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It’s a good thing the Capitals won the Stanley Cup because they have some tough decisions to make on who to re-sign and who to let walk in free agency. If it was possible, General Manager Brian MacLellan would love to keep his championship team together, but the salary cap may not allow it, even with the likely increase in cap space. With that in mind, it simply won’t be possible to see all of Caps fans’ favorite players back on the ice next season.
However, it isn’t impossible that the majority of them could return but it will all depend on how much each player is asking for and what they are willing to accept. Let’s take a look at what each player may cost and how that will trickle down to every one else. Note: this does not include Restricted Free Agents like Travis Boyd and Madison Bowey, as they are likely to be re-signed on the cheap end.
Also, please check Matt Cane’s “2018 Free Agent Class”. He did the same thing last summer and he was pretty accurate on a lot of the contracts signed throughout the summer. Some of the salary predictions are based off his educated guesses, but made some adjustments to them. For instance he thinks John Carlson will receive $8.6 million a season on his next deal, and given their salary cap situation, it may not come from the Capitals, though it could certainly come from another team. On the other hand, he has Michal Kempny making $1.2 million, but Kempny showed he’s a reliable defenseman that will most likely get more since he played a key role in helping the Capitals win the Cup.
Carlson picked the perfect year to have the best season of his career. He is by far and wide the best defenseman hitting the free agent market this summer (if it gets that far) AND he was first in points among defensemen in the regular season and postseason. These two factors together means Carlson can basically write his own check to any team that wants him. That’s an issue for the Capitals.
What’s even worse for the Capitals is Oliver Ekman-Larsson, an elite defenseman for the Arizona Coyotes, has reportedly agreed to an eight-year deal worth $8.25 million a season. Carlson has averaged about 0.55 points a season in his career, while Ekman-Larsson has averaged about 0.5 points. Obviously, Carlson has been on a much better team than Ekman-Larsson, but still, numbers talk.
On the open market, it would not be surprising if Carlson received close to $9 million a season. The Capitals would more than likely not match that. NHL Insider Elliote Friedman recently shared his thoughts on this very subject, saying that if the annual salary hit $8.25 million, the Capitals would probably walk away. It would not be surprising if the Capitals and Carlson settle on a seven to eight-year deal ranging from $7.75-$8 million. There’s an argument that that that would still be too much, but if the Capitals can’t find a replacement for Carlson, they may not have a choice but to sign him.
Hands-down the most improved player for the Capitals this past season was Wilson, putting up 35 points in 78 games played. That certainly doesn’t sound like a lot, but it is when one considers that 32 of those 35 points came during 5-on-5 play, good enough for fourth in 5v5 points on the Capitals behind only Alex Ovechkin, Evgeny Kuznetsov, and Nicklas Backstrom. He was fifth in Shot Attempts percentage and fifth in Expected Goals percentage among forwards.
In fact, if one goes back to November 20, 2017, when Wilson first broke into the Top six, and go all the way through the end of the playoffs, these are how his stats look just at 5-on-5: 82 games played, 17 goals, 25 assists, and 42 points. If Wilson received full Top six time and power play time, could he potentially hit 20 or more goals and 30 or more assists? I wouldn’t put it past him at this point.
At his age and being a Restricted Free Agent, the Capitals will have to decide if they want to sign him long-term or bridge deal like Andre Burakovsky did last summer and Kuznetsov did before signing his current contract. If it is a two-year bridge deal, the annual average salary would probably be around $2.8 million. If it is a long term deal it would probably be four to five years at around $3.8-$4 million a season.
After picking up players like Mike Weber, Curtis Glencross, and Tim Gleason in past trade deadline deals, MacLellan hit a home run with Kempny. He isn’t flashy by any means like Kevin Shattenkirk was, but he is defensively reliable, skates extremely well, and has a great first pass out of the defensive zone. Without him, the Capitals would not be partying with the Stanley Cup this summer. Ever since he joined the team, the Capitals’ underlying numbers went from some of the worst in the league to one of the best.
MacLellan has already said he hopes to re-sign Kempny, and Kempny has expressed his eagerness to return to the team that turned his career around. The good news is Kempny isn’t exactly an offensive dynamo, so he likely won’t cost too much. With good-to-great left-handed prospects coming like Lucas Johansen and Jonas Siegenthaler, the Capitals won’t need Kempny long-term. The Capitals will probably offer something in the range of tow to three years worth around $1.8-$2 million.
