For the expansion draft next week, teams have the option of protecting 7 forwards, 3 defensemen, and a goalie or 8 skaters and a goalie. The challenge is that neither strategy allows the Capitals to protect all of their most valuable assets and Nate Schmidt seems to be the odd man out. Caps’ General Manager Brian MacLellan has said the team will protect 7 forwards, 3 defensemen, and a goalie.
On defense, the Capitals are projected to have a great top four next season: Matt Niskanen, Dmitry Orlov, John Carlson, and Nate Schmidt. There’s only one problem: they can only protect three of them. It’s almost certain they will protect Matt Niskanen, Dmitry Orlov, and John Carlson, but what about Schmidt?
Schmidt had a great season in 2016-2017, scoring 3 goals and 14 assists in 60 games. He had a strong defensive record with a +22 rating, good for 6th on the Caps and 25th in the NHL. He saw his role reduced when the Capitals acquired Kevin Shattenkirk from the St. Louis Blues and he became the seventh defenseman. In the playoffs, he returned to the lineup when Karl Alzner suffered an injury in Game 2 of the Toronto series. When Alzner returned to the lineup in Game 3 of the Pittsburgh series, the Caps dressed seven defensemen because Schmidt was playing so well. He scored one goal and had four points in 11 playoff games.
Because Schmidt played so well and he’s young (he will turn 26 on July 16), he has attracted the attention of Las Vegas. Losing Schmidt to Vegas is a risk the Caps should take off the table. The Capitals are almost certain to lose defensemen Kevin Shattenkirk and Karl Alzner, who were key pieces of the stingiest defense in the NHL last year, and Washington’s salary cap challenges will make it difficult to replace Schmidt through free agency.
The Caps have three options to protect Schmidt: first, make a deal with Las Vegas ahead of the draft; second, exercise the option of protecting 8 skaters; third, stick with the 7-2-1 protection format and expose Carlson, Niskanen, or Orlov instead of Schmidt. Option 2 would mean exposing top 6 forwards and there’s little interest in that. Option 3 is unattractive for the same reason exposing Schmidt is.
That means that making a deal with Vegas is essential, though the price is likely to be considerable given how attractive Schmidt is. Whether it is draft picks for a minor prospect, the Capitals should make a deal to ensure Schmidt and his big smile stay in DC next year.
By Harrison Brown