As several teams went for blockbuster deals while big names left the market, the Washington Capitals were rather quiet to start free agency.
While they made a handful of minor-league signings, extending RFA Lucas Johansen and signing blueliners Matt Irwin and Dylan McIlrath and goaltender Hunter Shepard to two-way deals, they didn’t take a deep dive into the NHL market.
Once free agency kicked off, several goaltending options were up for grabs, including former Capital Braden Holtby, Antti Raanta and Jaroslav Halak. In a matter of minutes, other teams scooped them right up. Then, one signing, in particular, shook the market a couple of hours later.
After halted talks with the Colorado Avalanche, another familiar face in Philipp Grubauer hit the market. In a surprising move, he signed a six-year deal to become the Seattle Kraken’s new starter.
Seattle selected a handful of goaltenders in the expansion draft, including Florida’s Chris Driedger and of course, Washington’s Vitek Vanecek. With Grubauer now in the picture, several sources indicate that the Capitals may have interest in reacquiring their 25-year-old backup.
While some may be curious as to why Washington passed on major moves, general manager Brian MacLellan ultimately made the right call.
First off, Washington still has a handful of options to consider. Henrik Lundqvist, who is actively working toward an NHL return, can sign a new deal if and when he receives medical clearance. That’s a good option to have in the back pocket, especially with 24-year-old Ilya Samsonov still rounding out his game as a No. 1. He’d benefit greatly from a mentor and an experienced player, and trying the Lundqvist experiment out could work wonders. “The King” has by no means looked shabby in his workouts and still has a lot left in him, in my opinion.
The Capitals have internal options with their Hershey Bears netminders Pheonix Copley and Zach Fucale. Copley also has NHL experience and solid numbers. And, with Shepard now in the picture, Washington has the ability to promote one of their Bears netminders.
If Vanecek returned, the Capitals would be taking a gamble with the same tandem they had last season. While both did give Washington the chance to win, there was inconsistency as the goaltending carousel continued. It’s Samsonov’s turn to prove himself, and if he can’t, the team will need some stability between the pipes.
There’s also the question of the salary cap. Washington has $4.1 million remaining and still has to re-sign Samsonov to what’ll likely be a bridge deal. There are also other positions that need to be addressed. Taking that into account, patience is perhaps the best strategy.
In the end, there’s still a lot of questions and subjects to ponder. It’s only the first day, and there’s still time before training camp to conduct business. There’s no need to rush anything or make a move right away; as the saying goes, “It’s better to be safe than sorry.” So ultimately, taking the time to think this through is the right thing to do.