Photo: Washington Times
With 50 games of the regular season in the books, NoVa Caps takes a look at some of the NHL roster decisions Washington Capitals General Manager Brian MacLellan will have to make for 2019-20 when June and July come around. As of right now, the team has $11,794,872 in cap space for next season but expect that number to go higher in the summer as the salary cap rises before every season. While the Capitals will not have to make any major decisions this summer, they may want to look ahead to the 2020 offseason as there are plenty of decisions to be made then.
Jakub Vrana (RFA)
In his second full NHL season, Vrana’s 15 goals are tied for second on the team and his 28 points are tied for fifth with forward T.J. Oshie, though Vrana has played in 11 more games than Oshie has. He has one more goal and point, respectively, this year than he did in 73 games last season. The 22-year old has been one of the Capitals’ most consistent point producers this season and has improved defensively, as his +11 rating leads all of the team’s forwards. After getting scratched for nine games last year, he has become an everyday NHL player for the Capitals this season and is one of the team’s best at creating scoring chances.
Vrana will be key to lock-up as he is going to be a big part of the Capitals’ future as the team currently has little forward depth down the pipeline. MacLellan stated at his mid-season press conference that an extension for Vrana could come before the season is over and that the team wanted to sign him long-term.
Vrana could see a similar contract to the one that the Detroit Red Wings gave forward Anthony Mantha as the two are both young, big parts of their respective organization’s future, and average 0.56 points-per-game. Mantha, 24, is in the first season of a two-year contract with an average annual value of $3.3 million, though Vrana could ask for more money if he was going to sign a long-term contract.
Brett Connolly (UFA)
Connolly, who has scored 15 goals in each of his first two seasons with the team, has stepped up his game this year, scoring nine goals and 25 points in his first 50 games. He is on pace to match his goal total from each of the past two seasons and to reach 41 points, which would be 14 higher than his previous career high of 27 points set in 70 games with the Capitals last season. Connolly has been a mainstay on the third line with center Lars Eller for all three seasons that he has spent in Washington and has gotten more power-play time in each of the past two seasons.
Connolly, 26, has been a great fit for the Capitals and will most likely want to stay since he found his game and proper role in Washington. His contract could be similar to San Jose Sharks forward Joonas Donskoi’s as both players can be relied on for scoring depth, average 0.5 points-per-game, and are 26-years of age. Donskoi can also become an unrestricted free agent this summer, so expect Connolly to get a similar contract that he gets. Donskoi is in the final year of a two-year contract with an average annual value of $1.9 million, similar to what Connolly is making with the Capitals this season.
Andre Burakovsky (RFA)
Burakovsky, who will turn 24 on February 9, will likely be dealt at the trade deadline as he needs a qualifying offer with a cap hit of at least $3.25 million, a price that is likely too much for a Capitals team that has some big contract decisions looming, to be re-signed. The young forward has struggled this season, posting only six goals, 12 points, and a -5 rating, the fifth-worst on the team, in 44 games. He has been a frequent healthy scratch and has struggled to produce on a consistent basis during his career in Washington, despite having the potential to be a 50-60 point-scorer.
Whoever pays Burakovsky will likely have to give him a cap hit similar to Florida Panthers center Colton Sceviour, whose average of 0.27 points-per-game is the same as Burakovsky’s, though Sceviour is five years older than Burakovsky. Sceviour is in the first season of a three-year contract worth an average annual value of $1.2 million. However, teams will likely not be willing to give Burakovsky the three years Sceviour got from Florida last summer.
Dmitrij Jaskin (RFA)
After getting claimed on waivers from the St. Louis Blues just prior to the start of the regular season, Jaskin, 25, has been in and out of the lineup this season, playing just 30 of a possible 50 games and producing just a goal, seven points, and a -2 rating after scoring six goals in 76 games with the Blues last season. With the Capitals’ forward group overflowing into the press box, the fact that Jaskin hasn’t been producing as consistently as the team hoped for, and with prospects and big contracts on the way, he will likely not be given a qualifying offer.
The forward could make a little more than Panthers forward Troy Brouwer as both players average 0.23 goals-per-game and Jaskin is eight years younger than Brouwer. Brouwer is on a one-year contract worth $850,000 with the Panthers, so Jaskin will likely make somewhere within the $900,000 range.
Devante Smith-Pelly (UFA)
Smith-Pelly, 26, has tallied four goals, eight points, and a -4 rating in 46 games this season and his future in Washington after this season is on the fence. He is a player that can be a physical presence in addition to providing depth scoring. The Capitals have kids that they will likely want to get into the lineup next season and may want to move on from Smith-Pelly unless he matches or tops his seven-goal playoff performance from last season in the Spring.
His starting point for his next cap hit will likely be Dallas Stars forward Blake Comeau’s $2.4 million cap hit for the next three seasons, though he will almost certainly not make that much money. Smith-Pelly will likely be paid around $1 million, what he is making on his current contract. Him and Comeau both average 0.17 points-per-game this season
Nic Dowd (UFA)
Dowd, 28, has been impressive when in the lineup, posting four goals, 13 points, and a +5 rating in 38 games this season, though he was a healthy scratch in each of the Capitals’ final three games before the bye week. Unfortunately for Dowd, there likely will not be enough room for him next season as center Travis Boyd has become a regular in the Capitals’ lineup and is only 25 years old.
