- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 21, 2021

The Seattle Kraken selected goaltender Vitek Vanecek from the Capitals in the expansion draft, leaving Washington without a netminder who won 21 games during his rookie season.

Of the players the Capitals made available to the Kraken, Vanecek may have been the best value choice for the NHL’s newest franchise, which will begin play this season. Vanecek’s cap hit is $716,667 next season, according to Spotrac, a website that tracks contract data. The 25-year-old also produced well in his first NHL season, giving Seattle what looks to be a capable backup.

The selection had been first reported Wednesday morning by Frank Seravalli. The Kraken didn’t select goaltender Carey Price from the Montreal Canadiens, instead opting for Vanecek, Florida’s Chris Driedger and Ottowa’s Joey Daccord to form the franchise’s goaltending tandem.

Washington could only protect one goalie heading into the expansion draft, according to the league’s rules. The team opted to go with Ilya Samsonov, who is a restricted free agent this offseason. The former first-round draft pick has shown promise but has struggled with consistency, particularly when it comes to staying on the ice.

Samsonov played 19 games last season, producing a .902 save percentage with a 2.69 goals against average. In three playoff games, his save percentage was .899 and he allowed 2.99 goals per game, although he racked up 43 saves in one of those matchups with the Boston Bruins.

But the 24-year-old spent two stints on the coronavirus protocols list, giving Vanecek an opportunity to play a considerable amount of time. Vanecek finished the regular season with 37 games under his belt and 21 wins, with a .908 save percentage and 2.69 goals against average. He suffered an injury early in the playoffs, though, ruling him out for the rest of the series with Boston.

Still, Vanecek seems primed to be a reliable No. 2 option for Seattle, unless the new team decides to make a subsequent trade for other assets. Driedger joins the Kraken appearing poised to handle first-string duties, coming off a season in which he allowed 2.07 goals each game with a .927 save percentage.

Seattle could’ve chosen from a handful of Washington’s players, although Vanecek’s cap hit was the lowest. Defensemen Brenden Dillon and Justin Schultz might’ve been intriguing options, both experienced blueliners to build a new franchise. But Dillon is under contract for two more seasons with an average annual value of $3.9 million. Schultz has one more year left on a deal averaging $4 million. Those contracts might have swayed the Kraken to Vanecek, who will become an unrestricted free agent after the 2021-22 season.

Choosing Vanecek complicates matters for the Capitals, though. First, the organization will need to find another goalie to pair with Samsonov. They could look internally at Pheonix Copley. Craig Anderson was a late addition to the group and could be re-signed. Henrik Lundqvist, who missed last season due to heart surgery, could also be added on a short-term deal if healthy.

And second, Washington must navigate the offseason with little cap space to work with, likely leading to a salary-dumping trade on the horizon. The Capitals still must re-sign Samsonov and Alex Ovechkin to new deals.

• Andy Kostka can be reached at akostka@washingtontimes.com.

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