With just one goaltender remaining on the NHL roster ahead of free agency, the Washington Capitals made a shocking decision. They chose not to qualify goaltender Ilya Samsonov, meaning the Russian will hit free agency on Wednesday.
General manager Brian MacLellan said Wednesday that he had planned to issue qualifying offers to both Samsonov and Vitek Vanecek. Vanecek was traded to the New Jersey Devils on Friday for draft picks, and when asked if Samsonov got priority over Vanecek, MacLellan said no and the trade was just how things played out. Still, looking at the circumstances, it was thought that Samsonov would get a qualifying offer and remain as the 1B or backup option.
However, that was obviously not the case, and here’s why.
Per the Capitals, the decision was a financial one. Samsonov had arbitration rights, and the team projected that his next deal would come in the $3-3.5 million AAV range following a one-year, $2 million bridge deal for 2021-22. In Washington’s eyes, it was too expensive for a backup, and too expensive given his performance. The team also relayed that it wanted to go in a different direction.
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Samsonov hasn’t developed the way the team has hoped. The 25-year-old has shown flashes of great potential and upside and even steal games but has not been able to maintain consistency. At times, he had trouble with puck control, rebound control and holding onto the stick, while letting in soft goals.
This past season, Samsonov went 23-12-5 with a .896 save percentage and 3.02 GAA through 44 games. In Game 2 of the opening round of the 2022 Stanley Cup Playoffs, he relieved Vanecek as the starter and had a decent showing with a cumulative .912 SV% in five games against the Florida Panthers.
However, it wasn’t enough. Over 89 career games career, he is 52-22-8 with a .902 SV% and 2.81 GAA.
Now, the team has to fill the starting spot and find a backup. The market is thinning, as Marc-Andre Fleury re-signed with the Minnesota Wild and Ville Husso signed with the Detroit Red Wings. Meanwhile, per reports, Braden Holtby’s career could be over following a lower-body injury, and he is unlikely to play this season.
That leaves the Capitals with a couple of options on the free agent market, including Darcy Kuemper and Jack Campbell. Then, there’s the trade route, where John Gibson and Sergei Bobrovsky’s names have been floating around. And then, of course, the team needs a No. 2. Potential names include Malcolm Subban and Thomas Greiss, among others. Or, Zach Fucale, the only goalie remaining under Capitals contract, could come up and get his NHL chance.