Photo: NHL via Getty Images
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