Ilya Samsonov will enter free agency. Where do the Capitals go from here?

In a surprise move, the Capitals opted not to issue a qualifying offer to Ilya Samsonov by Monday’s 5 p.m. deadline.

That means the 25-year-old, who was drafted in the first round in 2015, will become an unrestricted free agent when market opens on Wednesday.

It also means the Caps don’t have an NHL-caliber goalie on their roster; the team dealt Vitek Vanecek to New Jersey for draft picks on Friday.

The decision not to qualify Samsonov was mainly financial, according to a league source. Evolving-Hockey expects Samsonov’s next contract to last two years at just over $3 million per season. Internally, the belief was that the Russian could command up to $3.5m per season, especially if he led the team in refereeing.

Washington decision makers have also considered Alexander Georgiev’s new contract. On Sunday, the 26-year-old signed a three-year extension with Colorado that will cost an average of $3.4 million.

Since the ever-course-conscious Capitals were already on the hunt for an established No. 1 goaltender, it was not possible, in their view, to pay a starter, say, $6 million by, and a $3-3.5 million replacement, especially not one who’s been as inconsistent as Samsonov.

Last season, Samsonov posted an .896 save percentage, which ranked him 35th among goaltenders with at least 35 games. And although he and Vanecek each entered 39 contests, Vanecek started opening night and Game 1 of the playoffs.

Could Samsonov lower his salary demands and return? Maybe. But that seems unlikely at this point.

What seems more likely is that Samsonov’s time as Washington’s future goalie is over and general manager Brian MacLellan will enter free agency in search of a starter. and a backup.

Why a backup? Longtime farmhand Pheonix Copley is an unrestricted free agent pending, and the only other goaltender with professional experience in the organization — Zach Fucale — has all four games of NHL experience.

So where do the Caps go from here?

It starts with the acquisition of a starter.

Darcy Kuemper of Colorado, who just won the Stanley Cup, seems like the best unrestricted free agent available. Evolving-Hockey sets Kuemper’s next contract at six years and $6.3 million per season.

AthleticismOn Monday, Pierre LeBrun tweeted that he believed the Caps were the favorite for Kuemper, 32, who has a career record of 153-98-37 to go with a .917 save percentage and 2.49 goals. -against the average while adapting for Minnesota, Los Angeles, Arizona and Colorado.

Last season with the Avalanche, the 6-foot-5, 215-pound veteran went 37-12-4 with a .921 save percentage, 2.54 goals-against average and five shutouts. In the hunt for the Cup, he posted a 10-3-1 record, a .902 save percentage and a 2.57 goals-against average.

It’s also possible that Toronto’s Jack Campbell will join free agency and, if that happens, he’d probably be the best option available. Evolving-Hockey expects his new contract to be six years and $5.7 million per season.

Indeed, it’s a slim market for goaltenders this summer. And it’s complicated by the fact that there are more teams looking for help on the net than there are quality options.

So, will it be Kuemper? Campbell? A different free agent? Maybe a trade?

All of this remains to be seen. But it’s clear: MacLellan’s goal of upending the Caps’ goaltending situation is well underway after Monday’s unexpected twist.

“We said early on that we were looking to make a change there,” MacLellan said Friday in Montreal after trading Vanecek. “We are open to all avenues. The goalie market is changing as we go day by day. You try to stick to things that appeal to you and might work for you. We have free agency on Wednesday, so we’ll be involved in all goaltending discussions. »

(Photo: Jasen Vinlove/USA Today)

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