“For Gruby, I think he wants to be a No. 1,” MacLellan said, expressing his desire to keep Grubauer but wanting to do what is best for the netminder. “It is just a personal thing for Gruby. I would love to have Gruby back. We’ve got two really good goaltenders. I just think he is at the point where he wants his own team and he wants to be the guy that is running the show for his own team and I respect that.”
The New York Islanders, Buffalo Sabres, Philadelphia Flyers, Carolina Hurricanes and Calgary Flames are potential suitors for Grubauer.
Grubauer started splitting time with starting goaltender Braden Holtby in March and outplayed the veteran during the final stretch of the regular season to earn the Capitals’ starting job for the playoffs. Grubauer started the first two games of the Stanley Cup playoffs, but after Washington lost both games against Columbus, Holtby reclaimed the net. Holtby is under contract with Washington for two more seasons with $6.1 million cap hit in each.
Grubauer played in and started the most games of his career — 35 and 28, respectively — during the regular season.
“Not getting to play, no player likes it, but it is part of the team, part of hockey,” Grubauer said of being pulled in the playoffs. “Not everybody can play the whole time, and in the end, Barry [Trotz] makes the decision of who is in the lineup, and you have to accept that if you like it or not, nobody likes to sit out. Even if I didn’t play, I was supporting the guys.”
Starting 10 of the Capitals’ final 17 regular season games, Grubauer compiled a 7-3-0 record with a .925 save percentage and a 2.31 goals against average. In the 27 appearances since he recorded his first win in late November against the Tampa Bay Lightning, Grubauer was the steadiest goaltender in the league with a .937 save percentage and a 1.93 goals against average.
“I tried to play my game, tried to be consistent the last couple years and win some games and get some points, and hopefully teams and other people saw that,” Grubauer said. “That was my goal, to be a No. 1 starter.”
With a potential hole left by a departure by Grubauer, there is a list of goalie prospects lined up behind him, including last season’s third man on the depth chart, Pheonix Copley, who likely would be promoted to backup NHL duty. Highly touted Russian prospect Ilya Samsonov, a 2015 first-round pick by the Capitals, signed a three-year entry-level contract in May, and the 21-year-old is expected to play his first season in North America next year. MacLellan said Samsonov needs time in the American Hockey League to develop and get accustomed to the smaller rink, but he expects him to adapt fairly quickly because of his skill.
If Grubauer does leave the Capitals, he might not be gone for good, having expressed a desire to live in D.C. once he retires from hockey because of the restaurants and calmness of the city, in addition to the personal relationships he has made here.
“I want to stay here once I’m done playing hockey, and I love the city and just to see that and be proud, proud of the fans and the city too,” Grubauer said.
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