One of the most intriguing storylines of the 2020-21 season was who the Capitals would potentially protect and who would they possibly lose over the offseason during the Seattle Kraken Expansion Draft. Would it be [sigh] TJ Oshie or a depth member of the Capitals defense?
Instead, after surprisingly earning a majority of the starts in goal, rookie Vitek Vanecek played his way off the team and was the Capitals’ player selected by the Kraken. Vanecek’s skill, potential, and salary made him a perfect value pick for Seattle. He was slated to be the second or third goaltender on the Kraken’s depth chart.
The Capitals re-acquired Vanecek seven days later after the Kraken signed Vezina finalist and 2018 Stanley Cup champion Philipp Grubauer on the first day of free agency.
“I mean, it was crazy you know?” Vanecek said to the press Friday after the Capitals’ second on-ice day of Training Camp. “You start thinking about it. You’ve been here for long time, six years. You’ve been working hard with me here and I was just drafted by Seattle. I was thinking like it was something new. New people and a new start. But it was quick comeback. [smiles] I was so happy I can be back with people that I know. The organization was great, you know?”
So, uh, Vitek, how soon did you find out after Seattle took you that Washington was interested in bringing you back?
“I know that when they signed Grubauer,” Vanecek said. “I asked my agent what we need to do. He told me, ‘Maybe you will be traded.’ I said, ‘Okay.’ He said, ‘just wait, you can’t do anything.’ It was just waiting. Then [Seattle] called me 2 AM. They wake me up and I traded back to Washington. After seven days I was back! [laughing]”
Vitek, sir, did you ever go to Seattle, Washington, and meet your new team?
“No. I was never there. [laughing] I was in Czech. [more laughing]”
Did you check out any apartments there?
“Uhhh. Not yet,” he said. “I was just thinking to send my car over there. I was close to that but I didn’t send that so that was good.”
Was coming back to Washington a total surprise?
“[Seattle] didn’t tell me which team so I didn’t know that,” Vanecek said. “They didn’t tell me. Maybe four teams asking about me. They didn’t tell me who. They just let me know I was traded back to Washington.”
Did you get a Seattle Kraken jersey… or any type of momento?
“No, nothing. Absolutely nothing. [laughing]”
Vitek, how about a new Seattle Kraken-themed mask? Did you have one of those made?
“Yeah I already talked to that guy and he started doing that,” Vanecek said, referencing mask painter Dave Gunnarsson. “He has to stop it. So… [laughing]”
So basically, Vitek, and tell me if I’m wrong, but it was almost as if nothing ever happened.
Vanecek is back where he started in more ways than one. Last season, Vanecek entered the season in a competition with Ilya Samsonov for playing time. Now fully healthy, VV and Sammy are going to do it again in 2021-22.
“We are just pushing each other in a good way,” Vanecek said. “I feel like who will play better will play. I’m happy that I can be with him here because he’s a good guy and we talking, it’s really fun with him. We will just push each other.”
Vitek Vanecek’s breakout rookie season in 2020-21 earned him votes for the Calder Trophy. The Capitals goaltender finished seventh overall in the NHL in wins and compiled a 21-10-4 record, 2.69 goals against average, and .908 save percentage. Vanecek got a bulk of the starts (36 of 56) after Samsonov, the presumptive starter, contracted coronavirus early in the season and backup Henrik Lundqvist had open-heart surgery in January due to a heart condition.
Samsonov ended up in protocol at the end of the regular season as well, giving Vanecek the nod as the team’s starter in the playoffs. He only lasted part of Game One of the Capitals’ first-round matchup against the Boston Bruins after injuring his hamstring on a split save.
Over the offseason, Vanecek rehabbed the injury and looked to improve in one key area.
“I want to just be good in skating,” he said. “Get better in the skating because the NHL is so quick. If I get better at the skating, everything will be easier for me.”
It’s unclear if Vanecek’s time with the Kraken will give him any added edge, but one thing is certain, it will potentially hurt him in the pocketbook.
“I think it was really tough to lose Vitek there,” TJ Oshie joked. “It was great to get him back. I feel bad he’s going to have to put money on the board when we go to Seattle now because he was technically part of the organization.”
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