Photo: LA Kings Insider
The Washington Capitals need more cap space in order to re-sign their restricted free agents, most notably forward Jakub Vrana, and get more active on the unrestricted free agent market than they have as of recent years. It is likely that defenseman Matt Niskanen, who declined in his play this season, is on the salary cap for two more seasons at a cap hit of $5.75 million, and will turn 33 on December 6, will get moved at some point the coming weeks. In this post, NoVa Caps takes a look at a possible trade to help the Capitals clear cap space.
- D Derek Forbort
- 2019 third-round pick
To Los Angeles Kings
This trade would clear $3.225 million in cap space. Supposing the salary cap rises to the projected $83 million ceiling for 2019-20, the Capitals would have $14,819,872 available with 14 players under contract to add depth to the bottom-six forward group whether that is in free agency or in other trades.
The Capitals acquired defenseman Nick Jensen from the Detroit Red Wings at the trade deadline hoping that he would slot into Niskanen’s spot if Niskanen were to get moved as the team announced shortly after the trade that they had signed Jensen to a four-year contract extension worth $10 million ($2.5 million AAV). Jensen, 28, played top-four minutes with the Red Wings as his average time on ice per game was 20:48 per game, including 2:46 on the penalty kill, when he was there in 2018-19.
Jensen will likely get elevated to the second pair with defenseman Dmitry Orlov, so that means that Forbort will probably start next season with the Capitals on the third pair next to Christian Djoos.
While Forbort, 27, posted just one goal and 18 points in 78 games in 2017-18, he played a key role on a Kings’ defense that was the stingiest in the league (2.46 goals-against per game) as he averaged 20:47 worth of ice-time per game, including 2:42 on the penalty kill (second behind defenseman Drew Doughty: 2:45). The Kings’ penalty kill also finished first with an efficiency of 85% that season. His 156 blocked shots and 142 hits in 2017-18 were second behind defenseman Alec Martinez (206) and fourth-most on the Kings, respectively. His 19 takeaways that season was tied for the seventh-most on the team, while his +18 rating was the fourth-highest on the Kings and 47th in the NHL.
Because Forbort’s offensive ability is not quite near the level to where Niskanen’s is, Los Angeles would have to throw in a high-mid pick to make the trade fair for the Capitals.
This past season, Forbort’s plus-minus rating dropped significantly to a -13 but the fact that he played on a team that finished last in the Western Conference during the regular season with 71 points certainly doesn’t help his case. He was credited with 15 takeaways, a team-leading 139 blocked shots, and 105 hits while averaging 20:45 worth of ice-time per game, including 2:17 on the penalty kill, this past season. Forbort posted two goals and 14 points in 81 games in 2018-19.
Forbort would also bring some more size to the Capitals’ defense as he was listed at 6’4″ prior to last season. He would be the biggest defenseman on the Capitals and could win a lot of puck battles along the wall. Having a large, mobile defenseman is hard to find in the NHL these days, so the Capitals would be smart to take advantage of getting one to improve their defensive depth.
In 252 career NHL games (all with the Kings), Forbort has posted six goals, 52 points, and a +12 rating. He can become an unrestricted free agent after the 2019-20 season.
Another benefit to adding him would be to take the pressure protecting his teammates off of forward Tom Wilson, so he could focus more on contributing offensively rather than having to protect his teammates when he has to as Forbort is not afraid to drop the gloves either.
With Forbort in the mix next season, here is what the projected opening night lineup on defense would look like for the Capitals barring any other moves:
Michal Kempny-John Carlson
Dmitry Orlov-Nick Jensen
Derek Forbort-Christian Djoos
Extra: Jonas Siegenthaler
For the Kings, the benefit of the trade would be adding a proven leader with 881 career NHL games worth of experience and a Stanley Cup under his belt to help their rebuild as Niskanen will likely guide their younger players. Even with Niskanen on the roster, the Kings still have $9,248,106 left in cap space with only two roster spots open for next season.
Of course, Niskanen would have to approve the trade as his contract comes with a 10-team no-trade list. While the Kings are not in a position to contend for a Stanley Cup next season, there are plenty of positives going there such as the California weather, getting an opportunity to play with a Norris Trophy winner in defenseman Drew Doughty, and playing on a team with a good amount of players who have championship experience.
Adding Forbort would help the Capitals bolster their third-pair on defense, add some size and grit, and improve defensively next season. (General Manager) Brian MacLellan, let’s make it happen!
By Harrison Brown