Doubt this reminder is necessary, but here it is anyway, George McPhee was the general manager of the Washington Capitals for 17 years from 1997-2014. He was fired at the end of the 2014 season because the seemingly championship quality roster just couldn’t get over the hump and win the Stanley Cup.
McPhee moved on to work with Garth Snow and the New York Islanders, Team Canada at the IIHF Worlds, and eventually, take the job in Vegas. The Capitals are well, still the Capitals.
So when the Expansion Draft rolled around, to many, Washington was one of the most interesting selections of the 30 McPhee and Vegas were to make. Most believed the pick would be Philipp Grubauer, the backup goalie who was drafted by McPhee in the 4th round in 2010. Grubauer was one of the league’s best #2 goalies in 2016-17 and appeared to be the perfect option to fill the same role behind Marc-Andre Fleury as a Golden Knight.
But no, instead, Vegas picked Nate Schmidt, the 25-year-old defenseman that went undrafted out of University of Minnesota and signed with Washington (McPhee) in 2013. Schmidt had a +22 rating last season and is +34 in the past two seasons, his first full seasons at the NHL level. Schmidt came over as a restricted free agent whom Vegas clearly had future plans.
I know Nate Schmidt got my number through the team and my good friend (Washington defenceman) Brooks Orpik. Nate reached out. He’s coming into town and wants to know about the city and a place to work out. –Deryk Engelland to NHLPA.com
McPhee has mentioned Schmidt multiple times as part of the future plans. He filed for arbitration and will likely sign a multi-year deal with the Golden Knights when it’s all said and done.
Then there’s Grubauer, still in Washington, likely a surprise to the Capitals front office. The 25-year-old goalie signed a deal with the Capitals worth $1.5M. But what’s peculiar is the deal is only for one season, and then he’s set to become an RFA.
With Braden Holtby as close to a reliable sure-thing at starter as exists in today’s NHL, ponying up more money for Grubauer at backup felt about as likely as taking out a reverse mortgage to pay for another Ferrari. And yet, the Capitals did exactly that, and on “bad” terms. If they believed Grubauer is an elite NHL starter-quality goalie, locking him up at $1.5 million for several years wouldn’t be so bad an idea. But with his new contract metered at just one single year, and leaving a whole other year of RFA eligibility out to rot in the July sun, wasted like a frat boy, the Capitals must have other plans. –Jason Rogers, JapersRink.com
McPhee kind of left Brian MacLellan out to dry in two places by picking Schmidt over Grubauer. First, the Capitals are now short on defense, especially considering the Top-4 minutes Schmidt played in the playoffs. Second, they simply have an overload of goalies with Braden Holtby, Grubauer, Pheonix Copley, and 20-year old Ilya Samsonov who is playing in the KHL and many consider the best goalie prospect in the world.
So, back to Grubauer and that one year deal. Being backed into a corner and not wanting to lose him for nothing the Caps signed Grubauer, and now what makes the most sense is to trade him at some point before the deadline. He’s on an affordable deal, that’s expiring at year end, and has RFA status meaning his new team can lock him up long term if they choose.
The Golden Knights currently have a different 25-year-old backstop in Calvin Pickard, who will likely earn between 15-30 starts on nights Fleury isn’t between the pipes. McPhee will get a good chance to scout a player he wasn’t as familiar with as Grubauer. If he’s good, great, but if he’s not, maybe a that deadline deal needs to make could be with the Golden Knights.
We made a couple of good offers, I think. I think in the end, they really like Schmidt. –Brian MacLellan, Capitals GM
Or maybe, they knew they could get Grubauer at a later date.