Photo: AP/Matt Slocum
The Washington Capitals entered their offseason with two major free agents to sign: Marcus Johansson and Dmitry Orlov. After Johansson filed for arbitration, his camp and the Caps settled on a 3 year deal. But Orlov and the Caps still haven’t come to terms on a deal, though reports are he will sign by training camp.
What makes Dmitry’s current situation so interesting are two factors: the expansion draft coming next summer and how he plays this upcoming season, will significantly shape the Capitals for a new stage in their history.
Let’s happily assume the Caps do very well in the playoffs and raise the Cup in the summer of 2017 that will most likely ensure there will not be a blow up seeing players, like Ovechkin and Backstrom, leaving.
Given that assumption, how will the team look for the 2017-2018 season? Well first, Caps will need to sign a lot different RFAs and UFAs. Here are some of my guesses on a few player’s contracts along with my commentary:
ANDRE BURAKOVSKY: $3M AAV for 2 years – This will be a bridge deal, but if Caps are able to make a little bit more room, it would be a very smart decision to sign Burakovsky to a longer term deal in the $4M range. In the cap era, it’s a trend to sign young, promising players to long term deals with the lowest cap. Is it a risk? Of course. But Burakovsky shows the skill of a goal scoring top 6 player. He will more than likely put up 20+ goals this season and if they do a bridge deal he could come out after those 2 years demanding $6M+ on a long term deal. So if he ends next season with 20+ goals and 20+ assists as a 22 year old, then it would be best to lock him down long term.
EVGENY KUZNETSOV: $7M AAV for 6 years – Honestly, I think this is a bit high. The way Kuznetsov talks and cares for the game, I wouldn’t be surprised to see him sign for around $6.5M. They also shouldn’t wait until the next offseason to sign him; this could get him locked up ASAP before he puts up even more points. Before he hit a terrible cold streak, he put up 73 points in 70 games and averaged almost 86 points. Instead, he ended up with 77 points in 82 games. It wouldn’t be good if he ended next season with almost 90 points then he’d cost an arm and a leg. Sign him now.
CHANDLER STEPHENSON: $0.9M for 2 years – With his limited NHL debut in the 2015-2016 Stephenson looked good in 9 games but left with zero points. His possession stats were phenomenal at 55.5 CF%, but it doesn’t mean much without production. He’s still young and can reach that 3C potential with a bit more seasoning. A cheap 2 year deal will probably be enough.
KARL ALZNER: $4.5M for 5 years – Alzner is one of those defensemen that deserves way more money than he gets, but since he doesn’t put up points he doesn’t get his full recognition. Bad for him, good for us.
NATE SCHMIDT: $1.5M for 2 years – Schmidt could get more if he stays consistent this season. Like Orlov, Nate had a good start last season but had a rough last couple months.
PHILIPP GRUBUAER: $1.5M for 2 years – I like this deal because we will need him for one more year until Vanecek is ready for backup and it leaves a year for him to be traded. He should be able to get back a 1st or 2nd round pick if he continues to play the way he does.
I also bought out Orpik in this circumstance because his $3M in cap relief is crucial in trying to keep the team together.
*Roster built on CapFriendly.com
Note: This cap hit lands at about $72.5M, which is already lower than the $73M cap now, but imagine it moves up a tick to $74M, meaning there is still room in case I guessed wrong on these contracts.
Anyways, that is a very good looking team. Yes there are some big question marks with the rookies Vrana, Bowey, Barber, Sanford, Stephenson, and Walker, but they are certainly on track with the way they played in their respective leagues (AHL and NCAA). And everyone else on the team are basically veterans, so we’ll have a good balance. There is a question on:
- If Eller can be effective at 3C, or
- Can Orlov step into second pairing and do well on both sides of the ice, and
- Will Wilson find some offensive upside to his game to be in top 6?
We simply don’t know yet, but like the rookies, those guesses look promising so let’s make an ass out of you and me.
