The Washington Capitals have finally slain their two-headed goalie monster by metaphorically chopping both of their heads off. (Okay this is gross, I will definitely delete this before posting this.)
On Monday afternoon, the team announced that they had not made a qualifying offer to Ilya Samsonov. The team can still negotiate with Samsonov in the next two days (if they want), but if not, come on Wednesday – phew! – The Russia goalkeeper can sign with any team as an unrestricted free agent. After the deal with Vitek Vanecek on day two of the draft, the Capitals quickly went from two goalies in the organization to none.
Based on how it all went, the team received little in return and that’s what I want to focus on for a moment, especially if the Caps aren’t able to sign Samsonov on a more team-friendly deal before midday on Wednesday.
Vitek Vanecek spent seven years organizing with the Capitals after being selected in the second round of the 2014 draft — five in the minor leagues and two in the NHL.
On Friday, the Capitals traded the Czech goaltender to New Jersey, a young and rising team and rivals in the Metropolitan Division. The Devils sent the Caps a third-round pick (70th overall) and traded the seconds (No. 46 for No. 37), allowing Washington to move up nine places. The Capitals brought in US National Development Team defenseman Ryan Chesley with that second-round pick and Russian left winger Alexander Suzdalev with the third.
The Vanecek trade came a year after the Capitals bought him back from the Seattle Kraken following the expansion draft. That trade was for a second-round election in 2023.
So overall, the Capitals dished out a second-round pick for Vanecek to have a mediocre season that saw his value crater after his entry-level contract. The team received an extra third-round pick but lost that second-round pick. In retrospect, it would have been better to let Vanecek go and let Phoenix Copley, who served as the team’s full-time backup in 2019-20, seize the opportunity.
Samsonov was considered the top goaltender in the 2015 NHL Draft. The Capitals selected him 15th overall. He spent one season with the Hershey Bears and three seasons in the NHL – his first as a backup for Braden Holtby. There were comparisons with Carey Price and Andrei Vasilevskiy.
And that didn’t seem so far-fetched for a while. Samsonov appeared to be one of the best young and up-and-coming goalkeepers in the game, and at times he would push Holtby off the net. Samsonov won 12 of his first 14 starts at the net and became the first goaltender in NHL history to win each of his first nine away games of his career in a single season.
Then came the coronavirus pandemic and Samsonov was never the same. He suffered a serious injury in Russia. A Russian article said Samsonov injured his neck and back after an ATV accident, and the Capitals have not pushed back on that report. Samsonov missed the 2020 Bubble playoffs and failed to rekindle all the promise he showed in his freshman season.
Now the Capitals have decided not to advertise Samsonov because they were unwilling to pay him a salary in the region of $3 million to $3.5 million as a replacement. They probably did not succeed in winning over a trading partner for their negotiating rights. The capitals could end up watching Samsonov go – and then potentially succeeding elsewhere – for nothing in return.
And here we have to ask some difficult questions, in all variations how could it go so wrong? After showing promise at Hershey and in his first season in Washington, how has Samsonov fallen so far? Was it just immaturity? Why did the Capitals come back to him as a starter for a second season after suspending him over disciplinary issues? Why did the Capitals buy back Vanecek last year only to give him up this year? Why did Brian MacLellan dissed her in the media after the draft?
Many of you could argue the capitals would have to make a change. None of these guys could cut it anymore. And that’s exactly my point. The main townsfolk kicked the can down the street until there was no street left and the can was completely dented.
Lately we’ve seen too many good young players leave Washington – Jakub Vrana, Andre Burakovsky, Chandler Stephenson and Jonas Siegenthaler. The grass is absolutely greener outside of DC. Samsonov and Vanecek could still grow into stars. So yeah, I’m worried. Not only has the team failed to get sizable assets on either type when they could, but they now have to pay a premium to replace them on the open market.
That’s not a good development at the NHL level. That’s not good management. Everything points to a dysfunction in the organization where they are too scared to make the tough decisions until it’s too late.
Headline photo: Elizabeth Kong/RMNB