Who could replace Justin Peters?
Early in the season, goaltending was a major issue for the Caps. But over a quarter of the season is complete, and we’re still not seeing the numbers we need from backup Justin Peters. A former Carolina Hurricane with solid numbers, Peters was signed in the offseason to back up Holtby, who was deemed the Caps’ official starter. Last season was something of a trainwreck from the goaltending perspective, with four goaltenders having suited up by season’s end. Two are no longer with the organization (Neuvirth and Halak), while Holtby was finally handed the reins and Grubauer was relegated, after much speculation, to the starting job in Hershey.
25 games are in the books, and the Caps have a 11-10-4 record (26 points and fourth in the Metro.) Peters has seven games to his name, a .872 save percentage, and a 3.28 GAA. Of the seven games he’s appeared in, he’s allowed a minimum of three goals in all but one of them–and six of his appearances were as the team’s starter. Even with vaunted goalie coach Mitch Korn working behind the scenes, the Caps ought to at least consider moving Peters. With this mentality (and the current needs of other teams) in mind, I’ve examined two potential backups–both currently playing in the NHL–and what it would take for the Caps to obtain them.
Thomas Greiss, Pittsburgh Penguins
Before I make the case for Greiss, let me establish that it’s highly unlikely the Caps and Pens would swap players. There’s the whole division rival thing, for starters… But it shouldn’t detract from Greiss’ play and why he could benefit the Caps.
Greiss has played in 75 NHL games to date, with 30 wins and 26 losses. He’s posted a .916 save percentage and 2.44 GAA. He began the season as expected in Pittsburgh, after beating out Wilkes-Barre/Scranton’s Jeff Zatkoff for the backup job. Yet Zatkoff’s call-up and continuing strong play present the Penguins with a dilemma.
The Pens find themselves in an unusual situation–balancing three goaltenders–and it’s one the Caps are all too familiar with. Last season, the trio of Holtby-Neuvirth-Grubauer was something of a blessing and a curse. Having three competent, healthy goalies was great until rotating the three into practice drills became a detriment. Limited playing time was another concern, and Adam Oates made his preferences clear, typically favoring Grubauer over the more-experienced Neuvirth. While Grubauer wasn’t ready for an NHL backup job at that point in time, the same can’t be said for the present. His numbers are stronger than ever: in 31 games, he’s posted a .926 save percentage and 2.05 GAA.
Marc-Andre Fleury is the Pens’ obvious starter. He was signed to a long-term extension earlier in the season, while Zatkoff is locked up until the end of next season. Greiss, on the other hand, is a UFA at this season’s end. The Penguins have a number of strong goaltending prospects to replenish the pipe, and Zatkoff’s play demonstrates that he can be an effective backup for Fleury. With Greiss’ contract set to expire shortly, the Caps can bring up Grubauer as Holtby’s full-time backup. Some cap maneuvering may be required, but nothing particularly troublesome.
While Greiss’ time in DC would likely be minimal, working with Korn could be a boon for player and team alike. In commenting on the Peters signing, MacLellan noted that Peters was a player entering his prime and felt he could vastly improve his play with Korn’s help. It’s worth nothing that Peters and Greiss are the same age: 28. And Grubauer is 23.
Jake Allen, St. Louis Blues
Brian Elliott and Jake Allen entered the season as the only relevant pieces of the Blues’ goaltending tandem. The Ryan Miller Experiment was a thing of the past, and the rookie Allen would back up Elliott. All seemed well, particularly with the Blues overtaking much of the uber-competitive Central Division.
Then Elliott was injured, and the Blues felt pressure to obtain a true starting goaltender–or at least one who could share the workload–in his absence. Enter Martin Brodeur, who refused to retire after his longtime Devils did not offer him a contract. His numbers have long been in decline, but the Blues brought him in on a tryout agreement before inking him to a one-year deal.
Brodeur has made clear that he doesn’t mind playing second fiddle, so long as he’s playing for a contender. The Blues certainly fall into this category, and if Brodeur has a successful outing during Elliott’s absence, they might look to deal Allen. (Do I think this is wise on their part? No, but it could benefit the Caps.) Ken Hitchcock implied that the signing wasn’t only to provide stability on an as-needed basis. In fact, Brodeur could see playing time comparable to that of a starter’s.
Let’s say the Blues are willing to make a deal. In Allen, the Caps receive a young goaltender with limited NHL experience but plenty of promise. He wouldn’t be a long-term solution to the backup problem in DC, unless the Caps were willing to deal Grubauer. And what the Blues would ask for in return is a bit dicey–they know they’re giving up a good young goaltender in Allen, and with the ever-relevant question of Is this finally our year? hanging in the air, caution is critical.
But even with short-term goals in mind, the Blues must also be wary of their future. Hockey’s Future notes their weak crop of defenseman prospects–a position the Caps’ system is practically overflowing with. At the NHL level, who knows? The Caps could trade Mike Green (though they shouldn’t). The specifics of this hypothetical deal are murky, but it’s an intriguing idea for both parties.