Predicting the goaltending situation for the Washington Capitals over the next three seasons was pretty easy; predicting the defensive situation was a bit harder, but doable; predicting the offensive three-season outlook is like throwing a dart at a board of names. We wrap-up our three-year outlook for the Capitals with an assessment of the forwards.
Over the next three seasons, not including prospects, there will be at least five restricted free agents and four unrestricted free agents on the forward lines. This will make it just about impossible to predict how the offense will shake out, but we’ll sure try.
This upcoming season isn’t hard to for-see, assuming Tom Wilson re-signs, there won’t be any change to the top nine. But the fourth line does have an opening. Travis Boyd, Riley Barber, Nathan Walker, and possibly Shane Gersich will all be fighting for the #12 and #13 spots. If there was movement in the top nine then Brett Connolly will probably be the guy to sit out, but one of those young guys mentioned above would have to really impress in preseason to earn that spot.
But the 2019-2020 season is where it gets really interesting. The offensive roster will be determined by the play of two specific players: Andre Burakovsky and Jakub Vrana. Both will be restricted free agents in the summer of 2019, making their upcoming 2018-2019 season crucial. Vrana looks like a young kid poised for a breakout season, and though many have been anticipating Burakovsky to break out the last season or two, it could very well finally happen starting this October. If he can stay healthy and his work with a sports psychologist over this summer to help his mental game (consistency) then he could very well turn into the player everyone expects him to be and hover around 50 points.
If both of those players have great years they’ll both get long, high-end contracts, probably floating around $4M-$6M for 6 to 8 years, depending what they do exactly. But say one or both of those players have bad to mediocre seasons then things could open up a bit. Vrana will probably get the benefit of the doubt and sign a bridge deal, but Burakovsky will probably be moved, as he’ll fit the description of someone who “needs a change of scenery”. This would free-up space for the younger kids to take a chance at an open spot on the roster, or the Caps could go into the free agent market with some breathing room.
But whatever happens with those two young wingers, other players will also be up for new contracts. Chandler Stephenson and Nathan Walker are restricted free agents; Stephenson has a chance to hit close to $2M if he continues to be a good plug and play top nine player. Devante Smith-Pelly, Brett Connolly, and Nic Dowd will be unrestricted free agents, but it’s highly unlikely they return with all the talent the Capitals have coming up. Important forward prospects that will need new contracts are Shane Gersich, Riley Barber, and Brian Pinho. That’s a lot of names and not a lot of room for playing time.
After seeing how difficult it is to predict the 2019-2020 season, then it’s easy to see just how difficult it will be to predict the 2020-2021 season. Who knows how it will look. The only important forward player that is hitting free agency is Nicklas Backstrom. Since the Capitals don’t have any top six prospects in their pipeline, unless someone really steps up this season, then it might be a safe guess that our favorite Swede will be back. It’s also important to remember the summer of 2020 could potentially be a lockout season and/or an expansion draft, which muddies the waters even further for the offensive roster.
The Capitals are thinnest on the offensive side in terms of prospects coming up soon but that shouldn’t impact their offensive potency for the next three seasons. They still have great young talent that should be here for years, aided by strong, veteran players as well. It may be an uncertain future over these next couple seasons, but we know that the team is in good hands.
By Luke Adomanis
Photos: Washington Capitals