Heading into the expansion draft, the Caps knew they would most likely lose either defenseman Nate Schmidt or goalie Philipp Grubauer. They lost Schmidt and, in order to find a replacement,trading Grubauer may be the most viable option. But if that is the option the team decides to take, the clock is ticking.
The list of teams in need of a goalie continues to get shorter and shorter while free agency is just around the corner. This year is a buyer's market for goalies. With pending free agents like Ryan Miller, Jonathan Bernier, Steve Mason and Brian Elliott among others available, those few teams looking to upgrade their starting goalie will have plenty of options.
If Washington is hoping to address their hole on defense by trading away Grubauer or at least building a trade package with him as the centerpiece, it would benefit the Caps to make a deal before July 1 when free agency opens or they may be forced to hold onto him longer until a favorable deal presents itself.
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But who would be interested?
Most teams in the league would love to get a 25-year-old budding starter. To maximize what general manager Brian MacLellan could get for the young netminder, he should focus more on teams in need of a starter now. Teams like these.
Here are the teams who definitely need a starting goalie, the teams who might be in the market and the teams who need a new starter but who are unlikely to deal with Washington.
Teams who definitely need a starting goalie
Vancouver Canucks: Ryan Miller is set to become a free agent on July 1. There has been talk for months about potentially re-signing him to a short-term deal, but less than a week away from July 1, there is still no deal in place. Vancouver seems to think Jacob Markstrom will one day be able to be the team’s top starter, but I do not know what they have seen from him to make them believe that. At 27 years old, Markstrom has a career 2.91 GAA and .906 save percentage. What am I missing? Grubauer would be an instant upgrade for a team that continually refuses to rebuild.
Winnipeg Jets: Mercifully, Ondrej Pavelec will finally be leaving as a free agent. Connor Hellebuyck was given every chance to cement himself as the starter, but managed only a 2.89 GAA and .907 save percentage in 56 games last season. At only 24, it is too early to give up on him completely, but Grubauer is only 25 and has shown just as much if not more potential. While a tandem of two potential starters is never ideal (see the Philadelphia Flyers), Grubauer-Hellebuyck would certainly be an upgrade over what they had last year. Think they wouldn’t turn the reins over to two young goalies? Well, the only other goalie under contract in Winnipeg is currently the 27-year-old Michael Hutchinson who has appeared in only 99 games in his NHL career. Vancouver has to do something to address that.
Teams who might be in the market for a starting goalie
Buffalo Sabres: Just as the Canucks seem to be the only team that sees Markstrom as a starter, the Sabres may be the only team that views Robin Lehner as a No. 1. He has shown potential with a .924 and .920 save percentage in each of the last two seasons suggesting the Sabres' problems have more to do with their defense than their goaltending, but Buffalo has cleaned house this offseason with a new general manager and coach. Perhaps they could also be in the market for a new goalie as well.
Colorado Avalanche: The Avalanche raised some eyebrows by protecting Semyon Varlamov over Calvin Pickard in the expansion draft and paid the price for it as Pickard is now a Golden Knight. Colorado needs another goalie and Grubauer presents a younger, more durable option than the inconsistent Varlamov.
Detroit Red Wings: Speaking of raising eyebrows, Petr Mrazek was one of the most surprising players left exposed to Vegas. Golden Knights general manager George Mcphee, however, didn’t bite and now the Red Wings have a problem. Clearly, there’s an issue with Mrazek and Jimmy Howard is 33 years old making the team's future in net uncertain.
Teams who need a goalie but are unlikely partners
New York Islanders: The Islanders’ goalie situation was a disaster last season which resulted in Jaroslav Halak playing in the AHL. J.F. Berube is now with Vegas which means New York is down to two goalies again, but that may not solve the issue. The real problem last year wasn’t that the Islanders had too many goalies, it’s that they didn’t have enough. If one goalie had emerged as the clear No. 1, it would have made life a heck of a lot easier. Having only two goalies may help, but it is hard to imagine the Islanders having much faith in either netminder.
Philadelphia Flyers: The Steve Mason-Michal Neuvirth tandem has not brought much success to the Philadelphia and it is time to move on. Everyone knows it and general manager Ron Hextall has reportedly been in the market for a new goalie.
The problem with both the Islanders and Flyers is that they are both Metropolitan Division teams along with the Caps. Trades within the division are not unheard of, but they can make things more complicated. Would Washington really want to trade the Islanders their franchise goalie? Is either team willing to trade what it would take to get him? The answer may well be "no" which will make life difficult for the Caps considering just how small the list of teams who need a goalie is otherwise.
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