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New Direction: What Route Should Capitals Take For A No. 1 Goalie?



What route should the Capitals take for a starting goalie?

The Washington Capitals sit just days away from the official start of the offseason, and they’re in quite an interesting situation. There are major voids in the roster to address, salary to work with and a major saga unfolding between the pipes.

Neither Ilya Samsonov nor Vitek Vanecek has been able to steal the starting job, and the young duo hasn’t been able to get the team to where it wants to be. And, on top of all of that, both are RFAs in need of new contracts.

Still, it doesn’t appear likely that both will be back next season. General manager Brian MacLellan made it clear that the Capitals would explore the goaltending market and find a proven No. 1 goalie this offseason. And, unless the team wants to roll with three goaltenders, moving on from Samsonov or Vanecek seems like a logical step.

When it comes to finding a starting goaltender, there are plenty of options out there for Washington. There are a number of highly-touted UFAs, including Stanley Cup champion Darcy Kuemper, Ville Husso, Jack Campbell and many more.

Beyond free agency, there’s the trade route. Per multiple reports, the Capitals have been linked to Anaheim Ducks starter John Gibson. Per The Athletic’s Eric Stephens, Gibson hasn’t requested a trade out of Anaheim, but the Ducks may want a fresh face in goal. Taking that into account, Washington could be a potential suitor, as the team needs a proven starter who can make big saves and steal wins. Gibson is able to do that and has had All-Star hot streaks, but has also experienced his own strings of inconsistency.

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Sergei Bobrovsky‘s name has also come up with regard to goalies available via trade. However, he hasn’t been formally linked to the Capitals. He has shown star potential in the past. However, the veteran hasn’t been able to recapture that with the Florida Panthers, nor has he been able to go the distance in the postseason. So, trading for him may nto be a smart move, especially if it’s a big asking price. Plus, the team would have to take on a major salary, and even if Florida retains 50 percent, it still costs $5 million per season on a high-risk 33-year-old goalie who has four years left on his deal.

So, let’s turn the attention back to Gibson. When it comes to the 28-year-old, Anaheim likely won’t let him walk without something significant in return. The Capitals would have to offer up a strong package, and that could mean anything. It could mean including one of Samsonov or Vanecek to give them a goalie back, top prospects like Connor McMichael or Hendrix Lapierre, or even that 2022 first-round selection.

While dealing away one of the RFAs wouldn’t be as big of a hit for a starter, trading away a McMichael or Lapierre, or even that No. 20 pick, isn’t something Washington necessarily wants to do.

The Stanley Cup window is closing, and the core is aging. It’s no secret that is in “win now” mode. Not only that, but Nicklas Backstrom may have skated his final game with the Capitals following hip resurfacing surgery. Carl Hagelin‘s future is also in flux as he tries to come back from a devastating eye injury. Tom Wilson is also out until at least December as he recovers from a torn ACL.

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McMichael and Lapierre are two promising top-6 centers for Washington’s future. The team needs those options beyond Evgeny Kuznetsov, especially with Lars Eller experiencing inconsistency and challenges while trying to fill the void on the top-6 this season.

There are also a lot of strong names in the first round of this year’s draft, and after going defense-heavy last season and going without their first-rounder in 2021, the Capitals could get a strong forward who has plenty of upside. Plus, the “win now” mentality can be achieved via free agency

Considering all of that, Washington could get a No. 1 option in free agency without giving anything away. It is more logical for the team to take that step rather than gamble with the future. And, not only that, there are too many strong names to simply pass on for a trade.

One thing is certain though: the Capitals need to bring in another option, and it could make a major difference.