When the Washington Capitals signed free-agent goalie Justin Peters to a two-year, $1.9M ($950k/yr.) contract in the offseason, it seemed like a good fit for both sides, and was lauded as one of the smarter free agent signings of the summer of 2014.
With that deal, the Capitals locked up a serviceable backup to Braden Holtby for less than $1M per year. A goalie tandem with a cap hit of less than $3M a year? Sounds like responsible cap management by Brian MacLellan, similar to what George McPhee was able to pull off with the Braden Holtby–Michal Neuvirth duo in 2013-14. Both goaltenders were secured for $3.8M/yr.
In July, when Peters signed with the Capitals, he told the Washington Post: “I was looking for an opportunity, an opportunity to play, an opportunity for the coaching staff, a goalie coach like Mitch [Korn]. It just seemed like the puzzles and the pieces came together, and also the organization and the confidence they showed in me. I was able to meet the staff, I was able to meet the training staff, the equipment guys, I was able to meet a lot of people in the organization.”
Much has changed since then. The confidence of the staff and the “opportunity to play” that Peters spoke about in July do not seem to be the case any longer.
Saturday night in Dallas, Peters saw his first start in six weeks, a 5-4 loss. It was just his seventh start of the season. The loss could hardly be blamed on Peters, as it was the second of a back-to-back road game. It did bring to mind a few lingering problems. Namely why Peters sees so little starting time. Is there a lack of trust from the coaching staff? Holtby has been exceptional, so is he merely a victim of circumstance? Or is he just not good, at all?
Peters has a career .904 SV% and a record of 22-31-8 through 76 NHL games. The likely answer is that he isn’t that good, but it’s not as if he’s had a chance to prove himself this year, or will even get an opportunity to do so.
It’s simple math, really. If the Capitals want Holtby to be fresh for a playoff run in April, he needs a backup that can start a game once a week rather than once a month. This is why management should relegate Peters to Hershey and call up Philipp Grubauer for the remainder of the season.
It would be prudent to provide Holtby with a backup that can share the load but not make it necessary for him to carry a ridiculous amount of starts. Out of 45 games this season, Peters has amassed a SV% of .864 and a 2-4-1 record in his meager 7 starts. Holtby’s count is now at 38 starts, with a .923 SV%, and a record of 22-9-7.
Holtby’s 20 consecutive starts were impressive, to say the least. This has nothing to do with his abilities. He can carry the team if he needs to. The problem is that he shouldn’t have to do it for 70 games and have nothing left in the tank come playoff time, especially if the Capitals hope to make any kind of deep run.
At this juncture, it’s possible Peters could play better. However, it’s clear the coaching staff isn’t willing to let him do so. If there was any belief that he could, he probably wouldn’t have been sitting for 6 weeks while Holtby figuratively lit the NHL on fire.
This is where Grubauer comes in. Last season, during Adam Oates’ reign of terror and subsequent three-headed goalie monster, Grubauer played in 17 games and posted a 6-5-5 record with a .925 SV%. In 25 games with the Hershey Bears this season, Grubauer is 12-9-3 (3 shutouts) and a .920 SV%.
Peters will have to go through waivers if he’s sent to Hershey, but with all respect to him, since he’s not exactly in danger of being claimed, this shouldn’t be huge worry. He’ll still be making his $950K salary in the AHL, which is a bitter pill for management to swallow, but less so when you think about what could happen in the event of an injury to Holtby, and asking Holtby to potentially make 70 starts this season could very well lead to that. What to do with Peters for the remaining year of his contract is another consideration. Maybe a longer stint in the AHL would be beneficial to Peters in the long term, and he could end up returning to Washington to back up Holtby next season.
Grubauer’s development shouldn’t be a concern, either. He’s a bit fresher and will likely not sit as much as Peters has thus far, not to mention that getting NHL playing time will build trade value, if the organization should choose to use him as a bargaining chip in the future. As long as he’s in the AHL, he’s not going to be worth much, tradewise.
All things considered, Grubauer would be a better backup to Holtby than Peters has been this year.
Holtby, who is far and above Washington’s number one goalie for this season and the near future, will be a RFA this summer, and will probably get an enormous raise, as Pat Holden from Russian Machine broke down last week. He thrives on a steady workload, as we’ve seen, but running him into the ground during the regular season and expecting him to hold up during a playoff run is not a sustainable option.
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