The Washington Capitals have a problem. Since the 2012 NHL Entry Draft, the Capitals have selected eight left-handed defensemen and acquired two more through trade and free agency (Michal Kempny and Kris Bindulis, respectively). Some of these selections have been misses, but most are looking as though they will make it to the NHL at some point and it appears that will be sooner rather than later. This means they have created a traffic jam on the left side of the blueline.
Next season, at the NHL level on the left side, the Capitals will have Dmitry Orlov, Kempny, and current rookie Jonas Siegenthaler under contract with most likely the currently-injured Christian Djoos being re-signed as a restricted free agent (RFA) this offseason. That’s a total of four capable left-handed defensemen that are talented and have potential at the NHL level. This doesn’t include Lucas Johansen in the American Hockey League with the Hershey Bears, who will soon be more than likely NHL-ready and will be looking to push into the lineup. In total, that’s five players for only three spots on the left side.
It isn’t unheard of for left-handed players to play on the right side, and the Capitals have done this many times over the last couple seasons with Orlov, Brooks Orpik, and Djoos. The question then becomes which left-handed blueliner the team shifts over to the right side? John Carlson and Matt Niskanen are staying put, and second-year rearguard Madison Bowey has taken tremendous strides this season to prove he should stay in the NHL. So the answer to make room for any of the left-handed defensemen isn’t there.
There is a seventh spot, which is typically reserved for healthy scratches on the blueline, and with Orlov and Kempny undoubtedly staying in the lineup, it means one of Djoos, Siegenthaler, or Johansen would be the player sitting and that isn’t good for development of young talent. The Caps could most likely send Siegenthaler or Johansen down to the AHL, but one of them would still be sitting in the NHL. Additionally, it’s arguable that neither should be in the AHL and that would hinder their development.
The Bears have the same defensive capacity issue as the Capitals do in Washington. Both 2018 first-round pick Alexander Alexeyev and Martin Fehervary could be making their jump to the AHL next season (with possibly Sebastian Walfridsson also coming from Europe, though that isn’t guaranteed). Which means Hershey will have Alexeyev, Fehervary, Tobias Geisser, and Bindulis on the left. They could also try push one of those players to the right, but with the arrival (hopefully) of college prospect Chase Priskie, Hershey’s right side most likely would feature Connor Hobbs, Priskie, Tyler Lewington, and Colby Williams (though Williams doesn’t have a contract for next season at the moment). With those eight players, it means two will sit out every night, which doesn’t include Johansen, who could very well need more time in Hershey next season.
Both in the NHL and at the AHL level next season, the Capitals are tightly squeezed not just on the left side, but all over on the back-end, there simply isn’t enough room. At best this is what the defense could look like come next season:
Extras: Geisser, Williams, Bindulis
The logic behind this is that Johansen has already missed 19 of the 36 games in Hershey this season due to injury, so perhaps it isn’t the worst thing to have him play in the AHL one more season. Even still, Siegenthaler would be sitting a lot in the NHL, as Djoos has earned the right to start. Siegenthaler would have to fight Bowey for the last spot, which is a battle he’s winning currently, but Bowey has looked good with the right partners so it might not be a given Jonas will get the position. And Geisser, Williams, and Bindulis would still be sitting in the AHL. Bindulis could probably be sent to the East Coast Hockey League and no one will really bat an eye, but that still has two starters sitting. At the start of the season, the would-be rookies (Alexeyev, Priskie, and Fehervary) could sit more as they try to adapt to the professional game, but all of them seem like candidates that could instantly start in the AHL and be effective.
So what should the Capitals do? Sit talent that should be playing? Or should they make room via trade? The Capitals are looking to defend their Stanley Cup championship, so they will definitely be on the lookout to add anything that could help them repeat. A left-handed defenseman could certainly be what the Caps dangle for a good return. Alternatively, General Manager Brian MacLellan mentioned recently he understands the Capitals’ lack of offensive prospects and that perhaps they could use a defensive prospect to find some offensive talent. A trade like that probably won’t happen in-season but maybe that’s something that takes place in the summer.
Either way, the Capitals have a good problem. It’s never a bad thing to have too many good pieces. The issue now is finding a way that they can all fit and thrive at their position. A lot can change between now and the end of the year, but by next season the Capitals will have to make some tough decisions on who plays and who doesn’t or who stays and who goes.
By Luke Adomanis