Although he eventually gave the starter’s job back to Braden Holtby this postseason, Washington Capitals goaltender Philipp Grubauer has more than proven himself to be a top option in 2017-18. The 26-year-old won over the leading role in net late in the regular season for the Caps and finished with a .923 save percentage and 2.35 GAA; both marks were substantially better than Holtby’s for the year albeit in 35 appearances versus 54 for Holtby. Entering restricted free agency this summer, Grubauer has shown the potential to be a starter in the NHL and will use that to cash in on his next contract. As such, that contract likely won’t be with Washington. The Athletic’s Pierre LeBrun reports that there is already considerable trade interest across the league in Grubauer, as the cap-strapped Capitals cannot afford an expensive backup goalie, especially since they hope to re-sign one of the top names on the free agent market in defenseman John Carlson. According to LeBrun, the leading suitors thus far, for obvious reasons, have been the New York Islanders and Carolina Hurricanes. Both teams have underwhelming veteran starters heading to free agency – Jaroslav Halak and Cam Ward – with the disappointing backups that lost their jobs now slated to return to starting in Thomas Greiss and Scott Darling respectively. Grubauer would likely be an upgrade to either and at the very least would create some competition in net. LeBrun doubts that those two teams will be the only major contenders for Grubauer this off-season, citing that interest may increase once Washington wraps up the Stanley Cup final. It is also fair to be skeptical of the Capitals trading him within the division if they truly believe in his ability. Don’t rule out a Martin Jones scenario wherein the San Jose Sharks acquired Jones from the Los Angeles Kings through the Boston Bruins a few years back, much to the chagrin of the division rival Kings. One way or another, it seems likely that Grubauer’s time in Washington is over. At least it appears he could end his stay with a title.
- A more surprising name who could also end his stay in D.C. with a Stanley Cup is head coach Barry Trotz. Trotz still does not have a contract for next season and LeBrun reports that the team has not had any talks with their bench boss during the postseason so as to remain focused. As a result, Trotz is able to consider his options once the season comes to an end. Assuming the Capitals extend an offer to their coach, who has always been a title away from being considered one of the best in the game, Trotz could simply choose to stay and defend his championship with a team that won’t change much this off-season. However, he could opt for more money or a new challenge with another franchise. Again, LeBrun adds that the Islanders are rumored to be in the running. After firing Doug Weight on Tuesday, the Isles are the only team in the league that currently has a vacancy at head coach and Lou Lamoriello could be intrigued by adding a proven winner to lead the team he is trying to turn around. If the offer was overwhelming, the Capitals may be content to give the job to assistant Todd Reirden, who LeBrun notes has long been considered the heir apparent. Only time will tell what Trotz’ decision is, but LeBrun reports that he and agent Gil Scott will meet to map out their plans as soon as the season ends.
- One player upset at missing out on the Capitals’ current cap run is former defenseman Karl Alzner. Alzner, who was drafted by Washington with the 5th overall pick in 2007 and played nine seasons with the team, departed in free agency last summer, joining the Montreal Canadiens to the tune of five years and $23MM. While the contract was enticing for the stay-at-home defender, his desire to win was also one of the main reasons he left after repeated playoff collapses by the Caps. This makes the cruel irony of this season that much worse, as Washington seems poised to win its first ever Stanley Cup title while Alzner’s first year in Montreal was nothing short of a disaster by both individual and team performance standards. Unsurprisingly, when Alzner spoke on 960 The Fan in Calgary today he said he was “super jealous”. He goes on to say that he will be excited for his good friends on the team if they lift the Cup later in the series, but it’s hard to believe that Alzner won’t feel discouraged by the championship win as well. Unfortunately, a player who wanted so badly to win missed out by one season and chose to sign with a team that is quite far away from being a legitimate contender.
- There has been a lot made already about the new administration in Carolina and the changes coming to the Hurricanes, but it seems unlikely that the news will stop anytime soon. LeBrun confirmed that new GM Don Waddell has been taking a lot of calls on his players and that a major move could be imminent. LeBrun says that scoring winger Jeff Skinner is the most likely to move and that a trade could be made in the next week or so. The price on Skinner is currently a first-round pick and prospect, which LeBrun says has soured some teams, but without pressure to make a deal, Waddell can hold on his asking prices and let the suitors budge. The same goes for his efforts to deal a defenseman. The Hurricanes are bursting at the seems with talented defenders, but that doesn’t mean that they have to make a trade. Instead, Waddell seems more likely to wait until he gets blown away by an offer, likely for veteran leader Justin Faulk or promising RFA Noah Hanifin, before he pulls the trigger. LeBrun also speculates that Elias Lindholm, another restricted free agent, could become available later this summer if the two sides can’t work out a long-term extension.