Photo: Washington Times
Fresh off signing right wing T.J. Oshie to an eight-year contract, Capitals General Manager Brian MacLellan was right back to the drawing board with the 2017 NHL Entry Draft getting underway tonight in Chicago. Aside from the Oshie deal, MacLellan , as well as Head Coach Barry Trotz, were asked about other offseason plans and the Vegas Golden Knights selecting defenseman Nate Schmidt in the Expansion Draft.As arguably the Caps’ most important unrestricted free agent (UFA), Oshie’s contract lifts a heavy weight off the Capitals’ front office. This leaves defenseman Karl Alzner and forwards Daniel Winnik and Justin Williams without contracts for next season. According to MacLellan, it seems as though the Capitals are done (at least for now) with signing their UFAs. When asked whether or not he foresees the team attempting to re-sign their other unrestricted free agents or if they are done, MacLellan responded with a definite, “I would imagine we’re done. Unless something happens transaction-wise, I would assume we’re done”.
MacLellan was also asked about losing Schmidt, who was figuring to be a key piece on the blueline next season for the Capitals before being selected by the Vegas Golden Knights in the recent Expansion Draft. “We have a job opening”, MacLellan told the Washington Post’s Isabelle Khurshudyan, we don’t have a plan, we’ll look at young guys, we’ll look at free agents, maybe the trade market. We’ll pursue all avenues”. When asked about Vegas selecting Schmidt, MacLellan made it clear that the Capitals made a concerted effort to prevent Vegas from taking the young blueliner.
At his final meeting with the media at Kettler Capitals Iceplex a few months ago, Barry Trotz made it clear that the team wanted Oshie back next season, calling him a “prototypical Washington Capital”. When asked to reiterate what he meant, Trotz didn’t hesitate, saying “He’s a guy that brings energy, he’s a guy that brings a high compete level, a high execution level, and relentless attitude, and that’s Osh”. Trotz also commented his thoughts on the loss of Schmidt for the first time since the young rearguard was selected two nights ago. He, too, mentioned that the team would be giving their young defensemen a chance to prove themselves and mentioned Nathan Walker among the forward prospects likely to get a chance to prove themselves next season.
No matter what happens, the Capitals have their work cut out for them over the next few weeks as they attempt to re-sign their restricted free agents and replace the hole that Schmidt’s departure leaves. It’s almost a certainty at this point that longtime defenseman Karl Alzner will not be back, nor will Justin Williams or Daniel Winnik, unless the Caps can find a way to bring them back at a low price. MacLellan and Trotz have experienced uncertainty like this before as, two summers ago, they had a bevy of UFAs and a few RFAs to re-up.
By Michael Fleetwood