Caps Face Difficult Decisions Next Summer With Their UFAs

Washington Capitals' T.J. Oshie watches a face-off during the first period of an NHL hockey game against the St. Louis Blues Saturday, April 9, 2016, in St. Louis. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)
AP Photo/Jeff Roberson

The Capitals are entering the second year of their self-proclaimed “two-year Stanley Cup window” and what an important year it is. 

Not only do the Caps face the possibility of not winning the Stanley Cup, but next summer could be one that shapes the direction of the franchise. By that time, superstar captain Alex Ovechkin will be a few months shy of his 32nd birthday and General Manager Brian MacLellan will be faced with some very big decisions.

For starters, if the Caps do not win Lord Stanley’s mug, MacLellan has to decide whether the current roster gives them the best chance at a Stanley Cup, and if not, what changes should be made. Secondly, he has several notable Restricted Free Agents (RFAs), including a few that will be in line for hefty pay raises, including budding stars Evgeny Kuznetsov and Andre Burakovsky. Upcoming young defenseman Nate Schmidt is also an RFA. With the 2017 NHL Expansion Draft next summer,  MacLellan will have to decide who to protect. The Capitals assistant coaches are also at risk next summer.

But the most difficult decisions will be the futures of the team’s key unrestricted free agents, which include Top 6 right wings T.J. Oshie and Justin Williams, fourth-line winger Daniel Winnik, and longtime defenseman Karl Alzner. With several promising prospects already pushing for playing time, MacLellan will have to let some of them go, as it’s impossible for the Caps to keep them all.

Out of those UFAs, the priorities would/should be Alzner and Oshie, in that order. Losing Alzner would leave a tremendous hole on the blue line, and top defensive prospect Madison Bowey is nowhere near ready for that role. If the Caps lose young blue liner Dmitry Orlov in the Expansion Draft, keeping Alzner becomes even more crucial. Alzner has become the team’s best shutdown, stay-at-home defenseman and his offensive output has increased in the two seasons Head Coach Barry Trotz and Associate Coach Todd Reirden have been behind the bench. He’ll be looking for a raise from his current $2.8 million salary.

Oshie is the obvious choice between the two right wings. While Williams has brought experience, productivity, and a winner’s mentality to the Capitals, he’ll be 35-years old and well past his prime. Oshie is younger (he’ll be 30 at the end of next season) and has a few more productive years ahead of him. His 26 goals last season ranked him second on the team (behind Ovechkin’s 50), and he’s been the top-line right wing the Caps have needed for years. Like Alzner, he’ll be looking for a raise from his current salary of $4.175 million.

Winnik is unlikely to return, especially given that young prospects like Jakub Vrana, Riley Barber, and Nathan Walker are knocking on the Caps’ door for playing time.

While July 2017 is a long way off, it’s likely MacLellan and the Capitals’ brain trust is already planning for what may be the most important offseason in franchise history. It will all depend on if the Caps can win the Cup or not. The decisions the front office makes will almost assuredly have an impact on the team for the foreseeable future.

Related:
In 5 Year’s Time: How Will the Caps Deal With the Cap?

By Michael Fleetwood

About Michael Fleetwood

Michael Fleetwood was born into a family of diehard Capitals fans and has been watching games as long as he can remember. He was born the year the Capitals went to their first Stanley Cup Final, and is a diehard Caps fan, the owner of the very FIRST Joe Beninati jersey and since then, has met Joe himself. His favorite player became former Capital Nate Schmidt after he met Schmidt in a Hershey hotel while in Hershey PA to see the Bears play, shortly after Schmidt was injured during a conditioning stint. Michael is also a fan of the Pittsburgh Steelers and Baltimore Orioles, and enjoys photography, watching WildEarth TV's SafariLive live safaris, and watching animals in his spare time. (Photo by Adam Vingan in 2014 at the Capitals Development Camp).
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5 Responses to Caps Face Difficult Decisions Next Summer With Their UFAs

  1. Jason Grasse says:

    I would start with Oshie to see what he is looking for. Next, protect Orlov, Carlson and Alzner in the ex draft. Hope they take Nisky and there is 5 mil off the books. The best situation is that they get rid of Orpik. I will be watching Bowey, Vrana and Sanford to see if they are close. If yes, trade Mojo to make room and shed 4.5 mil.

  2. Ron Bove says:

    They need to keep Oshie, no doubt. As far as Orlov, I believe he will be selected by the new team and I really don’t believe it would be a great loss. As many good plays he has made, he made twice the bad plays.Orpik can go too. I would try to keep Williams around he would be a plus.
    But you’re right, they are going to have to make some big decisions and no matter what they do, not everyone will be happy.

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