TORONTO — Washington Capitals rookie goaltender Ilya Samsonov did not travel to Toronto for the NHL’s restart because he suffered an off-ice injury in Russia during the league’s shutdown and didn’t pass his physical upon returning to the Washington area, general manager Brian MacLellan said Friday.
Last Saturday, the final day of the team’s training camp, Washington disclosed that Samsonov, who had not skated the entirety of camp, was injured before training camp and would not be traveling to Toronto. The team did not disclose the nature of the injury or how it occurred. Samsonov arrived in the Washington area in early July and was seen interacting with teammates off the ice.
MacLellan, who not did go into specific injury details, reiterated Friday that the 23-year-old Russian goaltender should be ready for the start of the 2020-21 season.
With Samsonov not in the bubble, the Capitals have three goaltenders at their disposal: No. 1 Braden Holtby, Vitek Vanecek and Pheonix Copley. Vanecek, who played the third period of the team’s 3-2 exhibition victory over the Carolina Hurricanes, has been told he is the team’s backup goaltender for the postseason.
“Vitek, he’s earned a chance to play some games ... the exhibition game, that was the first chance we’ve had to really see him in game action,” MacLellan said. “Got put in a difficult situation at 5-on-3 right away, made some good saves, looked confident, looked aggressive so he made a really good showing, and I think everybody’s pretty optimistic about him right now.”
Holtby, a pending unrestricted free agent, is the team’s unwavering starting goaltender, and the team will rely on him for their postseason run. Despite Samsonov’s injury, keeping Holtby on the team next year still proves to be difficult, and the flat salary cap does the Capitals, a team very close to the cap each season, no favors.
“We’ve been a cap team,” MacLellan said. “We did our projections last season and it was going to be anywhere from $83 to 88 million, and it comes in at $81.5. Even last season when it came in a little under what we projected it to be, you have to make some difficult decisions based on that. Planning going up to those projections is based on probably the low end of the projection and then it ends up coming in lower, it’s a hard thing to manage. But we’ll do the best we can.”
Holtby has already expressed that he will be focusing on another championship with the Capitals despite his looming free agency. Looking at the team’s other free agents, defenseman Brenden Dillon has expressed he likes the fit with Washington and would want to remain with the Capitals if possible.
MacLellan confirmed Friday that he has been speaking to Dillon’s representatives “pretty consistently” since the team acquired Dillon in mid-February. MacLellan said he will continue to have discussions and “see if we can work something out in the end here.”
Regarding a possible extension with captain Alex Ovechkin, who will be on the last year of his 13-year, $124 million contract next season, MacLellan said the team will wait until after the playoff to make any business decisions.
“We’re waiting until after the playoffs, see how everything pans out here,” MacLellan said. “I think it’s constantly been changing the whole year. I don’t think anybody could have predicted where we’re at right now. So think we’re going to wait and assess where we’re at the end of the year and make decisions then.”
Friday was the first time MacLellan had spoken to reporters since May 29, when there were still multiple questions regarding the NHL’s restart. Now, in the bubble as a member of the team’s 52-man traveling party to Toronto, MacLellan said he thinks the league did a “great job” at organizing everything and the protocols are “pretty buttoned up.”
“We’re being restricted in areas we can go to at certain times,” MacLellan said. “The practice schedule, to get this many teams in here and have them practicing at same rink and playing games is a big task, and it’s gone pretty smoothly so far.”