After winning the Stanley Cup three seasons ago, the Washington Capitals fell in the first round each of the playoffs each of the past two seasons. One position that appeared to be set moving forward was at goaltender. But that has changed with the news that Henrik Lundqvist will not play this year due to a heart condition.
Henrik Lundqvist, who played his entire 15-year career with the New York Rangers, was set to join 22-year-old Ilya Samsonov, who will be the future at the position. Samsonov went 16-6-2 with a 2.55 goals- against-average. His bright future and the addition of Lundqvist made losing previous start Braden Holtby via free agency easier to swallow.
Now, the Washington Capitals must figure out their best option quickly with the 2020-2021 season set to begin in less than a month. Samsonov will be the starter, but do the Capitals look from within or look outside the organization for a backup?
There is very little experience internally with the only viable options being Vitek Vanecek and Pheonix Copley. The problem is that Vanecek has yet to appear in an NHL game and Copley’s experience is 29 games, including 27 last season with a 2.90 goals-against-average. Looking at the free agent market, there are a few names out there but the options aren’t spectacular. A trade isn’t a smart choice either since it would cost them a player and considering a sticky salary cap situation, would cause more long-term problems than it’s worth.
The likely best scenario for the Capitals heading into this season is for Copley to be the backup. At least he has some NHL experience, albeit minimum, and the cost will be much less than one of the free agents on the market. Honestly, Copley would likely perform just as well. His goals-against-average and save percentage were solid and he wouldn’t be asked to play regularly. Ride Samsonov as much as possible, keep Copley and the Capitals should be secure in net for this season.