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Casting a Netminder

The Caps will be looking for a veteran backup to support Braden Holtby next season - so what are their options?

Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports

Yesterday, GM Brian MacLellan noted that the Caps had interest in bringing in a veteran netminder to serve as Braden Holtby's backup, with Philipp Grubauer ideally getting another year as the starter in Hershey. It's likely the best option for the Caps at the moment - a way to give Holtby a renewed boost of confidence as the team's established starter, and to allow Grubauer a bit more time to get experience at the AHL level (all while keeping an eye on the team's cap situation).

If the team is in fact looking to bring in a veteran, they picked a decent time to go shopping. This summer will feature a pretty large, if not particularly deep, pool of unrestricted free agent goaltenders (and a few others potentially available via trade) - a veritable buffet of options at all ages and price tags from which the Caps can pick.

So what's out there? Let's take a look.

Player Team Age Cap Hit GP Save % GAA
Martin Brodeur NJD 42 $4,500,000 39 0.901 2.51
Evgeni Nabokov NYI 38 $3,250,000 40 0.905 2.74
Tim Thomas FLA/DAL 40 $3,750,000 40 0.909 2.87
All data from 2013-14 season

While all three of the players on this list are coming off of seasons in which they were the starter (or at least a co-starter), they're also all nearing the end of their careers. With limited jobs available, they'll likely have to take a paycut and a demotion if they want to snap one up. Experienced veterans, all capable of serving as a consistent backup - but while the experience is there, none of them are putting up sparkling numbers anymore and likely wouldn't be an option for a team that may not have the strongest defense in front of their net.

Player Team Age Cap Hit GP Save % GAA
Joey MacDonald CGY 34 $925,000 11 0.890 2.9
Curtis McElhinney CBJ 29 $600,000 28 0.909 2.7
Scott Clemmensen FLA 36 $1,200,000 17 0.897 3.09

That could be an issue for this trio, as well, albeit for different reasons - they may have slightly less mileage under their respective belts, but all three have spent most of their time bouncing around between the AHL and NHL, and from team to team. They would likely be at the bottom of any goaltending wish list as borderline-AHL netminders - although they would also likely come with lower price tags.

Player Team Age Cap Hit GP Save % GAA
Ryan Miller BUF/STL 33 $6,250,000 40 0.924 2.72
Jonas Hiller ANA 32 $4,500,000 50 0.911 2.48

When discussing viable goaltending options in general, we'd be remiss to leave these two out of the conversation - after all, they are the best of the goalies likely to become available this summer. But both still have plenty left in the tank, as well as ambitions towards being a true #1 wherever they land... and will probably command a price tag that matches. They're in the conversation because the conversation is available goaltenders, and they'll both certainly be available - but that's about as far as that particular discussion should go as far as the Caps are concerned.

Player Team Age Cap Hit GP Save % GAA
Jonas Gustavsson DET 28 $1,500,000 27 0.908 2.63
Thomas Greiss PHX 26 $750,000 25 0.920 2.29
Alex Stalock SJS 26 $625,000 24 0.932 1.87
Al Montoya WPG 29 $601,000 28 0.920 2.30
Chad Johnson BOS 28 $600,000 27 0.925 2.10
Justin Peters CAR 27 $537,500 21 0.919 2.50

If the Caps wanted to go for a "true" backup at a low, low price, these soon-to-be free agent netminders could fit the bill.

Of the group, Gustavsson is the only one who even cracked the million-dollar mark - but while he's the most expensive, he also had the worst numbers of a group that all played around the same number of games. The Caps might be better off turning to someone like Johnson, who put together a pretty solid run with the Bruins last season (albeit behind a stronger defense and a much better team in Boston) or even Montoya (who had the benefit of neither). And Peters has weirdly dominated the Caps over the years, with a sparkling.938 save % and 2 shutouts against them, so it might be nice to have him as an ally for a change.

Player Team Age Cap Hit GP Save % GAA
Devan Dubnyk EDM/NSH 28 $3,500,000 32 0.894 3.36
Ilya Bryzgalov EDM/MIN 33 $2,266,234 20 0.908 3.01
Tomas Vokoun* PIT 37 $2,000,000 20 0.919 2.45
Ray Emery PHI 31 $1,650,000 28 0.903 2.96

*Vokoun's numbers are from the 2012-13 season; all others from 2013-14

But if the Caps are looking for someone a bit more consistent, seasoned and able to fill in as the #1 guy in case of injury, this is the group that seems the most interesting. All former starters, their cap hits would be relatively palatable (and might come down a bit) and you know they can pitch in with 20-30 games as needed.

Dubnyk is coming off of the biggest contract, but he'll be looking to rebound after a rough 2013-14 season and will probably have to take a pay cut in order to get that chance. Bryzgalov doesn't need the money (hey, thanks, Philly!) and was very solid for the Wild in the playoffs. And there's a chance that Tomas Vokoun might be willing to return to DC to be reunited with his old goaltending coach in Mitch Korn; if he's healthy and willing, it's not a bad option to consider.

As for Emery... well, that would just be awkward.

So that's the UFA crew - but what of those goalies who are under contract and might be looking for a change of scenery?

Player Team Age Cap Hit GP Save % GAA
Peter Budaj MTL 31 $1,400,000 24 0.909 2.51
Cam Ward CAR 29 $6,300,000 30 0.898 3.06
James Reimer TOR 25 $1,800,000 36 0.911 3.26
Marc-Andre Fleury PIT 29 $5,000,000 64 0.915 2.37

Of the four players on this list, three of them are more suited to a starter's role. Reimer, Fleury and Ward could all be on the move (or they could all stay put), with two of the three teams undergoing regime changes and the third being... well, Toronto. It'll be interesting to see whether any of them are actually sent packing in the next few months, but none of them are likely options for the Caps unless a significant return were to go the other way.

That leaves Budaj, the one goalie of this group who has consistently filled a backup role in recent years. After being passed over for Dustin Tokarski in the playoffs, Budaj might be looking for a change of scenery - and the Canadiens might be looking to bump Tokarski up the depth chart after the way he performed in relief of an injured Carey Price. With the lowest cap hit and an established ability to be a steady, if not great, backup, Budaj is probably the only trade option the Caps would want to explore, should they choose that route over free agency.

There may be other goalies looking for new homes over the course of the summer, and there are certainly UFA options beyond what we've listed here - so with so many options available to the Caps, it likely comes down to the best fit for the best price.