase his skill as he battles not only for that No. 1 gig, but a bigger extension to boot.
A bridge deal, as well as a full 82-game season, should help Samsonov maintain the right mindset going forward. His rookie year is proof of his ability. He went 16-6-2 with a .913 SV% and also came up big for the Capitals. However, the 2020-21 campaign didn’t reflect that. A tough year limited him to just 19 games due to COVID-19 and “disciplinary reasons,” and he finished with 13 wins and a .902 save percentage. While he did come up big from time to time, especially in the playoffs, inconsistency raised questions about his play.
With a bridge deal to incentivize him, Samsonov has the opportunity — and perhaps a choice — to step up to the plate. The ball’s in his court now; it’s just a matter of what he decides to do with it.