The Washington Capitals had a historical 2015-16 season. Unfortunately, it was cut short in the second round of the playoffs as they were bounced by the Pittsburgh Penguins in 6 games.
With the early departure from the playoffs, it is now time to look ahead with the organization.
The NHL’s salary cap maximum (right now) is set for $74 million for 2016-17. Let’s break down the Capitals roster by position, and take a look at their unrestricted and restricted free agents currently from the active roster:
Unrestricted Free Agents: Jason Chimera, Mike Richards
Restricted Free Agents: Michael Latta (arb. Eligible), Marcus Johansson (arb. Eligible), Tom Wilson
Unrestricted Free Agents: Mike Weber
Restricted Free Agents: Dmitry Orlov (arb. Eligible)
WHAT TO DO
Heading into the 2016-17 season, the Capitals have 17 spots that are already filled. The maximum roster for an NHL team is 23 spots. For 2016-17, the Capitals currently have 9 forwards, 6 defensemen, and 2 goaltenders under contract. The Capitals have just a smidge over $15 million available in cap space.
The most challenging contract the Capitals will have to deal with is Marcus Johansson. Johansson is coming off a 1-year deal worth $3.75 million. He will most likely be seeking a long-term extension to stay with the Capitals.
Johansson was one of the Capitals most productive forwards in the 2016 Playoffs, so he will have a strong case to receive a nice raise on his next contract. Capitals management will have to debate on how they see Johansson’s role within the organization. Does Brian MacLellan see Johansson as a third-line center, or a second-line winger? Johansson is still only 25-years old, so there could still be some offensive upside left in his game.
Any NHL general manager has to be careful on how much they decide to pay their depth players. One cannot overpay a depth player too much in a salary cap business. Johansson will easily eat up 1/3 of the Capitals remaining cap space for 2016-17. His offensive production did not change much between this year and last year. The contract extension for Johansson is something the Capitals have to be careful with. He is worth re-signing, but it has to be for a fair price and term.
With Tom Wilson and Michael Latta, their next contracts should be pretty easy. Michael Latta will probably get a slight pay raise and a short term deal, and Tom Wilson will probably get a nice pay raise and a short term bridge deal (2-3 years).
Unrestricted free agents Jason Chimera and Mike Richards may or may not stay with the Capitals. They will both probably be near the bottom of the Capitals priority list for extensions, since the Capitals have to get other players locked up first.
The Capitals could turn to the farm to help fill the forward roster spots for 2016-17. Jakub Vrana, Riley Barber, and Travis Boyd are some Hershey Bears that could crack next year’s Capitals roster.
Dmitry Orlov missed all of last season with injury, so he missed the first year of his bridge deal. He was solid in 2015-16, as he netted 8 goals and 29 points. He was not very good in the playoffs for the Capitals, so that could hurt him on his next contract.
Orlov was a regular on the Capitals 3rd pairing for most of the season, and did not receive much time on the powerplay or penalty kill. His next contract will probably be another short-term deal, and he may get a slight raise on the deal. Orlov is still 24-years old, so there is room for improvement in his game.
Mike Weber did not see much action in a Capitals uniform after he was acquired from the Buffalo Sabres right before the NHL Trade Deadline. He will most likely not be returning to the Capitals. Brian MacLellan will most likely search for another depth defenseman in free agency.
The Capitals are set with goaltending for the time being. Braden Holtby still has another 4 years left on his deal, and Philipp Grubauer’s contract will end after the 2016-17 season concludes.
The Capitals probably will not be an active team in free agency. They will keep their cap space open until their own players sign their new deals.
By the time players like Marcus Johansson, Tom Wilson, and Dmitry Orlov sign their new deals, the Capitals will not have much wiggle room left. They may have enough room to sign 1 or 2 depth players, so they should be fairly quiet on July 1.
By: George Foussekis