The Washington Capitals have checked the last big item off their summer to-do list, re-signing goaltender Philipp Grubauer to a one-year, $1.5 million deal Thursday. Grubauer was the last restricted free agent on the team’s NHL roster left to extend, meaning the team’s last order of business this offseason is re-signing prospect forward Liam O’Brien to what should be a routine bridge contract.
With Grubauer signed, Washington has $4,089,893 in salary cap space to fill out its roster with five more player contracts, assuming the team plans to carry one extra forward and an extra defenseman.
Grubauer’s preference was a one-year term; he didn’t file for player-elected arbitration by Wednesday’s 5 p.m. deadline in part because he didn’t want the Capitals to have the ability to select a two-year term, according to a person with knowledge of the situation. Both sides were also nearing a deal at that point, so there was no need to file for arbitration.
Grubauer will be a restricted free agent again at the conclusion of this deal, but with No. 1 goaltender Braden Holtby under contract for three more seasons, it’s possible both sides could part at the end of this season in the interest of Grubauer getting more playing opportunity elsewhere.
The team’s organizational goaltending depth is strong, with Ilya Samsonov, considered the best goaltending prospect in the world, expected to start playing in North America in a year. Washington also recently signed goaltender Pheonix Copley to a two-year contract that becomes a one-way in the 2018-19 season, meaning the team will pay Copley the same amount of money whether he’s in the NHL or American Hockey League. That indicates the team might expect Copley to be Holtby’s backup by that point.
But re-signing Grubauer this summer was important to Washington’s immediate plans. The 25-year-old Grubauer was one of the league’s best backup goaltenders last season, and the Capitals will need a good tandem in net again. In 25 appearances, Grubauer had a .926 save percentage and a 2.04 goals against average, and his last contract was a two-year deal that paid him $750,000 a season. With the Capitals preparing to potentially dress two rookie defensemen in the lineup next season, having a reliable option in net every night takes on greater importance.
“I think having two good goalies somewhat protects us from adding two young defensemen,” General Manager Brian MacLellan said. “There’s going to be some mistakes initially and we’ll rely on our goalies to get them through it.”