Oilers Should Look to Capitals to Address Goaltending Woes

Once again we are talking about another viable option in net that the Edmonton Oilers could trade for and soon. Since general manager Ken Holland sat down with the media and made it clear he’s not trading top prospects or picks for a rental, that limits the Oilers to what they can go out and get to help for this season.

They have to be looking younger at this point because they want a goaltender who can stick around and perform while Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl are still under contract and their window is open. The more the team piles up losses, the more desperate you have to think they are becoming. Elliotte Friedman briefly discussed the Oilers during the Toronto Maple Leafs and New York Rangers broadcast stating, “One thing that’s changing, I don’t think the Oilers had that much pressure on themselves internally to look for a goalie. I think that’s changed, I think they’re looking pretty hard and I think they’re trying to see what’s out there.”

Related: Oilers’ Failed 2-Year Experiments Proving Costly

We’ve looked around the league and nearly every name has come up. But these goaltenders have mostly been from non-contenders. How about backups or 1B goalies in which the team is looking to move them out and bring in a cheaper actual veteran backup goaltender? I’ve mentioned Alexandar Georgiev in a previous article after it was reported that the Oilers are heavily interested. That relates to a goaltender who is ready for full-time duties. Vitek Vanecek and Ilya Samsonov could be in the same boat, as they are both in their mid-20s and have some experience in the league now. So, let’s switch our attention to the Washington Capitals where these two young goaltenders are both restricted free agents after this season and the Capitals need to make a decision soon.

Capitals’ Plans for the Future

Vanecek took a ton of the workload in his rookie year last season, starting 36 of 56 games and winning 21. His stats were okay, but they have improved in every aspect this season in half of the games. Samsonov has an extra year in the league and had a solid rookie season, as well in more of a backup role behind Braden Holtby. I won’t put too much weight on Samsonov last year since he struggled to find his form after being in and out of the lineup with COVID.

Again, this season Samsonov has been very hit and miss to the extremes. He would either post a shutout or have a sub-.900 save percentage (SV%) — there wasn’t much in between. The games he posted a SV% under .900, he wasn’t getting very many shots against him, but his team was continuously bailing him out. Samsonov started the season with a record of 9-0-0 before running into the Florida Panthers who peppered him with 51 shots. He recorded three shutouts in the first eight starts and hasn’t posted one in 10 games since.

Ilya Samsonov Washington Capitals
Ilya Samsonov, Washington Capitals (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

If the Capitals could get more consistent play from Samsonov, they would have their clear choice again this season as to who they plan to ride with in the future. It would also help if the team gave up fewer high-danger chances, because it is making a mark on his stats. In just about the same number of games started as last season, the Capitals have allowed 71 more high-danger scoring chances against, resulting in 16 more goals.

It is very hard to see the Capitals giving up on a former first-round goalie pick at just 25 years old with no solid plan to run with instead. At the very least, I could see the team trying another year or two with both goalies, but Washington needs a veteran backup presence in goal for cheaper. They have to make a decision on which goaltender to run with. They tried last season with Henrik Lundqvist and Craig Anderson. The Lundqvist situation was unfortunate for them, while Anderson was the most reliable late in the season and into playoffs, the only one of their three goaltenders to post a SV% over .900, and it was .929 in their first-round loss. If they get in that situation again and they keep both Samsonov and Vanecek who both may struggle like they did, who are they going to fall back on?

The Capitals don’t have many years left to compete with their aging core, so if they can get assets back for one of them and have picks and prospects ready to contribute by the time the veterans retire or move on, their rebuild/retool won’t be as difficult or long. You see an example like that in the Detroit Red Wings when they went all-in well past their window to compete for a Stanley Cup to get every last year out of their veterans. It has taken them a while at the basement of the league and that isn’t the best for the franchise selling tickets. I’m not saying break it down until Alex Ovechkin is retired, but at the same time, take what you can get while Vanecek’s stock is higher and there are more than willing takers who would pay more for the immediate help.

Who’s the Better Option in Net for the Oilers?

Vanecek will come cheaper and has had better numbers since breaking onto the scene in Washington. While the Capitals are more likely to stick with Samsonov, that may work out much better for the Oilers if they are serious about trading for one of the Capitals’ goaltenders.

Vitek Vanecek Washington Capitals
Vitek Vanecek, Washington Capitals (Photo by Patrick McDermott/NHLI via Getty Images)

As I mentioned, Washington is still likely more set on Samsonov in their plans for the future. They chose to protect him over Vanecek in the expansion draft even after Samsonov had worse numbers. Part of that is definitely where they drafted each, but another may be because the Capitals could have thought that Vanecek’s numbers wouldn’t get any better after an initial burst onto the scene.

Vanecek cost a second to get back from the Seattle Kraken, and that was with one year remaining at $716,000. With half a season left, that price should go down to a maximum of a third-round draft pick, but could stay around a second again or even a prospect since any team dealing with the Oilers right now for a goalie has a bit of leverage.

Vanecek has a SV% of .911 this season while Stuart Skinner‘s SV% has just dropped to .907 after his recent performance. It wouldn’t be a bad decision to run with both of these goaltenders for the future, as the hope and career trajectory looks to have both of them only get better.


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