The Washington Capitals have decided to go with a one-year deal for young goaltender Ilya Samsonov, signing him to a $2MM contract for 2021-22. The young goaltender had decided not to file for arbitration earlier this offseason, despite being eligible.
Samsonov, 24, has just 45 regular season games under his belt at the NHL level and is coming off a campaign that saw several interruptions. He ended up on the COVID list twice and was even benched along with teammate Evgeny Kuznetsov for disciplinary reasons. In 19 games, he posted a .902 save percentage, far from what was expected from him after his strong rookie season.
There’s still plenty of reason to believe in Samsonov’s upside, but the fact that Vitek Vanecek is back after an odd select-and-trade situation played out with the Seattle Kraken means that he may not be in line for the starting role. In fact, Vanecek outplayed Samsonov for most of this season, posting a .908 save percentage in 37 appearances. He was also the game 1 starter for the Capitals when the playoffs began, despite Samsonov technically coming off the COVID list in time.
After a Vanecek injury in game one and a heroic effort from veteran Craig Anderson in game two, Samsonov would take the net and lose three straight against the Boston Bruins to see the Capitals eliminated. There’s no doubt he has the talent to compete at the NHL level, but a short-term deal seemed prudent in this case to give him a chance to prove he can be a valuable (and reliable) piece for the Capitals.
There’s also the fact that Washington is operating on a tight budget, given how close they were to the cap before this signing. Buying out any additional years likely would have forced the cap hit higher, something they couldn’t really accommodate right now without making a different move. For $2MM, he can combine with Vanecek once again as one of the cheapest tandems in the league. He’ll also still be a restricted free agent at the deal’s expiry.