The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Kraken selects Vitek Vanecek in expansion draft, complicating Capitals’ cap, goalie issues

Goalie Vitek Vanecek was selected by the Seattle Kraken in Wednesday's NHL expansion draft. (Jonathan Newton/The Washington Post)
3 min

The Washington Capitals were dealt a blow Wednesday when the Seattle Kraken selected goaltender Vitek Vanecek in the expansion draft.

The 25-year-old Czech was a key piece in the Capitals’ 2020-21 campaign, thrust into a starting role after beginning the season third on the depth chart. Vanecek surpassed expectations as a rookie and was named the starting goalie in the playoffs before suffering an injury in the opening game.

He has a mere $716,667 salary cap hit next season and becomes a restricted free agent in 2022. A second-round pick of the Capitals in 2014, Vanecek went 21-10-4 with a .908 save percentage and a 2.69 goals against average last season.

Capitals' expansion draft protected list includes T.J. Oshie, Evgeny Kuznetsov

Vanecek was projected to share goaltending duties with Ilya Samsonov, whom the Capitals protected in the expansion draft, but now the team will explore other options.

Vanecek was one of 30 players chosen by the expansion Kraken, the NHL’s 32nd franchise. The Vegas Golden Knights, an expansion team that started play in 2017, did not have to lose a player to Seattle.

By rule, the Kraken was required to draft at least 14 forwards, nine defensemen and three goalies.

Among the notable players heading to the Pacific Northwest are defenseman Mark Giordano from Calgary, goaltender Chris Driedger from Florida, forward Jared McCann from Toronto, defenseman Jaime Oleksiak from Dallas, center Yanni Gourde from Tampa Bay, forward Jordan Eberle from the New York Islanders and defenseman Adam Larsson from Edmonton.

The Kraken chose to use its exclusive negotiating window with unrestricted free agents from Sunday to Tuesday to make deals ahead of the draft.

Obituary: Bryan 'Bugsy' Watson, former Caps' defenseman, dies at 78

Notably, the Kraken passed on Montreal goaltender Carey Price, Colorado captain Gabriel Landeskog, Vladimir Tarasenko of St. Louis and Max Domi of Columbus.

Price was coming off a strong season in Montreal, where he was a key part of the Canadiens making their first Stanley Cup finals appearance since 1993. He waived his no-move clause to be exposed. However, he carried a salary cap hit of $10.5 million for the next five years.

Landeskog is a pending unrestricted free agent and has publicly expressed his disappointment with not getting a deal done with the Avalanche, but he now looks likely to hit the open market unless he works out an 11th-hour deal with Colorado before free agency starts next week.

For the Capitals, losing Vanecek is a blow on multiple fronts.

Alex Ovechkin's massive deal is ending, but he doesn't want to look for a new team

In terms of the salary cap, he was on a team-friendly contract that could have been especially helpful as the team negotiates with captain Alex Ovechkin and Samsonov on new deals. Samsonov, a 24-year-old who made $925,000 last season, is a restricted free agent with arbitration rights. Ovechkin is a pending unrestricted free agent.

The Capitals were hoping to lose one of their high-priced defensemen to free up cap space. It didn’t work out that way.

With Washington opting to protect seven forwards, three defensemen and one goaltender, the team chose to hold back blue-liners John Carlson, Dmitry Orlov and Trevor van Riemsdyk. That left Brenden Dillon, Justin Schultz and Nick Jensen exposed.

Losing Dillon would have freed up $3.9 million next year, Schultz has a $4 million cap hit, and Jensen is getting $2.5 million next year. Additionally, Michal Kempny, who was on long-term injured reserve for all of this past season, is set to make $2.5 million.

The Kraken passed on the Capitals’ defensemen, so Washington has little room under the salary cap. A trade is not off the table for Washington, and it has already expressed that it wants to go younger, with defensive prospects, such as Martin Fehervary, ready to step into full-time roles.

In addition, the Capitals have decisions to make in net.

Samsonov remains the team’s No. 1 goaltender. However, without Vanecek as a safety net, there are questions about whether the Capitals will stick with Samsonov or opt to add a veteran when free agency starts.

The Capitals do have multiple internal options behind Samsonov, if they opt to go that route. Pheonix Copley, 29, carries a $1.1 million salary cap hit and has NHL experience, playing for the Capitals for 27 games during the 2018-19 season. He played in 15 games last season for the Hershey Bears, the Capitals’ American Hockey League affiliate, and had a .896 save percentage.

Zach Fucale is another in-house option, but the 26-year-old has no NHL experience. He carries a $750,000 cap hit and had a .932 save percentage and a 1.80 goals against average with the Bears last season.

With the season set to start in October, Washington has some time to make final decisions. The NHL regular season schedule will be unveiled Thursday.