Entering a season coming off a Stanley Cup victory, on a team with many familiar faces, Pheonix Copley was one of only a small number of new faces to earn an opening-night sweater for the Capitals with the departure of Philipp Grubauer in free agency to Colorado Avalanche. Copley was a player that the Capitals brass clearly coveted, as evidenced by the decision to bring him back to Washington from St. Louis in 2017 in the Kevin Shattenkirk deal, after having previously sent him to the Blues along with Troy Brouwer in exchange for T.J. Oshie two years earlier.
Copley’s overall competence allowed for the Caps to continue with their shift in goalie ideology -- preventing Braden Holtby from having to start 65 games and allow him to stay “fresh” for postseason play. Last season Grubauer’s strong play in relief of Holtby led to a mini goalie controversy at the end of the season, which was certainly not the case again this year. Ultimately Copley played admirably enough to earn three-year $3.3 million extension this February.
In addition to the front office’s fondness of Copley, head coach Todd Rierden had kind words to say of his backup goaltender as well:
“There are four different occasions that I can tell you about that we could’ve used Braden in that situation and we chose to use Pheonix and he produced right after it,’’ Reirden said. “That’s how you earn the coach’s trust and the players’ trust, and the players battle for him hard because they know the effort he puts in every day in practice.’’
While Copley had a workman-like, if not terribly unremarkable season as the backup, 2018-19 was unquestionably going to be the final “uninteresting” season of Copley’s tenure in D.C. He now enters a phase of being in a very challenging position, one not of his own making: as the backup to one of the best goalies in this era, barring catastrophe there is little question of his role going forward behind Holtby. However, he has two high round draft picks in Vítek Vanecek (selected 39th overall in 2014) and Ilya Samsonov (the Caps 22nd overall pick in 2015) nipping at his heels for an opportunity to move up from Hershey to Washington.
Holtby has just one season left under contract before coming an unrestricted free agent, and he has already publicly expressed interesting staying in Washington. This sets up what will be one of the more difficult decisions for Brian MacLellan to make in the near future. If the team opts to not extend Holtby beyond his age-30 season with a long-term deal, and if neither blue chip prospect in Vanecek nor Samsonov is deemed ready to be the regular starter, there’s a chance that Copley could play his way into the starting goalie spot in the final year of his newly minted three-year deal.
The one other confounding factor for Copley is the the addition of the new Seattle NHL franchise in 2021–22, and the expansion draft which will require the Capitals, along with every other team in the league, to make available several players on their roster for selection. While the specifics of this process have not yet been fully delineated, there’s a near certainty that each team will be required expose a goalie in that draft, and for the Caps that could very likely be Copley.
After posting a 16-7-3 record with a .905 save percentage and 2.90 GAA in 27 games placed, Pheonix Copley will have the opportunity to prove himself and build upon his solid, if not entirely unspectacular rookie season. Given the myriad factors surrounding the Capitals goaltending future, many of which are beyond his control, this season will be critical for Copley to drown out the noise and elevate his game in order to make a case for greater opportunities to become a starting NHL goaltender.
Will Pheonix Copley succeed Braden Holtby as the Capitals next starting goalie?
This poll is closed
Yes, Copley has shown the ability to fill in for Holtby should he choose to leave.
No, the Capitals will extend Holtby beyond his current deal and Copley will be moved or made available in the expansion draft.
No, some combination of Vítek Vanecek/ Ilya Samsonov will jump him in the depth chart.