Over the past number of years, the Washington Capitals have been a playoff caliber team. With the playoffs in the minds of management and ownership, the Capitals have regularly spent up to or near the salary cap.
This season is no different for the Capitals, as they are currently only hundreds of dollars away from the max cap number of $73 million. While many of the Capitals players have standard NHL contracts, the Capitals are currently getting relief from some players who are still on entry-level NHL contracts.
Andre Burakovsky, Zach Sanford, and Jakub Vrana are three of the Capitals young players who are still on entry-level deals.
In March 2016, the Capitals had to shed some salary, and had to cut ties with longtime Capital Brooks Laich. Laich’s 4.5 million cap hit became too much of a burden on the Capitals books, and management had to create some more space to re-sign some of the Capitals younger players to new deals over the following summer.
TRADE DEADLINE AND EXPANSION DRAFT APPROACHING
The Capitals are going to be challenged with any kind of roster moves at the next NHL Trade Deadline in late February.
(Salary Cap information, courtesy CapFriendly)
If the Trade Deadline happened tomorrow, the Capitals would only have a little over $1000 in space to work with. If they made any kind of deals, they would have to place one of their current players on waivers, or they would have to try to trade one of their players for another player with a similar cap number.
After the Trade Deadline comes the NHL Expansion Draft. The Vegas Golden Knights will be snatching players from different NHL rosters, as they will be building a brand-new team from scratch. One must believe that former Capitals GM George McPhee has his eyes focused on the Capitals roster right now.
Capitals GM Brian MacLellan will have his hands full with the Caps roster in the next year. He must choose wisely with re-signing his current crop of free agent players (Oshie, Kuznetsov, Orlov, and Alzner). MacLellan may not be able to keep all of the free agent players in the fold for next year, so he may have to make another major decision in order to obtain a future asset.
WHAT WILL THE SALARY CAP DO NEXT YEAR?
This is a major question that every NHL GM thinks about daily. GMs must be able to read the cap well, and spend wisely.
The cap figure for next season is not out yet, and probably will not be released until the spring. The projections have the cap for next season at $75 million, which is a $2 million increase from this season.
The $75 million figure is pure speculation, and has not been confirmed. The salary cap could remain the same, or only increase by a smaller margin. Whatever the salary cap ends up at, the Capitals will still be in a tight situation with very little wiggle room.
If the salary cap were to hit the $75 million mark, the Capitals would have a smidge over $23 million in cap space over the summer to re-sign their 4 key free agents.
HOW A TEAM’S CAP SPACE CAN CHANGE THROUGHOUT THE YEAR
Injuries play a major role in how a team’s cap space can change. For example, if a player is placed on long-term injured reserve (minimum of 10 games and 24 days), it can give a team immediate cap relief.
Players on entry-level deals (Sanford, Vrana) get paid differently at each level of pro action. Here is a look at Jakub Vrana’s current deal with the Capitals:
Young players on these entry deals receive a different salary at the AHL level versus the NHL level. There are also signing bonuses and performance bonuses that play into a factor as to how players on entry deals get paid. For example, if a player exceeds a certain amount of games played, or exceeds a certain performance statistic, they will most likely receive a bonus.
Performance bonuses can count against a team’s salary cap, and this is something that managers think about when they make designated call ups for their club’s roster.
The Capitals have had a strategy behind their callups this year. They have kept the performance bonuses in mind when they have rostered players like Zach Sanford and Jakub Vrana, versus cheaper callups like Paul Carey and Aaron Ness.
YOUTH IS A KEY TO BEATING THE SALARY CAP
In order for contending teams to remain competitive, they need to find ways to insert youth into their lineups. It is difficult for contending teams to manage the salary cap if there are no players with entry-level deals on the roster.
A team that has done well staying competitive is the Chicago Blackhawks. They have surrounded their top high-priced core players with players that are on entry-level deals. The Blackhawks have been through a lot of roster turnover in the past few years, but they have built a strong enough core to remain competitive. They are getting contributions from their players on entry-level deals, but their core players are still the ones doing the heavy lifting with production.
It is important for teams to carry young players, because a lot of young players can put up productive numbers at a fraction of the cost as an established NHL veteran.
With the Capitals, they have seen flashes of greatness from players like Jakub Vrana and Zach Sanford, and they need to continue to ease young players into their lineup heading into the future.
By: George Foussekis