Sadly, don’t get used to that team because one event will make that impossible: the Las Vegas expansion draft. One of Mojo, Eller, Wilson, or Orlov will be taken depending how the Caps want to protect the team. There are two options when it comes to protecting your players from the draft:
Option 1) 4 forwards, 4 defensemen, 1 goalie
Option 2) 7 forwards, 3 defensemen, 1 goalie
This is where Orlov’s play this season will shape the 2017-2018 Capital’s team. The Caps’ brass already stated that they want to give Orlov top 4 minutes this upcoming season. So what if Orlov plays top 4 minutes this season and puts up 40+ points (he scored 29 last season on the bottom pairing with little power play time) and also cleans up his defensive zone issues to finally prove to everyone he’s a top 4 player? Then wouldn’t the Caps be more inclined to take option 1 where they can protect the obvious 3 (Carlson, Alzner, and Niskanen) and another top 4 player in Orlov?
The reason it would be smart to keep Orlov is because, as of now, the Caps don’t have a top 4 left handed defenseman ready for action, other than Alzner. Yes, there is Orpik but his game is degrading quickly and he’s a slow player in a game that is getting much faster. The closest option is Schmidt, if he can prove this season that he could step into top 4 minutes next season, then the Caps would be much more willing to not protect Orlov and trade him. But say Orpik and Schmidt can’t handle that second pairing and they lose Orlov to the expansion. That will be a major hole to fill. They would then have to explore UFA, which could cost you big cap space, or a trade, which could cost you valuable, younger assets.
The issue with keeping Orlov in the first option would then mean Caps would leave Johansson, Wilson, or Eller out in the open for Las Vegas to take them. Hard to imagine Caps leaving Johansson out there to just get taken with no return, so he would be traded. But then that leaves Wilson who has the chance to have a big year, potentially hitting 15 goals with more consistent top 9 time and some powerplay time. If he does that then Vegas will more than likely take him, especially with the George McPhee connection. If he doesn’t impress, then Eller would probably be taken, but that isn’t the worst as the Caps have Stephenson and Sanford coming up that could probably take the position, and if all else fails Johansson can play 3C.
At the end of the day, it’s hard to see the Capitals sacrificing 2 good forwards for 1 defensemen. If I had to bet who they would keep it would be Ovechkin, Backstrom, Kuznetsov, Burakovsky, Johansson, Wilson, Eller, Carlson, Alzner, Niskanen, and Holtby. Then, trade Orlov leaving Orpik, Schmidt, and Beagle. It would be even worse if Las Vegas took Schmidt leaving no real 2nd pairing left handed defenseman. The Caps have two promising LHD prospects with Jonas Siegenthaler and Lucas Johansen, but neither are NHL ready.
But here’s a sneaky maneuver I would try if I were the Caps. Choose the 2nd option and protect the players I suggested above, leaving Orlov unprotected. BUT, then, find a team with a free defensemen slot for the expansion and trade Orlov to them for a 7th round pick with the agreement that they protect Orlov and trade him back to the Caps after the expansion for their 7th round pick back along with the Caps 3rd round pick. I don’t see why a team would not want a free 3rd round pick. The issue is teams will probably start thinking like this and might offer a 2nd round pick and the Caps don’t get a 2nd round pick for the next 2 years, so the Caps will have to get a bit more creative. Nonetheless, it’s a smart way to keep the whole team together.
This is a problem the majority of teams would like to be in: having too many good players and trying their best to protect them. The decisions Caps’ management make with Orlov will be bitter sweet because if Dmitry really steps up and becomes the player he can be then the Caps are probably going to do very well this season but it will be harder to let him go. Or, the Caps protect him, then they lose an effective forward. So essentially, the play by the young Russian defensemen will mold just how the Caps will look for years after the 2016-2017 season. But first, they need to sign him.
By Luke Adomanis