NHL Trade Speculation: Should Capitals Acquire a Goalie, or Trust Braden Holtby?

Nicholas Goss@@NicholasGoss35Correspondent IJanuary 25, 2013

Braden Holtby
Braden HoltbyGreg Fiume/Getty Images

The Washington Capitals have been the most disappointing team in the NHL after the first week of the 2013 season.

Veteran forward Troy Brouwer actually used the words "pathetic" and "embarrassing" to describe the team's performance thus far (via Chuck Gormley of CSN Washington).

There are many issues that rookie head coach Adam Oates will need to fix quickly, but one problem that might require help from outside the organization is the goaltending.

Young starter Braden Holtby, who led the Capitals on an unexpected run to the Eastern Conference Semifinals last season after making just seven regular-season appearances, has underperformed in his first two starts with a 5.03 GAA and a .863 save percentage.

His backup, Michal Neuvirth, hasn't played any better. He's 0-1 with four goals against and a .818 save percentage.

Holtby deserves some more chances to prove he can be a quality No. 1 goaltender, but this Capitals team needs to win now.

After years of playoff failures and lackluster goaltending since the Alexander Ovechkin era started in the 2005-06 season, Washington has to start contending for the Stanley Cup or they will have wasted some of their best players' prime years.

Holtby is good enough to start for an NHL team, so making an upgrade by acquiring a veteran goaltender and using Holtby as a backup wouldn't be a smart plan.

Capitals general manager George McPhee should make the difficult decision to acquire Roberto Luongo from the Vancouver Canucks and make a Stanley Cup run over the next few seasons.

The 33-year-old goaltender has been the subject of trade rumors and speculation for several months, but Canucks general manager Mike Gillis has been patient. TSN's Bob McKenzie provided the latest Luongo update on Tuesday.

Washington has enough salary cap space to take on Luongo's $5.3 million salary cap hit for this season, and after this year, the team has over $15 million in cap space coming off the books.

The biggest concern for McPhee is the length of Luongo's contract. After the 2012-13 season, Luongo still has nine more years left on his deal, which also includes about $33.8 million in salary.

The Canucks need more toughness and grit on their second, third and fourth lines. Luckily for the Capitals, they have plenty of tough, physical players to offer Vancouver in a potential trade for Luongo. Trading Luongo to Washington also ensures that the Canucks will not have to play against him very often.

Luongo's contract isn't very attractive, but he would ensure that the Capitals make the playoffs consistently and give them a better chance of making a Stanley Cup run than Holtby. Luongo also has much more playoff experience, and has won an Olympic gold medal with Team Canada.

The Canucks goalie could win 35-40 times in a normal 82-game schedule for several more years if he was traded to Washington, which Holtby is probably unable to do at this stage of his career.

With the Southeast Division improving in the offseason, the Capitals won't have an easy time winning the division like in years past. With that said, the need for quality, reliable goaltending is an even larger priority.

There will always be pressure on the Capitals to win because they have so much talent, but Washington would be an easier market for Luongo to play in than Toronto, Philadelphia and Vancouver because the media and fan pressure is less intense.

With Holtby as the starting goaltender, the Capitals would be fortunate to win a playoff round this year, but with Luongo, Washington would be a legitimate contender in the Eastern Conference.

If Holtby continues to struggle into early February, McPhee must make a move to upgrade the goaltender position, and Luongo would be his best option.