Photo: Washington Times
While the Capitals nor their fans expected to be heading home early from the Stanley Cup Playoffs, the cold truth is that the team must move forward, and for General Manager Brian MacLellan, that starts with making decisions on the futures of the majority of the team’s current roster.
The Capitals have just 11 players under contract for next season and have a bevy of both unrestricted and restricted free agents to make decisions about. Many of those free agents have been part of the Caps’ core for the last two seasons. And with an impending Expansion Draft just over a month away, MacLellan and the rest of the Capitals’ front office has likely started making decisions, or, at the least, begun discussing the future.
Of all the UFAs, the Caps have shown the most interest in re-signing right wing T.J. Oshie, who scored a career-high 33 goals during the regular season and has been one of the most productive Caps since they acquired him in a trade nearly two years ago. Coming off a five-year, $20.875 million contract ($4.175 million salary), the 30-year old Oshie has earned himself a massive pay raise, one the Capitals may not be willing – or in the position financially – to meet. At 30, he is also in line for a long-term deal.
Another UFA that is due a raise in pay is longtime defenseman Karl Alzner, who has played 591 consecutive regular season games in a Capitals sweater, a franchise record. The fifth overall pick in the 2007 NHL Entry Draft, Alzner is inevitably going to demand a higher salary than his current $2.8 million. One of the best shutdown defensemen in the NHL in the last several seasons, Alzner could command as much as $5 million or more on a long-term deal, as he is just 28-years old. Three-time Stanley Cup champion Justin Williams is also a UFA, as well as fourth-line forward Daniel Winnik. Trade deadline acquisition, Kevin Shattenkirk, is also due a massive raise, one that will be too lucrative for the Caps’ liking.
The team’s restricted free agents will likely determine which unrestricted free agents stay, if any, or go. Budding superstar, Evgeny Kuznetsov, has earned himself a big-money, long-term deal after yet another productive season (19 goals, 40 assists, 59 points). The soon-to-be 25-year old (May 19) center has become the dangerous offensive force the Caps hoped he would be when they drafted him with the 26th overall pick in the 2010 NHL Entry Draft. Andre Burakovsky also impressed during an injury-shortened regular season, and was one of the Capitals’ most-effective players in the playoffs. It would be smart for MacLellan to lock him up to a long-term deal before he too becomes too expensive.
Young defensemen Nate Schmidt and Dmitry Orlov are also in line for bigger salaries and both have seen increased roles in the last two seasons. Orlov, who played in the Top 4 the entire season, recorded a career-high 33 points, and Schmidt had a career-high 17 points. Schmidt has proven himself capable of a bigger role and has shown flashes of offensive potential.
No matter how one looks at it, MacLellan’s job will be harder than it’s ever been in his three seasons as the Caps’ GM. The decisions he makes or doesn’t make will dictate the direction of the team in the next few years. It is arguably, the most important in franchise history.
By Michael Fleetwood