One can’t help but feel happy for a player like Beagle. He was a walk-on player for the Capitals 10 years ago and has been through the lowest of lows with the rest of this core of Ovechkin and Backstrom. He’s the kind of player every Stanley Cup champion has. He is one of the best in league at faceoffs, is a force on the penalty kill, and works his butt off every shift. It doesn’t hurt he has a bit of skill that can put up 20-plus points a season while being buried in the defensive zone.
But that is also a problem for the Capitals. Every team knows they need a guy like that on their roster and he might price himself out of Washington. For all the intangibles Beagle brings, he is still just a fourth-line player. A team does not want to get in the business of overpaying their fourth-liners like the New York Islanders have done, especially for a cap-strapped team like the Capitals. Most likely, the Capitals offer a one to two-year deal ranging from $1.5-$1.8 million. Beagle will turn 33 at the start of next season, so he isn’t getting younger or better. Washington also has Chandler Stephenson and Travis Boyd, who will be very eager to take a chance at the fourth-line center spot. I can see Capitals going to $2 million if they can clear some room but no more than that.
Two summers ago, MacLellan signed Brett Connolly to a cheap, one-year deal to prove himself and it worked out great for both sides. Last summer, he took the same chance on Smith-Pelly and if one watched the 2018 Stanley Cup Playoffs, then they will know it was a grand slam. After putting up seven goals in the regular season, Smith-Pelly scored seven goals in the playoffs, most of them coming at crucial times.
But much like Beagle, he is just a fourth-line player. He put up 16 points in 75 games played in the regular season, nothing special. What teams are really paying him for are his playoff performances. Without the playoffs, he might get $800,000 from a team, but now he might find a team that could pay him close to $2 million. I can see the Capitals offering a one to two-year deal around $900,000.
After MacLellan snagged Kempny for a third-round pick, he brought in fellow Czech defender Jerabek from the Montreal Canadiens. He played only 13 games for the Capitals but was very reliable and impressive. It’s hard to imagine room for him in the Top 6 in Washington, but he would definitely cost less than $1 million, which would be a great grab as the seventh defenseman or even a bottom-pairing if a spot opens. He deserves to start somewhere, so he probably will sign with a team that can give him a full-time job, but the fans and players should welcome him back if he decides to stay.
Chiasson was basically a replaceable player throughout this season with the Capitals and was never very impressive. He did have a HUGE goal in Game 6 against the Pittsburgh Penguins in the second round, but it isn’t enough to keep him around.
I’ll add this tidbit here for the Beagle, Smith-Pelly, and Chiasson re-signs. These guys are fourth-liners and they have done great here, but it’s very important the Capitals don’t make unwise decisions based simply on merit with players like Nathan Walker, Riley Barber, and Boyd all waiting in the wings.
Walker, Barber, and Boyd will need to go through waivers to start next season and that’s a chance that the Capitals shouldn’t be willing to take. They already did that with Stephenson and Walker. Other teams are watching the Capitals’ players closely now that they have won the Cup. I wouldn’t bet on any young player the team drafted making it through waivers.
I’ll add Grubauer to this list, but I would bet my bottom dollar he isn’t on the team next season. He’s a bonafide starting-caliber goalie that should be leading his own team. A team will probably give him a four year deal worth $4 million a season, close to what Scott Darling signed last summer with the Carolina Hurricanes. Grubauer has been a fantastic fit with this team and he’ll likely be leaving on a very high note.
There is another option for the Capitals to keep mostly the whole team together and that is to move Brooks Orpik’s contract. It may be an unpopular opinion as his teammates and coaches seem to love him, but his $5.5M cap hit is really clogging the roster. For example, here is the roster for the Capitals if they can move Orpik out.
As shown, that is everyone back except Grubauer, Orpik, and Chiasson. It also gives the team some room to maneuver in case they want to make any additional moves. This specific roster gives them a bit more than $3 million in cap space to work with. There could be as little as $1 million or $5 million in space depending where the the league sets the cap hit, which is reportedly going to be between $78-$82 million.
And there you have it, all of the Capitals’ big names looking for new deals. Carlson is by far the most important because if they can’t get him signed, then just about every other team will be willing to do so, since there will be room. But if he does sign, then one has to imagine two or three of these players will have to be cut to fit everyone under the cap, unless Orpik is moved.
By Luke Adomanis