Washington Capitals: Three's a Crowd Between the Pipes

Jason HackettAnalyst IMay 17, 2008

It has been a decade since the Washington Capitals had a different starting goaltender (the dreaded Jim Carey) than Olaf Kolzig. For a decade, Kolzig has been an household name for any hockey fan in the D.C. area.

When you thought about the Capitals, the first name that came to mind was Kolzig, or his nickname Kolzilla! All good things must come to an end, however, and come July 1, Kolzig will leave the organization with no plans on ever coming back!

With the Capitals in the race for the playoffs, Kolzig was looking forward to the playoff push, just like any other Capitals' player at the time. With Ovechkin leading the charge, Kolzig was making the much-needed saves game in and game out. Come the trade deadline, however, things were going to change!

The Canadiens decided to trade potential UFA Cristobal Huet to Washington for a second-round pick. People in Washington and Montreal were stunned! With Carey Price so young and with no NHL playoff experience, no one would have thought Huet would be available, especially after the Canadiens sent Price down to the minors just a few weeks earlier!

No one expected the Capitals to be in the market for a goaltender. Most "experts" were looking for Washington to add more depth and firepower to their squad. The "Price was Right" for both Washington and Montreal, and the deal was done.

The trade sent shockwaves throughout the NHL. The question became, who was Washington's No. 1? Simply put, it was Huet. With his stellar numbers in Montreal, there was no question that Huet was the No. 1 goalie after his first start. They rode Huet down the playoff stretch and into the first round, where they exited at the hands of the Flyers.

Meanwhile, Washington's former backup, Brent Johnson, was outraged by the move and elected not to travel with the team. Olaf Kolzig announced that he wouldn't negotiate a new contract with Washington and would contemplate retirement.

With Huet's contract expiring and considering his numbers this year, I think he will test the Free Agent market. So the only netminder they have under contract is Johnson, who they haven't been on the greatest of terms with lately, and I wouldn't count on him for the starting position with the Capitals.

So this trade does have the potential to put the Capitals into a hole between the pipes. As it stands right now, there isn't a lot of starter material in the UFA market. The big names out there are Kolzig (who may retire, but definitely won’t return to Washington), Cristobal Huet, Jose Theodore (who has revitalized his career this season), and Hasek (who can't play an entire season, since he's injury-riddled at age 42). With Ty Conklin's great season with Pittsburgh, there is potential to include him in that list, but the jury is still out on him!

The upside, of course, is the number of UFA's Washington has this off-season. Other then Kolzig and Huet, the Caps only have Fedorov, Cooke, Bradley, Cassivi, and Quintan Laing.

Most notable is Fedorov, who seemingly likes playing in Washington and will re-sign for significantly less than his current $6 million contract.

The downside is that the Capitals also need to re-sign their restricted free agents, most notably Eminger and Greene.

So the off-season should be interesting for the Capitals! After trading for Huet and giving him the reins in net, the Capitals lost their franchise goaltender in Kolzig (who everyone knows would have re-signed rather easily) for an unrestricted free agent. After winning the division and making the playoffs for the first time in five years, the fans/owners/players will be expecting more next season!

After all the momentum and the great run into the playoffs, I do believe that the Capitals might have taken a step backwards this season. Having a huge void in net will not help this franchise!

With no goaltending prospects reading to make the big jump to the NHL, and the only NHL capable goalie in their system being career back-up Brent Johnson, the outlook is not good. Look for the Capitals to offer Huet a huge offer to keep him in Washington. If he goes elsewhere, hold your breath, 'cause it will be a bumpy ride!

As for Olaf Kolzig, there is a large chance that he may retire. At his age it wouldn't shock anyone. I do believe though, that there will be many teams calling his agent come July 1. He can be valuable to any franchise, whether it be a starter or a backup.

One would have to believe that a strong suitor for Kolzig would be the Capitals' division rivals, the Tampa Bay Lightning. Starving for a number one goaltender since they let Khabibulin slip to free agency, Kolzig would be a great fit for that organization. 

We all know that the Kings are desperate for a goaltender. With such a young team, it would help that franchise to have a stable goaltender in net!

The Senators have long been rumoured to be looking for a goaltender to make that big save at a crucial time. With Emery on his way out the door, Kolzig could battle with Gerber for the No. 1 position in Canada's capital city.

There are teams out there that could use his services, so I would be surprised if Kolzig does indeed retire this offseason!


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