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With Henrik Lundqvist Out, What Are the Caps’ Options to Fill His Skates?

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Washington has a King-sized hole in their lineup, but a number of options to fill it.

New York Rangers v New Jersey Devils Photo by Christopher Pasatieri/Getty Images

On Thursday afternoon, Henrik Lundqvist announced that due to health issues related to an ongoing heart condition, he would not be joining the Capitals this season. With his announcement, the Capitals now have a King-sized hole in their lineup.

Lundqvist was expected to play a significant role between the pipes for Washington, with some estimating that he could see nearly a 50/50 split in net with youngster Ilya Samsonov (if not more), who begins his first season as the starting goalie following Braden Holtby’s departure. While thoughts are with Lundqvist as we wish him a speedy and complete recovery, the question for the Caps turns to who is available on relatively short notice to fill his spot with the 2021 season seemingly just weeks away?

The In-House Options

For all of the hand-wringing about the Capitals player development, or lack thereof, Washington does have two goalies who present strong “backup goalie vibes”:

Pheonix Copley

At age 28, Copley carries a 2020-21 salary cap hit of $1,100,000, and could seemingly step back into a role that he previously held for Washington after Philipp Grubauer left D.C. following the Stanley Cup run in 2018. Despite playing in Hershey, he still accounts for $25,000 against the Capitals’ salary cap. Copley is perhaps the most “known entity” in the field, having suited up for 27 games in the Bigs in the 2018-19 season, posting a 24-16-7 record with a 90.5 SV% and a 2.90 GAA. After showing promise of being an NHL-caliber netminder, he spent the entirety of last season with the Hershey Bears where he went 17-8-6 with a 2.47 GAA and 90.5 SV% in 31 games played. Copley is clearly a player that Washington likes, having traded to get him back from St. Louis, and once again things get interesting for him as the season approaches.

Vitek Vanecek

Vanecek presents an intriguing option for Washington, who drafted the 24-year-old Czech in the second round of the 2014 NHL draft (39th overall). He has started over 30 games in each of the last three seasons in Hershey and had his best professional season in 2019-20 going 19-10-1 with a 91.7 SV% with a 2.26 GAA. These numbers were the 10th-best SV% and the fifth-best GAA in the AHL. Vanecek, who signed a three-year, $2.15 million contract in July of 2019, was called up for a cup of coffee late last season and was considered to be a contender for the backup role before the Caps brought in Lundquist. He also has advocates from within the organization as current goaltender coach and player development coach Olaf Kolzig (ever heard of him?) said last year “I think he can definitely be a No. 2 in the NHL...It wouldn’t surprise me if he could battle for a No. 1, but as of now is a No. 2. He’s progressed here since [the Capitals] drafted him. His demeanor, his relationship with his teammates, he just needs to be seen.”

The rest “in the nest”...

Perhaps worth noting (though likely not worth much time) Washington has three other netminders under team control currently with the South Carolina Stingrays: Alex Dubeau, Zachary Fucale, and Hunter Shepard. Fucale is perhaps the most “serious” contender having been brought in on a one-year, two-way contract worth $700,000 in late August of 2020. Fucale was drafted by the Montreal Canadiens in the second round (36th overall) in 2013, and has logged time over the last five seasons at the AHL, ECHL, and DEL (Germany) levels.

Free Agents

...yikes.

Let’s dive in and discuss a few of the more viable contenders.

Cory Schneider

Once considered to be one of the top goaltenders in hockey, Schneider starts his age-34 year without an NHL team to call home. Having spent time backing up Roberto Luongo in Vancouver from 2010 to 2013 before joining the New Jersey Devils, Schneider’s star power is far from its peak. After placing sixth in the Vezina Trophy and 17th in Hart Trophy voting in 2015-16 when he posted a 27-25-6 record for the Devils featuring a .924 SV% and 2.15 GAA, Schneider has been on a downward trajectory. In his final season in New Jersey, he played just 13 games (down from only 26 the year prior) and saw his SV% drop below 90% for the first time in his career (.887%) while allowing a career-high in GAA (3.53.)

Craig Anderson

No one can take anything away from Craig Anderson as a player and a role model, but at age 39, Anderson’s best days on the ice are likely behind him. After being selected 73rd overall by the Chicago Blackhawks in 2001, his career has spanned seventeen seasons with stops in Chicago, Florida, and Colorado in addition to having spent the last ten years with Ottawa. Over the course of his decade with the Sens, he posted a 202-168-46 record and a .914 SV%, and 2.84 GAA. Anderson notably missed stretches of the 2016-17 season to take personal leave in support of his wife who was battling throat cancer, and as a result, he earned the Bill Masterton Trophy for dedication to hockey that year. While he has seen his GAA rise to above 3.25 in each of the last three years, there still may be some tread left on the tires as Washington looks to find a veteran presence in the locker room with Hank’s sudden departure.

Mike Condon

Condon, who was acquired by the Sens in the season that Anderson spent time away from hockey represents a younger option for Washington and could be an opportunity for the 30-year-old journeyman to return to the NHL following a season in the minors in which he dealt with injuries. He last suited up for the Senators in the 2018-19 season, when he allowed eight goals in two games for Ottawa and has played just 12 games in the AHL and ECHL since. If Healthy, Condon has shown the ability to play as a serviceable backup, having logged 71 games between 2016-18, highlighted by his 2.50 GAA and .914 SV% in the 16-17 season.

