In an unexpected turn of events in Washington, Henrik Lundqvist announced that his newly discovered heart condition wouldn’t allow him to play this upcoming season. This puts the Capitals back where they were before October. Luckily for the Caps, Free Agency isn’t the only option to find who will share the net with Samsonov.
A kind of unlikely story, Copley was never drafted, yet has his name on the Stanley Cup. He first signed with the Capitals in 2014, though he spent a season in the Blues organization. Pheonix has spent most of his career in Hershey with the Bears; he played 27 games in the ‘18-’19 season when he was Holtby’s backup.
Though not the most impressive goaltender, Copley has the most experience out of any other goalie in the Capitals system. Now, I’m not saying he should get the start just because he has the most games played, but it is something that should be considered. He’s fairly used to the pressures of an NHL game, and his NHL record of 16-7-3 is nothing to sneeze at. Copley at least deserves a look before the Caps decide who’s going to be the next backup.
Very different from Copley’s story, Vanecek was drafted 39th overall in the 2014 draft and the Capitals have kept a close eye on him ever since. He’s played 4 seasons with the Hershey Bears, with a winning record in 3 of those. His rookie season, he was named to the ECHL All-Rookie team in 2016. In the AHL, Vanecek was called to the AHL All-Star games in 2019, then replaced teammate Michael Sgarbossa in the Games in 2020. He was named MVP in the 2020 games. In numbers alone, he’s performed better than Copley.
Vanecek is one of those players with a very clear and consistent upward trajectory. He’s improved in (almost) every season. He’s still very young, only 24, and is obviously a rising star. With Samsonov also being young, the question would not be of skill, but of maturity. The Caps will want someone able to keep their cool under pressure.
Assistant GM Ross Mahoney said he’d feel confident if it were Samsonov and Vanecek next season before Lundqvist was signed. With the cap not moving, the Caps are already over budget. It makes the most sense for Washington to go internal, the question would just be who to pick.
Copley has a good argument, but I’d have to go with Vanecek. He’s been pretty close to making the team the past couple of seasons and he has better numbers between the two. If he’s going to be the Caps’ next star, he needs to start at some point. Why not now? With the way the league is trending these days, I wouldn’t be surprised to see the Caps making Samsonov and Vanecek a tandem like Lehner and Fleury.
At the end of the day, whoever the Caps decide to pick will be interesting. I think with the front office having an eye on Vanecek before Lundqvist was signed, there’s a good chance we’ll have a new rookie goalie in DC.
-Heidi Thomas (@DamselOnDrums)