As The NHL Draft And Free Agency Near, How Active Will The Capitals Be?

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After trading defenseman Matt Niskanen to the Philadelphia Flyers for defenseman Radko Gudas on Friday and re-signing forward Carl Hagelin to a four-year contract worth $11 million ($2.75 million AAV) on Sunday, the Washington Capitals have $10,735,706 remaining in cap space and a report on Saturday suggests that an active offseason is expected from General Manager Brian MacLellan. NoVa Caps takes a look at different ways to solve the Capitals’ needs.

While MacLellan has been busy, he has a lot more to do. Forwards Jakub Vrana, Andre Burakovsky, Christian Djoos, Chandler Stephenson, and Dmitri Jaskin can become restricted free agents on July 1, while forward Brett Connolly, forward Devante Smith-Pelly, and defenseman Brooks Orpik can become unrestricted free agents that same day. About the only thing that is clear at this point is that not all of them will return to the Capitals next season.

Locking down Vrana, who can become a restricted free agent on July 1 and was third on the team with 24 goals during the regular season, will be a priority so MacLellan knows how much money he has to spend on re-signing players or shopping on the unrestricted free agent market. Once they get Vrana under contract, the Capitals will likely have around $5.5 million remaining in cap space.

With just $5.5 million left and a number of players to re-sign, bringing back Connolly will be a challenge. Connolly had a career year last season, scoring 22 goals and 46 points in 82 games. Connolly has found a good fit with the Capitals after failing to live up to expectations with the Tampa Bay Lightning and the Boston Bruins but he will likely want to see what offers he gets from other teams before considering an offer from Washington. That could price Connolly out of the market for the Capitals.

MacLellan will also need to decide whether to re-sign Djoos and Stephenson, which should take up an additional $1.7-1.8 million. If that happens, the Capitals will have a little more than $3.7 million remaining in cap space.

The Capitals could use some of that money to re-sign Burakovsky. To retain his rights, the team will have to give him a qualifying offer with a cap hit of at least $3.25 million. That is likely too much for the Capitals to spend, so they would have to risk losing him for nothing or trade his rights before Monday, June 25, the deadline to qualify him.

If the Capitals retain Burakovsky, he will likely cost about $2 million leaving the Capitals with $1.7 million remaining in cap space barring another move to fill a bottom-six forward spot.

If the Capitals decide to move on from Burakovsky, they could go for a cheap, reliable option like San Jose’s Joonas Donskoi to slide into Connolly’s spot. Like Hagelin, Donskoi is reliable defensively as he finished the 2018-19 season with a +10 rating.  He can also generate offense, posting 14 goals and 37 points in 80 regular-season games this past season. He would be a welcome addition to a Capitals’ bottom-six forward group that only scored four times in the team’s seven-game loss to the Carolina Hurricanes in the First Round of the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs. Donskoi, 27, will likely cost around $2.5 million per season.

If, as was reported, the Capitals are in “total ‘go for it’ mode,” MacLellan is likely to make another move to bolster the blue line with some veteran experience. At this point, the top-six consists of top-pair John Carlson and Michal Kempny, second-pair Dmitry Orlov and Nick Jensen, and a third-pair of Ratko Gudas and either Christian Djoos or Jonas Seigenthaler.

Salary cap limitations will limit MacLellan’s options to add defensive depth absent a trade to move additional salary. Minnesota Wild defenseman Brad Hunt, who has played in 42 and 45 games in the past two seasons, could fill that hole as he will likely cost only a league-minimum $650,000. If signed to a two-way contract, his salary would not count against the cap when he is out of the lineup. While Hunt, 30, has not been in the lineup regularly, he plays an average of 14:46 when in. He finished with 18 blocked shots, 16 takeaways, 11 hits, and only eight giveaways in the regular season.

After re-signing Hagelin and acquiring Gudas, the Capitals will likely continue to add depth to their lineup in the coming weeks to improve for next season. Outside of re-signing restricted free agents, it is fair to expect that the Capitals could sign or trade for one or two more players to flesh out the bottom-six forward group and the bottom defensive pair. Once that’s done, the Capitals will be set to compete for another Stanley Cup when the season starts.

By Harrison Brown

About Harrison Brown

Harrison is a diehard Caps fan and a hockey fanatic with a passion for sports writing. He attended his first game at age 8 and has been a season ticket holder since the 2010-2011 season. His fondest Caps memory was watching the Capitals hoist the Stanley Cup in Las Vegas. In his spare time, he enjoys travel, photography, and hanging out with his two dogs. Follow Harrison on Twitter @HarrisonB927077
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9 Responses to As The NHL Draft And Free Agency Near, How Active Will The Capitals Be?

  1. Day One Caps Fan says:

    General Manager Harrison Brown! Excellent analysis!

    I hope GMBM considers your two “sleeper” picks in Messrs. Donskoi and Hunt. GMBM is always consistent – he is consistently four steps ahead of most other GMs and the Caps’ fan base. The signings of Hagelin and Gudas and minus Niskanen are solid transactions. The next one, I bet, will surprise all of us.

    Caps Fan Base (esp me) is surly and grouchy after the Carolina debacle! We need better!

    And a question for GM Harrison Brown: Which of the dozens of Hershey Bears will / should crack the Caps’ lineup this year?

  2. $2.75 million AAV

  3. Anonymous says:

    It feels like the Capitals are tracking to re-sign most of their previous players, but will likely lose Connolly, and maybe Stephenson. That’s not an improved team. Where will the scoring come from that we lose with Connolly’s departure? It will be hard to argue the team is even as good as last season. A major move/trade is still needed.

    • Day One Caps Fan says:

      Cash in Braden “I choked last season” Holtby. Finance improved forwards and defensemen with Holtby’s cap hit. Let the remaining goalies slug it out among themselves

    • Anonymous says:

      Where will the scoring come from? Where was Conno before Caps gave him a shot? He was 1 step away from being out of the nhl. I’ll tell you where scoring will come from 1, Caps just resigned Hagelin he had 18 points in 20 games with caps last year hes going play majority on 2nd&3rd lines hes going to rack up 50points+ 15-20goals. Then if they cant retain Burakovsky at like 2mil rate, Boyd gets full time with his offensive skill he’ll rack up 40 or so points 10+ goals.. so scoring is not a factor. This team has offensive talent you dont need to blow $$$. You need to get Vrana signed& extension for HOFRS

      • Anonymous says:

        Hagelin had 3 goals and 8 assists in 20 games for Caps, and finished season on 4th Line. He’s never gonna score Connolly Numbers (second on the team in 5v5 points)

  4. Pingback: Carl Hagelin On Re-Signing With The Capitals: “I Don’t Think I Ever Thought About Going To Free Agency” | NoVa Caps

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