As the trade deadline inches closer, the chatter becomes heightened. It has been long discussed that the Washington Capitals are in need of goaltending and offensive help if they are to have any chance at making a run at the Stanley Cup this season. Considering the Eastern Conference is loaded, featuring six of the top seven teams in points in the league, one or two pieces may not validate giving up a lot in a deal.
Ilya Samsonov has been a topic of conversation for the last couple of months, but moving the young goaltender for a veteran or in a separate deal may not necessarily label the Capitals as “buyers.” Though his play has been inconsistent in relief of Vitek Vanecek, he could still become a valuable asset for any franchise, or maybe even remain as one for Washington.
Samsonov as a Valuable Asset
So, why move Samsonov if he’s so good? It’s a small dilemma for management under the surface. First, he and Vanecek are both young (24 and 26, respectively), so a future is set in Washington — just not two futures. It would be much too difficult to retain both with long-term contracts, especially considering Samsonov will want more money than his already $2 million-per-year salary, and Vanecek deserves much more than his $716,667 annual salary. Both are restricted free agents at the end of the season.
|Goalie||Age||GP||Record||Save %||GAA||Annual Salary|
|Ilya Samsonov||24||29||17-7-3||.906||2.84||$2 million|
Statistically, Vanecek is performing better, and that is why he was essentially given the nod in the crease by head coach Peter Laviolette last month. Then he landed on injured reserve with an upper-body injury. Health, just like the waxes and wanes of gameplay, is included in inconsistency. Samsonov has been given a bittersweet opportunity to prove he should remain a Capital or become a valuable asset for other buyers at the deadline.
Samsonov’s Last Five Games
Over the past two weeks, Samsonov has gone 3-2 and averaged a .908 save percentage (SV%) and 2.20 goals-against average (GAA) per game. Before that, his season totals read 14-12-5, .902 SV%, and 2.88 GAA, so there has been a slight uptick in his play.
He has shown stints of great ability and why Washington drafted him with the 22nd-overall pick in the 2015 NHL Draft. From Washington’s perspective, it may not be his performance, but rather a financial move to deal him before the deadline or allow him to earn a contract with another team in free agency this summer.
Potential Veteran Upgrade
Two names that have been linked to the Capitals as goaltender acquisitions are a familiar foe and a familiar fan-favorite. Marc-Andre Fleury and Braden Holtby have been brought up in the rumor mill as potential rentals for the remainder of this season. There probably isn’t any urgency to make a deal for either during the summer because a young starter will be solidified in 2022-23 and Zach Fucale has proven he can be a viable backup if the team takes that route. In four NHL games this season, he has a 1-1-1 record with a .924 SV%, 1.75 GAA, and one shutout.
|Goalie||Age||Record (Last 5 Starts)||Save %||GAA||Playoff Record|
|Marc-Andre Fleury||37||2-3-0||.897||3.00||90-70 (3 Cups)|
|Braden Holtby||32||3-2-0||.895||3.40||50-46 (1 Cup)|
Samsonov is outperforming both veterans as of late. Fleury did have a shutout/shootout loss in relief on Feb. 18, however, that would have strengthened his numbers. In Holtby’s last five appearances, he’s posting a .895 SV% and letting in 3.40 goals per game.
Back to Fleury; it must be considered that he plays behind a worse defense. The Chicago Blackhawks rank well below the Capitals and Dallas Stars in goals allowed per game, penalty kill percentage, and shots against per game. Washington is seventh, 18th, and fifth, respectively, in those categories.
Lastly, the experience factor must be considered. Fleury has played in 162 playoff games and recorded career averages of .912 and 2.53 on his way to three Stanley Cups. Holtby has played in 97 games and recorded career averages of .926 and 2.13 on his way to one Stanley Cup (and fans know exactly when that was). Samsonov is 0-3 with averages of 2.99 and .899. A hot goalie in the playoffs can carry a team far, and even more so if the defense in front of him is solid.
Realistically, the Capitals are going to move on from Samsonov after the 2021-22 season ends. The issue is figuring out how far the team truly can go this season. As of right now, with the conference as loaded as it is, it’s going to take them more than a goaltender to get through that gauntlet. If they believe they can make a run, then they should buy, but they are in a good position to balance out any big moves. Or they can ride this season out with the current roster, give their youth more experience, and perhaps catch fire at the right time.
Vanecek should return to the primary starting role when fully healthy because Samsonov hasn’t shown enough of an increase in productivity. He’s been solid but not convincing. It has been enough, however, to bait other teams into a deal. If Washington traded Samsonov for an important piece, it may seem like the team is a buyer, but they could fetch a nice haul for the young Russian, that includes a key role player, if another franchise on the fringe of making the playoffs in the coming years views him as an important piece to their future.
If this is the case, then perhaps giving up high picks or a prospect wouldn’t be the worst thing because they could regain picks and/or prospects in the above deal. Just like with the current state of housing, it’s a seller’s market in the NHL. Washington should act sooner rather than later before other buyers step in.
Carl Knauf is an author and master journalist (so the degree says). He specializes in sports–primarily hockey–music, and the publishing industry. His sports writing has been featured on The Hockey Writers, Last Word On Sports, and local newspapers in his home state of New Mexico. Carl covers the Washington Capitals with accurate reporting and detailed analysis to help readers answer basic and burning questions such as, “Why did the Capitals not win the Stanley Cup (again)?”
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