The Washington Capitals have some interesting decisions to make in the next few months when it comes to their goaltending. The team has starter Braden Holtby under contract for just one more season after this one, while backup Pheonix Copley will be an unrestricted free agent. Throw in the fact the team has highly-touted prospect Ilya Samsonov in Hershey in the AHL as well as Vitek Vanecek, who is about to play for the AHL All-Star game, and the team has quite a bit of depth.
The team’s first decision, according to the Washington Post’s Isabelle Khurshudyan is general manager Brian MacLellan must decide whether they intend to bring back Copley next season. Copley was having an impressive season until recently with 10 wins in his first 15 games, but has struggled more recently during Washington’s seven-game winless streak. In fact, Copley has gone 0-3-1 in his last four appearances, allowing 15 goals, although two of those appearance were in relief of Holtby. Of course, MacLellan said just two weeks ago that he was interested in retaining the services of Copley for another year.
“No I don’t,” said MacLellan, when asked if he needed to see more of him before re-signing him. “I think he’s pretty much continually gotten better. You watch him work in practice, you watch what [goaltending coach Scott Murray] does — I mean I talk to Scott constantly on where’s he at, where’s he going — and there’s a comfort level with him that he’s not going to get worse. He’s going to get better.”
Regardless of his recent struggles, bringing Copley back for another year would make sense as Samsanov, deemed the goaltender of the future in Washington, has struggled in the AHL with a 3.14 GAA and a .878 save percentage this season. Another year of Copley would give the prospect more time to develop as its just his first year in North America and knew little English when he arrived here last summer. However, the 21-year-old Samsanov has had a recent string of solid performances as he has gone 4-0-1 with two shutouts in his last five games, but barring injury isn’t likely to make his NHL debut this year. If someone gets recalled this season, it’s likely to be Vanecek, who is 10-8-2 with a 2.82 GAA and a .903 save percentage. Vanecek is also a coveted prospect as he was a second-round pick in 2014.
Khurshudyan also points out that whatever the team decides to do with Copley could have an effect of whether the team brings back Holtby after the 2019-20 season. With lasting salary cap issues, the team might be better off turning to Samsonov as their starter in two years rather than offer the then 31-year-old an expensive, long-term contract extension. It will likely be his last chance at a big contract, so it’s unlikely he would agree to a short-term deal to stay in Washington. Holtby returned to the All-Star game this year and is having another impressive season, but the team may have to decide between retaining Holtby or Nicklas Backstrom, who will both be unrestricted free agents in two years. Regardless, if the team opts to make Samsonov the goalie of the future, how much NHL experience will Samsonov get if Copley is in his way next season?