This off-season, former Chicago Blackhawks Brian Bickell and Teuvo Teravainen were traded to the Carolina Hurricanes. This trade occurred primarily because Bickell’s cap hit on the Blackhawks was too much for his contributions.
But the Hawks paid the price; not salary wise, but talent wise. Teravainen was on an entry level contract, and he’s 21 years old, but his 35 point season beats the league average of 19.6 by a decent margin. If you’re asking yourself why this is relevant to the Capitals, they were in a similar scenario this past season, when they traded Brooks Laich and Connor Carrick to the Toronto Maple Leafs to gain room under the salary cap.
Why does this matter so much? Doesn’t age mean experience that should be rewarded with a larger contract? And aren’t the youts ruining that with their solid point totals and working-for-peanuts contracts (looking at you, Andre Burakovsky)?
The dirty little secret is that because of the salary cap, younger and entry-level contract players are more important than ever. Part of the reason the Penguins were able to turn it around midway through the season was due to players like Conor Sheary, Bryan Rust, and Tom Kuhnhackl, who are all young players on entry-level contracts making solid contributions.
So where do the Capitals rank in terms of age and solid entry-level contracts? GM Brian MacLellan seems to believe that there is a 2 year window for winning the cup, and that this season is the back end of that window. That suggests that the Capitals are an older team with high-priced contracts that prevent the younger players from getting roster spots, and a rebuilding phase will need to happen within the next few years.
But that’s not entirely correct. Out of all 30 NHL teams, the Capitals have the 10th youngest roster with an average age of about 27 and a half. In terms of players currently on the team with an entry-level contract, Andre Burakovsky is the only one, and we all know he is due for a raise should he continue to improve.
But where things start to get interesting is the Caps minor leaguers. Currently, with the addition of Zach Sanford, the Capitals have 15 players on an entry level contract. MacLellan has made it clear that he wants to give some younger guys a shot at cracking the lineup, particularly the 3rd line wing spots, and it’s clear he knows why: ELC’s are what make it possible to sign an Alex Ovechkin, or bring in Matt Niskanen and Brooks Orpik. But developing younger players hasn’t exactly been either BMac or Barry Trotz’s strong suit (see: Tom Wilson, Dmitry Orlov, Nate Schmidt). Additionally, there isn’t a ton of room on the current Caps roster for a younger ELC player to make a splash, so giving guys the minutes they need to develop might not happen this season, but next season after the Vegas draft.
So this brings us to the inevitable question: which experienced player(s) do the Capitals dump to try to make way for the youth movement, if at all, this season? Hopefully, training camp and preseason will sort that out for GMBM, coach Trotz, and us.
By Julia Karron