The Capitals may have bigger priorities this offseason, but one area that General Manager Brian MacLellan will certainly be evaluating over the next few weeks is in goal.
Braden Holtby may be coming off a disappointing year by his own admission, but he remains the Capitals’ No.1 goaltender heading into next season, with Philipp Grubauer sitting at No.2 on the organizational depth chart.
That said, nothing is written in stone and the question that MacLellan and head coach Barry Trotz must answer is whether they are comfortable going into next season with a pair of young goalies, or if they would prefer to add an NHL veteran into the mix?
Grubauer, 22, proved that he could handle the NHL cage last season, compiling a 6-5-5 record with a 2.38 goals-against-average and .925 save percentage.
It’s now up to management to decide whether the Caps are better off with Grubauer seeing spot duty as Holtby’s NHL backup or whether another year of seasoning in the AHL as the Hershey Bears’ No.1 goalie would be better for his development and the team’s long-term needs.
Holtby found himself in a similar position in the 2011 offseason, when he expected to serve as Michal Neuvirth’s NHL backup for the 2011-12 campaign, only to see the Caps sign veteran Tomas Vokoun to a one-year deal on the second day of free agency.
Holtby wound up spending much of the 2011-12 season with Hershey before injuries to Neuvirth and Vokoun led to a late-season call-up for Holtby and the eventual starter’s role for the 2012 Stanley Cup Playoffs.
Vokoun turns 38 on July 2 and is again slated to become an unrestricted free agent this summer. While Vokoun played for Trotz with the Nashville Predators from 1998-2007, his season with the Capitals included frustrations both on and off the ice and it’s hard to imagine him returning to the organization. Vokoun missed all of last season after a blood clot developed in his pelvis.
Other veteran set to become free agents, who may be suited for a backup role, include Evgeni Nabokov, Scott Clemmensen, Jean-Sebastien Giguere, Jonas Gustuvsson, Thomas Greiss and Tim Thomas.
One intriguing possibility is veteran backup Peter Budaj, who will likely be made available by the Montreal Canadiens through a trade. Budaj has one year remaining on his contract and carries a $1.4 million salary cap hit.
The Canadiens will likely look to move Budaj after they elected to start third-stringer Dustin Tokarski in the Eastern Conference Final after No.1 Carey Price suffered a series-ending leg injury.
In three years as Price’s backup in Montreal, the 31-year-old Budaj has gone 23-16-9 with a 2.47 GAA and .910 save percentage. Prior to that, Budaj spent six years with the Colorado Avalanche.