After their heartbreaking Game 6 loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins Tuesday night, the Capitals and their fans are busy licking the wounds sustained after a disappointing end to a historic season. While it may take some time to fully accept the loss, the Capitals have a busy summer, with the 2016 NHL Entry Draft coming in June and several contract negotiations to be had with some of their pending unrestrricted and restricted free agents.
Back in late February, General Manager Brian MacLellan told reporters that the front office looked at the next two years as the team’s window for winning a Stanley Cup.
“I view it as a two-year window,” MacLellan said, per CSN MidAtlantic’s Chuck Gormley. “We’re going for it this year, we’re going for it next year, and then after that we’re evaluating where we’re at. “
And while it is safe to assume that the majority of this year’s squad will be back, after next season, there is no telling what will happen. This offseason the Caps have three unrestriced free agents in forwards Mike Richards and Jason Chimera and defenseman Mike Weber. Their restricted free agents include forwards Marcus Johansson, Tom Wilson, and Michael Latta, and defenseman Dmitry Orlov. After a 40-point season, the 37-year old Chimera will likely be looking for a raise from his current $2 million annual salary. He stated earlier this season that he wants to play until he’s 40, and the Caps may be unwilling to give the longtime Capital more than two years. Last summer, they lost then 34-year old right wing Joel Ward after refusing to go more than two years on a new deal when the popular winger wanted 3-4 years.
Richards was signed midway through the season as a reclamation project of sorts. He provided the team with an experienced leader and proven winner (two Stanley Cups in his career), as well as an outstanding penalty killer. While his offensive production was not high, he fit well with a very balanced Caps team. Weber is unlikely to be back, especially after seeing little playing time after being acquired near the Trade Deadline in late February. The biggest challenge may be determining the RFAs’ worth. Orlov played all 82 regular season games and had a career year offensively, recording eight goals and 21 assists for 29 points. Wilson also had a career-high seven goals, 16 assists, and 23 points in 82 games played. However, he has been unable to develop into the power forward the Caps thought he could be when they drafted him 16th overall in 2012. Johansson had another productive year and is coming off a one-year, $3.75 million contract. After going to arbitration last summer, both sides may want to avoid that situation again.
If the salary cap rises to its expected $74 million, the Caps would have $18.5 million in cap space, enabling them to sign three forwards and a defenseman, according to Gormley. Next summer, the Caps would be faced with losing forwards T.J. Oshie and Justin Williams, and defenseman Karl Alzmer to unrestricted free agency, and the task of re-signing Evgeny Kuznetsov and Andre Burakovsky to new deals (Kuznetsov is likely due for a big raise). Aside from Kuznetsov and Burakovsky, their other RFAs include goalie Philipp Grubauer and defenseman Nate Schmidt. With prospects such as Jakub Vrana, Madison Bowey, Riley Barber, and Christian Djoos likely going to be ready for a chance to play in the NHL in the near future, MacLellan has some big financial decisions to make. And while they still have another year, the Caps’ chances of winning a Stanley Cup will become harder if they are unable to win it all next year.
By Michael Fleetwood