Does Reacquiring Vanecek Show Us The Washington Capitals Faith In Samsonov?

Vitek Vanecek, Ilya Samsonov, Washington Capitals (Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images)
Vitek Vanecek, Ilya Samsonov, Washington Capitals (Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images) /

Goaltending has been a big question mark for the Washington Capitals over the past couple of seasons now. While Braden Holtby was the undisputed number one at the end of his tenure in Washington his play was less than convincing. After he left before the start of last season it was Ilya Samsonov’s net without question.

The backup position seemed to be easily filled as well when the Capitals signed Henrik Lundqvist in free agency last offseason. Everything seemed okay in net for the Capitals before last season started.

Then Lundqvist revealed he had some health issues and everything started to turn for the Capitals. The Capitals lost their established and reliable backup.

Then early in the season Ilya Samsonov was a part of a group that got COVID or were out for virus reasons, forcing him to miss time. The Caps quickly went from comfortable in net to very questionable.

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Enter Vitek Vanecek. The 25-year-old Czech had a stellar rookie season. While the numbers weren’t great, a 2.69 GAA and a .908 save percentage, without Vanecek the Capitals could have easily sunk early in the season. Vanecek was more than good, and in the process showed he was an NHL goalie at the point.

The NHL’s newest franchise, the Seattle Kraken apparently thought he was pretty good as well. Of all the good players the Capitals left exposed in the expansion draft they decided to take Vanecek. At the time, it was a big loss for the Capitals. They lost a more than capable backup and they didn’t get any salary cap relief, Vanecek only having a $716k cap hit.

Just a week after losing Vanecek in the expansion draft however the Capitals reacquired him in a trade with the Kraken. This was after Seattle signed another former Capitals netminder Philipp Grubauer somewhat unexpectedly.

In no way can you say this was a bad move for Washington. The Capitals get a player they are obviously familiar with. At the same time it doesn’t cost them too much at all either, just a second round draft pick in 2023 and of course his small cap hit.

There is no reason to say this is a bad move. Yet, I question this move.

Why go out and acquire, or reacquire a young goaltender when you already have a young and talented goalie in Ilya Samsonov? Why spend a second round draft pick when you don’t really “have to”?

The other option is to go to free agency and get a cheaper, veteran backup, and there were plenty of them. Albeit, none of them were as cheap as Vanecek in terms of cap hit they were still somewhat cheap.

Among the cheaper veterans the Capitals could have gone to. Antti Raanta at $2m, Craig Anderson, who did not retire as some reports said he would signed for $750k, James Reimer signed for $2,250m a year, Jaroslav Halak signed for $1.5m a year, Martin Jones signed for $2m as did Braden Holtby.

All of those contracts are likely doable for the Capitals. Ilya Samsonov is still an RFA and we don’t know how high his cap hit will be, but considering how “unreliable” he’s been early on in his career it probably shouldn’t be anything too high.

I believe that brings us to our point here. Is the reason the Capitals reacquired Vanecek is because this franchise doesn’t quite believe in Samsonov?

To me, when you think about it, that’s the reason you reacquire Vanecek. Other than that, you shrug your shoulders, say you lost a good one and move on. If you truly think you have a star goalie of the future and you can rely on him no questions asked in Samsonov you just let Vanecek go and sign a cheaper veteran backup via free agency and watch that young star take the reigns and lead your team.

This is the only reason I question this move from the Washington Capitals. You have a young goalie who is believed to be the future. Why spend a draft pick on another young goalie? I’m not one of those people who over values draft picks either. Maybe that pick becomes a great player for you, more likely it won’t. Maybe you can use that draft pick in another trade to help better your team elsewhere, maybe not.

This reminds me of a time where the Capitals had three good young goalies. Semyon Varlamov, Michal Neuvirth and Braden Holtby. It seemed like Varlamov was going to be the guy, he had some injury problems, maybe wasn’t as reliable as people would have liked and Neuvirth got his shot and did somewhat well with it. Then of course seemingly out of nowhere Holtby comes in and claims the team and leads them to glory in 2018 and becomes a team legend.

As much as it seems like Samsonov has been “the guy” going forward, maybe the team is less convinced now than they were before? Things can change is my point there.

The Capitals have their goaltending tandem back. To me, it was a pretty good move. I don’t think you can look at this move or trade and say they lost or made a bad deal. I just question why.

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To me, I think it tells you that maybe the Capitals don’t have all the faith in the world in Ilya Samsonov. If they did, I don’t think they make this move.