Earlier this afternoon the Washington Capitals finally announced that they have re-signed top-six winger Jakub Vrana. With a contract of two years worth $6.7 million ($3.35 million AAV), there remains a little under $1 million left of cap space. Two players still remain unsigned – defenseman Christian Djoos and forward Chandler Stephenson. The two players filed for arbitration sequentially just before the deadline on July 5. With the two players getting ready for their arbitration meetings in the coming weeks, the Capitals are forced to make a decision on who to re-sign.
For Djoos, he looks like the likely choice for the Capitals. Djoos played a big role on the bottom defensive pair during the 2017-2018 season. Showing great signs of improvement and consistent play, he became a great choice as a bottom-six defender. After Djoos had a lengthy recovery from thigh surgery and missed two months of the past season, it gave defenseman Jonas Siegenthaler a chance to earn his place in the lineup. Siegenthaler performed well paired with team leader Brooks Orpik. Should the team re-sign Djoos, they will be forced to make a decision between him and Siegenthaler. While this may not seem ideal for the Capitals, it may not be the worst idea. The Capitals have been reworking their defense this offseason and having two young consistent defensemen on the roster could provide some needed balance. This will also give the Capitals some added support in the unfortunate case of injuries. Given the significant defensive struggles endured by the Capitals recently, some extra talent in Djoss would make for a quality final piece of the lineup. In the 2017-18 season, Djoos posted three goals, 14 points, and a +3 rating in 63 games.
For Stephenson, the situation looks dark. The fourth line forward had a very underwhelming season last year and was cycled around with center Travis Boyd and forward Dmitrij Jaskin. The fourth-line proved to be among the Capitals’ biggest disappointments last year after having a strong season in 2017-18. The Capitals focused on reworking their fourth-line along with their defense and signed some veteran players. Forwards Richard Panik, Garnet Hathaway and Brendan Leipsic were all signed by the Capitals in the past month as the bottom-line overhaul. With these signings, it seems that Stephenson will be pushed out of the lineup in Washington this season. The center was held scoreless and had a -2 rating in the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs, where he served as a healthy scratch one game. In the regular season, Stephenson appeared in 64 games and only scored five goals and 11 total points. In addition, his -13 rating was the worst on the club.
The choice for the Capitals should be easy. Djoos remains a stronger player and will add the extra support to the team’s blueline that they lacked last season. The signings made in the offseason prove to be better options as depth forwards on the third- and fourth-line to take the place of Stephenson. His lack in scoring has been his biggest problem and with the additions of solid penalty killers like Hathaway, Panik, and forward Carl Hagelin, the Capitals really don’t have any need for Stephenson anymore. Djoos, who is also the younger player out of the two, has more potential to develop and can remain a quality defenseman towards the bottom pairings. The biggest concern the Capitals may have with him is whether he can bounce back from his injury and return to the level he was at two seasons ago. Hopefully, his injury will not set him back like what forward Andre Buralovsky’s hand injuries did to him.
The two players have their arbitration dates set. Djoos’s hearing will go forward on July 22 and Stephenson on August 1, if they don’t sign new deals before then.
By Zach Herr