Jimmy Howard

After fourteen seasons (gosh, has it really been that long??) in the Motor City, the Red Wings opted to move on from Jimmy Howard in favor of some combination of Jonathan Bernier, Thomas Greiss, and Calvin Pickard. In truth, it’s been over for a long time for Jimmy Howard who posted career lows in SV% (.882%) and GAA (4.20) in 27 starts in which he went 2-23-2 on the league’s worst team by a country mile. That said, it’s clear that the defensive talent level in front of him was beyond substandard, and he would certainly benefit from a more respectable blue line to take some of the load off. At 36 years old, it seems like a long shot that Howard will return to his 2012-13 form when he finished sixth in Vezina voting with a league-leading five shutouts — but perhaps Howard’s availability may be the desperate measure needed in these desperate times.

Ryan Miller

The 2010 Vezina Trophy and Olympic silver-medal winner has his name up and down the record books. Over the course of his 17 years in the NHL, he holds the mark for most wins by a US-born goaltender (378), and shootout wins by a goaltender in a season (10), in addition to sporting the best career USA Olympic Hockey GAA of all time (1.30.) In the same vein as Lundquist, Miller is a player who many would place on a list of guys who never lifted The Cup, but definitely deserved to. But while my workout / party playlist has not been updated since around the time that Miller was the best in the biz, in the era of TikTok, “Miller Time” doesn’t have the same staying-power as Tik Tok. If this were, say 2010, you would be hard-pressed to find a single Capitals fan whose Teenage Dream would be to watch one of the best Americans to ever pull on the sweater to pull on a different red, white, and blue jersey in D.C. Certainly it would be an OMG moment if Miller, whose Dynamite career seems destined to have him enshrined in the Hall of Fame in a few years, played out the end of his pro-days in Washington. While there are unquestionably some who want to Miller, “You Belong With Me,” perhaps would be better off if the Miller-To-DC movement was left as Just A Dream, and that for one of the greats of this generation, it’s probably Over.

Potential Trade Options

Without paying too much attention to important things like retained salary, and who the Capitals would be eager or able to move, there are a few options available around Lundquist’s $1.5mm cap hit should Washington opt to make a move for a currently-employed goalie in a rental situation. There are some intriguing (and budget-friendly) options to consider on the list of netminders with one year left on their contract:

Jaroslav Halak

No stranger to D.C., Halak’s contract hit of $2.25mm exceeds what Washington is currently able to pay the 35-year old who spent the second half of the 2013-14 season with the Caps. However, the Bruins will still lean on Halak to produce for them this year in a split-shift with Tuukka Rask. Additionally, it will be a challenge to convince an Eastern Conference squad to help out a regional rival without truly making it worth their while.

Brian Elliott

In the same vein, Elliott does check the boxes as a veteran player who is playing second fiddle to a younger netminder (Carter Hart) with another youngster nipping at his heels (Alex Lyon) but it’s even harder to imagine the Flyers making a deal with a divisional opponent. Elliott’s price is right with a matching $1.5 million price tag, but the odds are definitely stacked on bringing him to Washington.

Mike Smith

I would argue that Smith represents perhaps the best fit of any currently-employed goalie who Washington could feasibly make a move for. He too is owed $1.5 million this year and has been surpassed in the depth chart by Mikko Koskinen as the starter. At 38-years-old, this is likely the end of the road for Smith, and he may not have a role on an Oilers team that is eager to maximize the prime of Connor McDavid’s career. Don’t be surprised if his name comes up in trade talks in the coming weeks.

...And a dark-horse pick:

Shannon Szabados

Unless you’re new here, (in which case, welcome!) you know that Japers’ Rink is an equal opportunity site, and frankly, the Capitals (and the hockey world at large) have a LOT of work to do in the representation department. While there have been signs of progress, I would be remiss if I didn’t include Shannon Szabados, who is considered by many to be one of the top female goaltenders on the planet. Her resume is stacked: she’s earned two gold and one silver medal at the Olympics; a gold, five silvers, and a bronze at the IIHF World Championships. She’s also the only female to ever record a shutout in men’s professional hockey, has played in the WHL and AJHL leagues, and has in fact practiced with the NHL’s Edmonton Oilers. While it has been over a quarter-century since Manon Rhéaume suited up for the Tampa Bay Lightning, the game has grown to the point where perhaps it’s time for another woman to give it a go with the boys in the bigs.

Poll

Who do you most want to see fill in for Henrik Lundquist in 2021?

This poll is closed

  • 18%
    Pheonix Copley
    (76 votes)
  • 34%
    Vitek Vanecek
    (143 votes)
  • 2%
    Cory Schneider
    (12 votes)
  • 2%
    Craig Anderson
    (10 votes)
  • 0%
    Mike Condon
    (4 votes)
  • 2%
    Jimmy Howard
    (12 votes)
  • 8%
    Ryan Miller
    (34 votes)
  • 3%
    Jaroslav Halak
    (13 votes)
  • 1%
    Brian Elliott
    (6 votes)
  • 1%
    Mike Smith
    (8 votes)
  • 21%
    Shannon Szabados
    (88 votes)
  • 2%
    Someone else (share in the comments below)
    (9 votes)
415 votes total Vote Now