Photo: Geoff Burke/USA Today
After winning the Presidents’ Trophy for the second consecutive year, the Capitals failed to get past the Pittsburgh Penguins, who went on to win their second championship in a row. After the expectations were sky high once again and the Caps failed to reach them, some people suggested that the Caps overhaul their lineup and trade Alex Ovechkin. With 11 contracts expiring this offseason and only $22 million left in cap space, how much of the team can they keep together? Perhaps the best solution is to move someone out. Defenseman Brooks Orpik, who is 36-years old and had 14 points (all assists) in 79 games played this year, could be the perfect candidate for that someone with him aging and some great talent in the American Hockey League with the Hershey Bears, such as Christian Djoos and Madison Bowey, about ready to take the next step in their development.
The salary cap may escalate to $77 million or stay at $73 million and that will impact how many free agents the Capitals can keep, but regardless, I don’t think it matters. If the Caps want to keep any unrestricted free agents, they may have no other choice but to move Orpik’s contract. He has two years left on his five-year contract that will pay him $11 million (or $5.5 million annually). Failing to reach the expectation that comes with being paid a large amount, the Caps’ best option may be to try and trade him. I know what you’re thinking, who would want to trade a player who is approaching 37-years old and is getting paid a ridiculous amount for his questionable performance on the ice, but one has to remember, the Toronto Maple Leafs traded for former Capitals forward Brooks Laich, who had a $4.5 million cap hit. Besides, there are some teams who have the cap space that could use a veteran presence like Orpik. He has won a Stanley Cup (with the Penguins in 2009), is a tough customer on the ice, and he could play some heavy minutes for any team. One could see teams such as the Buffalo Sabres or the Arizona Coyotes being potential fits for him, because they could use the kind of leadership that Orpik can provide, help keep pucks out of the net, and a guy who could stick up for one of the team’s young talents like Max Domi (Arizona) or Jack Eichel (Buffalo). If the Caps could trade him and a youngster down in Hershey for a draft pick, the Capitals would have a lot more options.
If the Caps can pull that move off, they will have a lot more stability in terms of cap space. They would have $28,311,538 dollars worth of cap space left without Orpik’s cap hit on the books. The Caps are going to try and sign all of their restricted free agents, except perhaps goalie Philipp Grubauer, who is widely expected to be going to the Vegas Golden Knights in the upcoming Expansion Draft. It’s possible center Evgeny Kuznetsov could be receiving a contract paying him just south of $6 million for next year; Andre Burakovsky, Nate Schmidt, and Dmitry Orlov each could potentially get somewhere up to $3 million next season; and Brett Connolly potentially getting somewhere around $1 million next season. That leaves the Capitals with $11 million in cap space. Kevin Shattenkirk is most likely not going to re-sign with the Capitals and longtime defenseman Karl Alzner will be almost certainly be gone with Schmidt and Orlov getting bigger roles next season. Forward Daniel Winnik is an older player who has played primarily on the fourth-line and the Caps will most likely want to get some youth into their lineup, so it’s likely he will be searching for a new team this offseason.
That leaves just enough money to sign two of the biggest names in free agency, right wings T.J. Oshie and Justin Williams. Both have expressed their desires to stay in Washington and Washington has expressed their desire to keep Williams and Oshie in the District. Oshie could arguably be called the MVP for the Capitals last season because of what he brings to the table – speed, production, intangibles, and a hard work ethic. The Caps need to do everything they can to bring him back and, if it means moving Orpik, they should do it. He is likely going to get a salary around the $6 million range this offseason. Oshie enjoyed a career year scoring 33 goals and adding 22 assists in only 68 games played. He also led the team in shooting percentage, shooting just over 23%. Before being acquired from the St. Louis Blues two years ago, his previous career-high in goals was just 21, which came in the 2013-14 season. He topped it in 2015-16, scoring 26 goals, and then shattered both of those totals this past year with the aforementioned 33.
Williams or “Mr. Game 7″, may not have been able to help the Capitals over the second round hump this past May, but he was very valuable to the team over the last two seasons. He might have been the one (if not, one of two players with all due respect to Tom Wilson) who might have saved the Capitals in Round 1 against the Maple Leafs this year. Washington struggled early on in the series and, without Williams, the Caps might’ve fallen into a 2-0 series deficit going to Toronto without him. Williams led the team and scored two goals in Game 1 that sent the game into overtime. Without him, who knows what the outcome of the series would’ve been. After a slow start in the regular season, scoring only twice in the first 24 games, Williams caught fire, scoring 15 in the next 24. He finished the regular season with 24 goals and 48 points in 80 games played. The Capitals could use his leadership next season, as they welcome some rookies on the backend and possibly a few more in the bottom-six.
Moving Orpik would give the Caps a lot of cap flexibility. The Caps are going to struggle signing their restricted free agents and may lose out on signing Oshie and/or Williams, who are undoubtedly very valuable to this team, simply because a 36-year old third-pairing defenseman, who has not produced much offense, is sucking up $5.5 million annually worth of cap space. The Caps have to move him at the draft or by July 1 (the first day of unrestricted free agency) or else they are going to struggle signing all of the guys they want.
By: Harrison Brown