The Washington Capitals lost Vitek Vanecek to the Seattle Kraken in the expansion draft. Seven days later, after heartfelt tributes and good luck wishes, he’s back in the District.
Washington re-acquired the goaltender from the Kraken in exchange for the 2023 second-rounder from the Brenden Dillon trade to Winnipeg.
Seattle appeared set to go with Chris Driedger and Vitek Vanecek in net following the expansion draft. HOwever, things took a turn when a fellow former Washington netminder joined the mix. Philipp Grubauer’s negotiations with the Colorado Avalanche fell through, and in turn, he signed a six-year deal with the Kraken. The team now has a top 1-2 punch with Grubauer and Driedger, and taking that into account, they sent the Czech back to the Capitals.
Vanecek made his rookie debut last season in a rather unexpected fashion. Henrik Lundqvist and Ilya Samsonov were expected to be the team’s duo in 2020-21, but heart complications sidelined Lundqvist. The 25-year-old not only won a spot on the opening night roster but overtook Samsonov as the No 1. after impressing in the Russian’s absence due to COVID-19 and off-ice complications.
READ MORE ON WHN: Ilya Samsonov Still Has Plenty To Prove To Washington Capitals
In 37 games last season, Vanecek went 21-10-4 with a 2.69 GAA, .908 save percentage and two shutouts. He led all rookie netminders in wins and was the starter for the playoffs. However, an injury in Game 1 ended his campaign early.
Brian MacLellan mentioned that the team would explore other goaltending options as free agency opened and also assess their internal options, such as Pheonix Copley and Zach Fucale. The team also inked goaltender Hunter Shepard to a two-year, two-way deal on Wednesday.
With Vanecek, Washington is putting faith in the duo they currently have. Several 1B options were on the market, but went quickly, including Braden Holtby, Jaroslav Halak and James Reimer. Also, the Capitals only have around $4 million left, so this was the most cap-friendly move.
Heading into next season, Samsonov, who’s expected to sign a bridge deal, was presumed to be the main guy in net, but now faces heavy competition. Still, it’s his job to lose, and according to MacLellan, he has to prove himself and earn that role.