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Taking Nate Schmidt Caused Change In Plans On Grubauer For Washington

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

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,

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.


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  1. RJ

    If McPhee’s logic behind taking Schmidt instead of Grubauer is what I think it is, I love the pick. I feel like there are a few things going on:

    -Lots of people thought McPhee was going to hoard Goalies, but the demand for Goalies appeared to stink. Why hoard the supply for something that there is no demand for? It became pretty clear that drafting the minimum number of Goalies was the best strategy at the expansion draft.

    -Colorado had virtually nothing of value available. Pickard was coming off a strong World Championships and was definitely the highest value player available from Colorado, both in terms of on ice talent and potential future trade value. Certainly McPhee gave Sakic a call to see if he wanted, and no doubt Sakic said something along the lines of ‘LOL take whatever garbage player you want, we ate tanking bro.” From Colorado is was Pickard, or a punt.

    -So two Goalies, one is Fleury (more on him in a second) and the other is probably Pickard. So what to do about Washington? Well, Pittsburgh was willing to throw in a second round pick to steer us towards Fleury and away from other talented players (even though we probably wanted him anyway), would Washington be willing to do the same? McPhee probably would have been willing to take on 3 Goalies or even take on a valueless player from Colorado if MacLellan was willing to play ball. Alternately if Pittsburgh were NOT willing to sweeten the pot, we could have taken Grubauer + Pickard + one of Pittsburgh’s other great options.

    -All this in mind, taking Fleury(+ a 2nd) + Pickard + Schmidt was a great collection of resources. We maximized our value from three teams based on what the maximum each GM was willing to give. No other combination of picks from these teams would have a better value, both in short and long term.

    In my opinion this was one of the best combination of moves in the expansion draft.

    • James

      I don’t know why Brian MacLellan didn’t buyout Brooks Orpik in order to protect Schmidt.

      It is worth noting that Orpik and Schmidt thrived together on a third pairing playing against weaker competition. Expansion draftees will play more prominent roles.

  2. James

    @Ken Boehlke
    If we really want him we could give him an offer sheet this time next year

    2017-18 Averaged Salary
    $1,295,572 to $1,962,986

    Draft Pick Compensation
    Third-round pick

    2017-18 Averaged Salary
    $1,962,987 to $3,925,975

    Draft Pick Compensation
    Second-round pick

  3. I was a big advocate for taking Grabauer in the draft when I thought goalies had more demand. Getting Pickard instead so we can select Schmidt was a good play, especially if we may ultimately be able to get Grabauer next year. I wouldn’t be surprised. But even if this storyline proves untrue, I honestly think that Mcphee has similar arrangements behind the scenes that we have yet to see. I don’t think he has been given enough credit by most.

  4. McPhee was definitely creative and looked at many avenues before making his selections. But if the roster as it stands was to start the season I don’t know how their centers are going to able to compete against the other top centers in the west . Getzlaf, Kopitar, Thornton, McDavid, Pavelski, Draisaitl, J.Carter, Toews, etc. Must be licking their chops to play against them. A free agent signed from the KHL, Cody Eakin, etc, just isn’t going to cut it. I hope he can manage to trade for someone like the Coyotes did for Stepan with the surplus of defenseman he has gathered. Otherwise, we are in for a long year in the Vegas desert.

  5. James

    ‘-Lots of people thought McPhee was going to hoard Goalies, but the demand for Goalies appeared to stink. Why hoard the supply for something that there is no demand for? It became pretty clear that drafting the minimum number of Goalies was the best strategy at the expansion draft.’

    I guess it depends how much you like Oscar Lindberg. We could have kept Antti Raanta and eventually traded Calvin Pickard, there is a market for backup goaltenders. A backup goaltender can make or break your season – I think we could have got a late round pick for Pickard. Raanta is worth more than Pickard on the market …

    We could have taken Petr Mrázek. It’s certainly a lot of money to invest in goaltending, but Mrázek has great potential. I also liked the look of Linus Ullmark.

  6. Cappy

    Not so sure Grubauer would be willing to sign for long as a number two for anyone, which may be why he only signed for a year with the Caps.

    He’s probably hoping for a number one spot somewhere, and is willing to be GMBM’s pawn in order to make that happen.

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