Much of the discussion surrounding the Washington Capitals’ Stanley Cup hopes currently centers around whether or not they have a goaltending issue.
Capitals head coach Peter Laviolette has tapped three different starters this season as the team struggles to find stability in net.
“There’s been games when they’ve been really good, and games where you’re just looking for a little bit more consistency,” Laviolette told reporters this past week. “But, again, they’re young players. I think that happens with young players, but you’re looking for that consistency and somebody to grab hold of it.”
In my opinion, that’s Laviolette-ese for I don’t really want to answer this question, but yes, if things continue as they are, we have a problem.
The Capitals sit near the bottom of the league (19th) when it comes to save percentage this season at 90.23-percent. That percentage has seen a sharp turn in an even worse direction lately as over the past ten games Capitals goaltenders are saving at the fifth-worst rate in the league (87.9-percent).
According to MoneyPuck, Ilya Samsonov and Vitek Vanecek have combined to let in 21.8 more goals than expected over the past two seasons. Just as a comparison tool, Andrei Vasilevskiy, the goaltender who has won the Stanley Cup in both of those seasons, has stopped 22 more goals than expected just by himself in those two seasons.
It’s not wise to put all your apples into one statistical basket but since the 2008 Stanley Cup Final, only two teams have had a starting goaltender post negative goals saved above expected totals over a full season and still won the Cup. Those two goaltenders? Marc-Andre Fleury in 2008-09 and…Braden Holtby in 2017-18. Fleury would continue to struggle in the playoffs but that Pens team was absolutely loaded upfront and it didn’t matter. Holtby, as we all know, recovered to his Vezina form big time. I don’t think this current Caps team has either of those things in their back pocket.
Outside of Samsonov and Vanecek, the only in-house option left is Zach Fucale. In his four NHL appearances, he has stopped 2.4 more goals than expected and even earned back-to-back starts recently with all three goaltenders healthy. He was ultimately pulled from that last start after finally looking mortal, giving up four goals on 16 shots to the Bruins. Before that outing, he was leading the entire league in both goals-against average and save percentage.
Does a veteran-laden team like the Caps really put trust in a big question mark rookie with four NHL outings to his name down the stretch and into the playoffs? If the answer to that question is in the negative, what are the alternatives elsewhere?
Here are some potential answers, rated by a totally scientifically proven five-star system based on “fit”.
Possible available goaltenders at the trade deadline
Marc-Andre Fleury – MAF will likely be the first name people bring up when it comes to available goaltending options. The most recent Vezina Trophy-winning goalie was basically dumped on the Chicago Blackhawks this past offseason by the Vegas Golden Knights. The Blackhawks are terrible so any sort of return they can get for a veteran on an expiring contract they will take. The question is how much is Fleury contributing to the Blackhawks being terrible?
Fleury is a member of an exclusive, bad goaltender club this season. He is one of only five goalies that have given up eight goals more than expected. The somewhat “good” news is that his battery mate Kevin Lankinen has been even worse which probably shows just how many chances Chicago tends to hemorrhage. It still shows that Fleury has been downright terrible overall though and could be “done” after being carried by an elite Vegas team defense for a few years. He is very much a risky option.
Fit rating: ⭐⭐☆☆☆
Jaroslav Halak – The other goaltender that has most tortured playoff dreams for Caps fans also has the potential to get moved later in the season. The Vancouver Canucks have been far better under Bruce Boudreau but the hole they dug themselves earlier in the year may still keep them out of the playoff conversation moving forward. Could the former member of the Capitals (believe it or not) call DC home for a second time?
Halak has only appeared in eight games for the Canucks this season but in those eight games, he has posted a ridiculous .946-save percentage at five-on-five. He, just like Fleury, has only the rest of this season left on his contract and would be far, far cheaper for possibly far, far better play.
Fit rating: ⭐⭐⭐☆☆
James Reimer – Reimer is probably the most low-key of the options as he has jumped around to four teams after his tenure with the Toronto Maple Leafs. He’s still a very solid, veteran goalie that is putting up good numbers for an incredibly average San Jose Sharks team. One minus on Remier though is that he does not have the same playoff experience the other names on this list have.
San Jose isn’t exactly out of the playoff picture just yet and Reimer has been far better than Adin Hill, the other goaltender on the team sharing the starts, so they could be keen to keep him. He is currently on the shelf with a lower-body injury while having posted an 11-7-1 record with a 2.68 goals-against average and a .916-save percentage so far this season.
Fit rating: ⭐⭐⭐☆☆
Carey Price – Can you imagine? Price has a gigantic contract that sees him under control through 2025-26 for over ten million dollars a season. To make him work the Caps would likely need Montreal to retain a boatload of that salary and probably involve a third team in the trade. That doesn’t even take into consideration what a long-term commitment it would be to acquire Price. He also hasn’t played this season yet as he had offseason knee surgery and then entered the NHLPA Player Assistance Program.
Look, it’s near impossible for this to ever happen but Price literally just dragged the Montreal Canadiens to a Stanley Cup Final out of nowhere last season. If he comes back soon this season and plays great, you have to think the very bad Habs at least try to move him for some sort of assets. It’s also fun to just think about Carey Price in a Capitals uniform.
Fit rating: ⭐☆☆☆☆
Jonathan Quick – One of the best goaltenders of the early to mid-2010s and a huge part in why those Kings teams were so successful. We have to note that the Kings are very much in the mix for a playoff spot out of the Pacific Division so this discussion could all be moot anyway. He had three very bad, down years on very bad Kings teams but has really sparked back to life this season. He would honestly be my Vezina frontrunner if Igor Shesterkin wasn’t carrying on his back a literal corpse in New York to the playoffs.
The 35-year-old isn’t cheap and has one more season on his contract after this one at a $5,800,000 cap hit. Among starters this season he is currently ninth in the league in save percentage with his .921 mark and when we go back to MoneyPuck for his goals saved above expected we see that he’s second in the league at 18.1. If LA were to falter in the coming weeks, they’d be getting calls from all over the league about Quick. He has the 17th best career playoff save percentage in league history.
Fit rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐☆
Braden Holtby – You know who has an even better career playoff save percentage at eighth all-time? The one you have all been waiting for. Braden Holtby is having a pretty gosh darn good year for the Dallas Stars. Dallas is likely on the outside of the playoff picture looking in and has their goalie of the future in Jake Oettinger already taking some starts. Holtby would be another incredibly cheap, experienced option that is on an expiring contract.
Like Vanecek, he is stopping 92.9-percent of the shots he sees at five-on-five but has stopped 1.2 goals above expected this season while Vanecek has let 4.5 more than expected in. It’s a return that makes sense for literally the entire world. The Caps should do it.
Fit rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
What would you do if you were in Brian MacLellan’s shoes? Let us know in the comments.
The Athletic’s Tarik El-Bashir recently highlighted a few Stanley Cup-winning names of his own that could become future Caps if the team were to go down the trade path.
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