The quest for the Stanley Cup doesn't begin on the ice, but during the offseason as general managers build their teams for the upcoming campaign. The Caps have made a number of moves this summer to try to make their team better and get over the playoff hump.
Let's break down and grade each move the team made this offseason to help figure out whether it was the right move for the team.
Today's move: Signing Joe Cannata as the No. 3 goalie
The Caps made a number of minor league moves in the offseason and while I won't go into each and every one of them, the signing of Joe Cannata deserves some discussion considering he will be the guy the team calls up in case of injury to Braden Holtby or Philipp Grubauer.
What do you get the guy who has everything? That's how the offseason felt a bit for the Capitals who had very few offseason needs. With the departure of goalies Justin Peters and Dan Ellis, however, the Caps found themselves in serious need of a No. 3 goalie.
First, an explanation. When many fans heard the team was looking for a goalie, their reaction was why? They have Holtby, Grubauer and 2015 first-round pick Ilya Samsonov, right? Problem solved.
Not so much.
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Samsonov is under contract with the KHL for the next two years. Should the Caps find themselves in need of a goalie this year, Samsonov would not be available to them. Even if he was, a 19-year-old with no NHL experience would not be their first choice. As for their other prospects, Adam Carlson will head to ECHL South Carolina this year while Vitek Vanecek will get the bump from the ECHL to AHL Hershey. That still leaves one opening in the AHL.
Enter Joe Cannata.
What exactly does a team look for in a third goalie? Someone who would be comfortable spending the entire season in the AHL, but who can be called up to the NHL on a short-term basis. Someone who can sit on the bench and enter an NHL game in relief if the need arises. If Holtby suffers a minor tweak and is out for two weeks, for example, then Cannata will be called up to serve as Grubauer's back up.
What we are not talking about is someone who can replace Holtby or Grubauer in case of long-term injury. At that point, the Caps would almost certainly bring in someone via trade. Goalies capable of playing in the NHL long term don't sign deals to play in the AHL.
Cannata, 26, has 88 games of AHL experience, including 40 games last season in Utica, where he went 20-13-6 with two shutouts, a 2.52 goals-against average (GAA) and a .909 save percentage.
"He'll be the third goalie, work with Vanecek in the American League," general manager Brian MacLellan said at development camp. "[Goalie coach Mitch Korn] and [associate goalie coach Scott Murray] will try and develop both those guys to get to the next level."
Last year, the Caps went with experience by signing Ellis, a veteran journeyman goalie with over 200 games of NHL experience. He did well over the course of the season with a 2.38 GAA and .908 save percentage, but he ran out of gas in the playoffs, getting torched in his only two games with a 4.80 GAA and .843 save percentage.
Cannata, on the other hand, has no NHL experience. Clearly, the Caps have decided to go younger with a goalie tandem of Cannata and Vanecek.
At 26, there's certainly higher upside to Cannata than there was for Ellis. He continues to improve his game and could ultimately develop into a solid AHL starter or even an NHL backup, but I have to wonder at this point just how much confidence Barry Trotz would have in him if he needed to call him up in October or November.
If everything goes according to plan, this will be the last Caps fans think about Cannata this season. Holtby and Grubauer will again be the Caps' top two netminders and Cannata will spend the entire year in the AHL where he has shown he can be successful. What we are talking about here is a goalie who can be successful in Hershey and who the Caps would be comfortable comfortable with for a short-term call up. Cannata checks that first box, but otherwise seems like a curious choice.
With no NHL experience, it's hard to imagine Trotz having that much faith in him. Granted, it doesn't take much experience to sit on the bench, but there are plenty of free agents available with some NHL experience that perhaps would have been a better fit. I'm not a scout and I can't tell you what they see in Cannata, but clearly they saw something that told them it was worth the risk.
Cannata's upside is a plus, but I'm not sure Hershey is better off this year with Cannata and Vanecek than last year with Peters and Ellis and I'm not sure just how much faith Trotz will have in Cannata even in the short-term.
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