While the Capitals are quite comfortably in a playoff spot (13 points ahead of Detroit for the final Wild Card slot), they’re also within striking distance of first in the Metropolitan as they were five points out of first heading into tonight’s games. They’ve managed to accomplish this on the backs of Alex Ovechkin and one of the strongest offensive groups in the league even with goaltending that has been near the middle of the pack.
Accordingly, it appears they’re at least exploring a potential upgrade between the pipes as Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman reports in his latest 32 Thoughts column that they are looking into the possibility of acquiring Blackhawks goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury.
Washington is currently platooning youngsters Vitek Vanecek and Ilya Samsonov with Zach Fucale getting into a handful of games this season and they’ve played to a 2.56 GAA with a .908 SV%. Those numbers are actually similar to what Fleury has put up this season (2.76 GAA, .913 SV%) although Chicago has had some struggles on the back end that have to be taken into consideration.
It was only last season that the 37-year-old won the Vezina Trophy, recording a 1.98 GAA with a .928 SV% with Vegas who decided to move Fleury to Chicago over the summer to free up some salary cap space with his $7MM AAV coming off the books. The Blackhawks gave up very little in return, the rights to Mikael Hakkarainen, who was released three weeks later.
Accordingly, in the right environment with a chance of a long playoff run, Fleury could represent a notable upgrade and it’s understandable that Washington is at least looking into this possibility. He’d certainly give them a boost for the stretch run while allowing Chicago to bring back a lot more than what they gave up to get him.
That said, making the money work will be a challenge. Washington has just over $2MM in cap space, per CapFriendly, and that’s due to Anthony Mantha being on LTIR. If he’s unable to return before the end of the regular season, that could, in theory, be applied towards Fleury’s price tag but if the winger can return, that will basically make the Caps capped out in order to get back into cap compliance.
Chicago can retain up to 50% and if the Capitals are willing, a third team could get involved and retain 50% of the remainder (25% of the full deal) to help mitigate the cap impact although some further work would need to be done to get compliant. It seems unlikely that GM Brian MacLellan would want to part with either Vanecek or Samsonov to accommodate a few months of Fleury and if that’s the case, they’ll have to find a way to afford to carry three goalies the rest of the way.
Fleury has a 10-team no-trade list in his contract and it’s unknown if Washington is on there. Even if it is, it’s quite likely that Chicago would give the veteran a chance to approve or nix a deal to the Capitals or anywhere else after they worked with him to get him to agree to join the Blackhawks in the first place.
Regardless of whether or not this works out, it appears Washington is trying to think big in terms of shoring up their goaltending situation which will make them a team to watch for in the weeks leading up to the March 21st trade deadline.