After losing one defenseman possibly for the season and bringing back another one, the Washington Capitals could be on the verge of adding a big name in goal.
Washington re-signed Brenden Dillon to a $15.6 million, four-year contract Tuesday, an announcement that came minutes after saying Michal Kempny would miss six to eight months following surgery to repair a torn Achilles tendon. The Capitals have been linked to goaltender Henrik Lundqvist since he was bought out by the New York Rangers last week, and they could sign him as soon as free agency opens Friday.
“We’re looking for a backup veteran goaltender,” general manager Brian MacLellan said. “He’s a really solid candidate for us.”
With 2016 Vezina Trophy and 2018 Stanley Cup winning goalie Braden Holtby likely to depart in free agency, Lundqvist looks like a strong fit for the Capitals. The 38-year-old could split action with young Ilya Samsonov and help the team he tormented for several years in the playoffs with the Rangers.
“I still love to compete,” Lundqvist tweeted Sunday. “I still love the game and I still want to WIN!”
So does Dillon, who returned to the Capitals on a deal that counts $3.9 million against the salary cap through the 2023-24 season. If not for Kempny’s injury, they might not have been able to fit Dillon under the flat, $81.5 million salary cap, but the 29-year-old was glad to get some security instead of testing the market.
“For the way that the culture is built here in Washington, we expect to win,” Dillon said. “We expect to have success. I think with the players that we have and the mindset that most of us all have, we’re all excited already to get going for next year to get back to the winning ways.”
Given the NHL’s new target date to start next season Jan. 1, Kempny could miss the entire regular season. MacLellan expects to put Kempny on long-term injured reserve to get salary relief.
The 30-year-old was injured during training in his native Czech Republic. After being a part of the Cup-winning team, Kempny missed the 2019 playoffs and start of last season with a torn left hamstring.
“I know how hard Kemper worked to get back from that hamstring,” Dillon said. “It’s just super, super unfortunate to have something serious like that happen again.”
Washington acquired Dillon from San Jose in February for a 2020 second- and 2021 third-round pick. The Canadian defenseman averaged 22 minutes of ice time during the postseason for the Capitals, who wanted to bring him back despite a tough cap situation.
Dillion figures to be part of a top four with John Carlson, Dmitry Orlov and either Jonas Siegenthaler or Nick Jensen. If Carlson and Orlov are the skill and offense, Dillon is the muscle, something the Cup-champion Tampa Bay Lightning showed is still necessary to win in the playoffs.
“That was something (the Lightning) recognized and they brought in some pieces to the skill that they had,” Dillon said. “When you just look at the Washington Capitals, you look at the roster and the makeup of the team, and not only are we super skilled and super talented, but we are big, we are made for playoff hockey. We like to play a physical, hard brand of game.”