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Japers’ Rink Mailbag: Between the Pipes

Today’s question looks at who will be in net for the Caps next season:

An early offseason leads one to look forward a little sooner than expected, or desired, and who might be tending goal for the Washington Capitals next season is a good forward-looking question. But as tempting as a home-grown Braden Holtby/Philipp Grubauer tandem sounds, there is considerable risk in such a move (assuming Jaroslav Halak goes elsewhere in free agency).

First, Braden Holtby will turn 25 years old just before the 2014-2015 season starts – that’s relatively young, as NHL netminders go. In fact, of the 97 goalies who played in 2013-2014, only 37 of them were 25 or younger on February 1st… which sounds like a lot until you look at the number-one goalies in that pool. A casual look at the 30 teams and the goalies who spent the entire 2013-2014 season with their respective clubs, along with a reasonable assumption of who is the “number one” goalie, we see that five goalies were 25 years old or younger: Sergei Bobrovsky, Semyon Varlamov, Steve Mason, Jonathan Bernier, and Holtby. Only Holtby had not reached his 25th birthday, and he was not the starting goalie during the Capitals’ unsuccessful stretch run to the playoffs.

Looking at the other four teams employing those young goaltenders – Columbus, Colorado, Philadelphia, and Toronto – one might be encouraged that three of the teams made the playoffs and another battled down to the last week before falling out. However, in no instance did any of those teams employ a backup goalie younger than their number one. In Columbus, Curtis McElhinney (30 years old) got into 28 games. Jean-Sebastien Giguere (36 years old) appeared in 22 games. Ray Emery (31 years old) appeared in 28 games. James Reimer (almost five months older than Bernier) got the call in 36 games.

It is tempting to think Philipp Grubauer is ready to assume full-time backup duties based on his performance in the 2013-14 season. Some Caps fans might even think he has a bona fide shot at the number-one spot next season. But consider that while Grubauer started well (2-0-1, 1.52, .957 in his first four appearances), he finished weakly before being reassigned to Hershey in January (0-3-0, 6.17, .788 in his last three appearances).

That’s fine for an up-and-coming young goalie; after all, Grubauer will not turn 23 until next November, and while he has 19 games of NHL experience, he has a total of only 47 regular season and five playoff games in pro hockey above the ECHL level. But as a full-time NHL backup? Maybe not.

This is not to say that the Caps will start the year with a tandem other than Holtby and Grubauer – the market may prove to be too weak for such a commodity, or the options too expensive. But if they did, it would be a rather young pair, and whoever is put in charge of personnel management for the Caps will likely do their due diligence in seeing what is available in the market for a reliable veteran who might carry a 20-25 game load.

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