It’s hard to project who Dowd and his representation will use as contract comparisons as he is the only center in the NHL to average 0.33 points-per-game but they could use Stars center Radek Faksa’s $2.2 million cap hit as a starting point as Dowd’s average of 0.34 points-per-game is a hair behind Faksa’s average of 0.35. Though, that price will almost certainly go down since Faksa has posted back-to-back 33-point seasons going into this year and Dowd’s career-high before this season was a six-goal, 22-point output in 70 games with the Los Angeles Kings, which was set in 2016-17.
Chandler Stephenson (RFA)
After posting six goals, 12 points, and a +13 rating in 67 games last season, Stephenson, 24, is only one goal off of last year’s number and has 10 points in just 46 games this season. But his plus-minus rating has gone down significantly from a +13 rating last year, the best among Capitals forwards and was tied with defenseman Christian Djoos for second on the team, to a -7 this season, the fourth-worst on the Capitals and the second-worst among the team’s forwards (Eller: -14).
Stephenson, 24, could want a contract similar to Buffalo Sabres forward Vladimir Sobotka’s three-year contract with a cap hit of $3.5 million that he signed at the end of the 2016-17 season to start contract negotiations as both forwards average 0.22 points-per-game and have one of the worst plus-minus ratings among their team (Sobotka’s -12 rating is worst among Sabres forwards and the second-worst on the roster).
Brooks Orpik (UFA)
Orpik, 38, has recorded two goals, four points, and a +3 rating in only 22 games this season. He missed 27 games earlier in the season after undergoing knee surgery and has been a healthy scratch a couple times due to his age (38). He did not score any goals in either of the previous two seasons but his leadership qualities helped the Capitals tremendously on their Stanley Cup run last Spring.
If Orpik decides to play in the NHL next season, he will likely sign a one-year contract worth $1 million or less.
Pheonix Copley (UFA)
After the Capitals traded goaltender Philipp Grubauer to the Colorado Avalanche at last summer’s NHL Draft, Copley has done an excellent job of stepping in as the backup in Washington, even though he has had a few tough games as of late. The 27-year old has gone 10-5-3 with a save percentage of .903, a goals-against average of 2.98, and one shutout this season but is 0-3-0 with a save percentage of .825 and a goals-against average of 5.44 in his past three appearances. However, you can’t blame him for those numbers with the way that the Capitals’ defense has played in front of their goaltenders right now.
MacLellan stated at his mid-season press conference three weeks ago that he wanted to re-sign Copley.
Copley’s numbers are very similar to Columbus Blue Jackets backup goaltender Joonas Korpisalo, who is 9-3-2 with a save percentage of .901 and a goals-against average of 2.95 this season. Like Korpisalo, Copley can use the fact that the team’s starting goaltender, Braden Holtby, can become an unrestricted free agent in the summer of 2020 and could demand more money, though goaltender Ilya Samsonov will likely be the Capitals’ starter if Holtby decides to leave Washington two summers from now. Blue Jackets starting goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky can become an unrestricted free agent and Korpisalo can become a restricted free agent on July 1. Copley’s starting point on contract negotiations could depend on what Bobrovsky decides to do in free agency and what Korpisalo’s next contract would look like.
Wait! That’s Not All…
Holtby and star center Nicklas Backstrom will be eligible to sign contract extensions on July 1 and MacLellan will need to begin reaching out to their representatives around June and July to get a sense of what their plans are.
Backstrom, 31, is the lone Capital not named Alex Ovechkin to average more than a point-per-game (51 points in 49 games) and leads all Capitals forwards with 38 assists this season. The Capitals do not have any centers down the pipeline that can step in and replace Backstrom right away if he decides to sign elsewhere. He has either averaged at least a point-per-game or topped 65+ points in all of his 12 seasons in Washington. Losing Backstrom would be a huge blow and would be one of, if not the hardest player on the team to replace. As a starting point, Backstrom would likely want something in the neighborhood north of $8 million or maybe even into $9 million range.
Holtby, 29, would be a big blow but the Capitals would have an easier time recovering from it than they would if Backstrom decided to leave if he did opt sign elsewhere since Samsonov is the team’s future starter in net. The Capitals will certainly try to re-sign Holtby but if they feel like he’s asking for too much, they could decide to move on. After getting nominated for the Vezina Trophy as the league’s best goaltender in 2016 and 2017, Holtby went 34-16-6 with a save percentage of .907 and a goals-against average of 2.99, though most of those numbers dipped significantly after he went through a slump in February and March where he went 1-5-1 with a .851 save percentage. Another reason why his numbers were down last season was that the Capitals had just lost defensemen Nate Schmidt and Karl Alzner in the expansion draft and free agency, respectively, from the NHL’s best defense from the previous season and the defense in front of him struggled until the Capitals acquired Michal Kempny from the Chicago Blackhawks in February. This season, Holtby is 17-12-3 with a save percentage of .905, a goals-against average of 3.11, and two shutouts. Like early last season, the defense in front of Holtby has been horrendous during the Capitals’ seven-game losing streak, which has caused his numbers to go down.
While MacLellan has to think about Backstrom and Holtby’s contract situations with the team when the season ends and negotiate with their free agents that are up for contract this summer, he also needs to keep in mind that Ovechkin is eligible to sign a contract extension in on July 1, 2020, and make sure that the team does not overpay any of these players so can afford to keep their captain and the most popular star in D.C.
By Harrison Brown