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Copley Trade Shakes Up Capitals Goaltending Depth

The Washington Capitals made a major move on Thursday by acquiring T.J. Oshie from the St. Louis Blues for Troy Brouwer, a third-round draft pick, and goaltender Pheonix Copley.

While on the surface it seems like the Capitals are the early winners of that deal, receiving a bona fide top-six forward in Oshie, it comes at the cost of a highly touted goaltending prospect. The trade of Copley is only one in a string of moves that have been made over the last two months, as the Capitals have been re-shuffling their goaltending depth chart.

Justin Peters has not performed at the level that the team expected when they signed him a year ago, and that forced their hand to accelerate the development of Philipp Grubauer. Even though Peters has one year left on his contract, they signed Grubauer to a two-year, one-way contract on June 15th, and plan to use him as the backup to Braden Holtby next season.

Justin Peters

The Capitals may already be looking to move in a different direction after Justin Peters struggled in his first season with the club.

Ideally, the Caps do not want to be using Holtby in 70+ games every year. Having a competent backup will be important next season, and the 28-year-old Peters’ career save percentage of a replacement-level .901 is not going to cut it. He finished 2014-2015, his first season with the Caps, with a below-replacement-level .881 save percentage and 3-6-1 record in only 12 games. Replacement-level save percentage generally hovers between .890 and .908 depending on the year.

The future for Peters is uncertain. They can choose to place him on waivers and buy him out, trade him, or bury him in the minors – but the least likely option seems to be that he will end up on their NHL roster in 2015-2016.

The Capitals also had two restricted free agent goaltenders heading into this offseason, but they have decided to cut ties with both of them. Edward Pasquale and Brandon Anderson required qualifying offers to stay with the organization, and they decided to non-tender both of them. Pasquale’s release was especially surprising considering he showed a lot of promise with the Winnipeg Jets organization, but underwent back-to-back hip surgeries and didn’t play a single game last season.

Finally, the Capitals selected the highest ranked goaltender in this year’s draft, Ilya Samsonov, which was the move that really made Copley expendable. Even though the organization thought highly of Copley, Grubauer is the more NHL-ready of the two goaltenders. When a change needed to be made at the NHL level, Grubauer was the one to get the call.

With the duo of Holtby and Grubauer, the Capitals are likely set for at least the next 4-5 years in goal. Copley finished the year in Hershey with a 2.17 GAA and .925 SV% in 26 games, so if he continued to trend that way, he should have been next in line.

It wasn’t likely that Copley would have ever truly competed for an NHL job with Washington, and at age 23, that time frame was not going to work. The drafting of Samsonov and Vitek Vanecek (39th overall in 2014), means they are fully prepared for when Holtby reaches unrestricted free agency.

Trading Copley helped them address an immediate need with Oshie, but it leaves their goaltending depth with a thin, albeit talented group:

NameAgeOrganization (2014-2015)
Braden Holtby25Washington (NHL)
Philipp Grubauer23Hershey (AHL)
Justin Peters28Washington (NHL)
Vitek Vanecek19HC Benatky nad Jizerou (Czech2)
Ilya Samsonov18Magnitogorsk (MHL)

Vanecek will more than likely be making the move to North America next season, after already spending time with the Hershey Bears at the end of last season. He didn’t appear in any games, but it seems like he’s eager, and the team is eager to see him action.

He’s only 5-foot-11, 167 pounds, but his stock has been rising ever since the Capitals plucked him out of obscurity and drafted him in the second round in 2014. He posted a 2.24 goals-against average and .925 save percentage in 20 games in the second-tier Czech league last season, so he remains an intriguing name to keep an eye on heading into next season.

With Samsonov staying in the KHL for the time being, Peters in Hershey, and Vanecek in either the ECHL or AHL to start the season, the Capitals should be looking to fill out their depth by signing at least one other AHL-calibre goaltender.

From the St. Louis Blues’ perspective they add an exciting young netminder in Copley, who is almost ready to push Jake Allen for NHL minutes. Brian Elliott is already into his 30s, and only has two years remaining on his contract. Once that expires, it would not be shocking to see Copley aspire for the position alongside Allen.

About The Author

Greg Balloch

Greg Balloch is a Vancouver-based writer for InGoal Magazine, broadcaster for Sportsnet 650, and goaltending coach. His career began in Hamilton, Ontario with the Junior 'A' Hamilton Red Wings, before moving to Vancouver to cover the Canucks on the radio and work with the Surrey Eagles of the BCHL. A lifelong goaltender, he has been teaching the position for over a decade.