With Washington Capitals goaltender Braden Holtby and center Nicklas Backstrom set to become unrestricted free agents on July 1, the team could have quite a bit of salary cap space to play with next summer. Reports earlier this week indicated that Backstrom has been in contract discussions with the Capitals without the assistance on an agent. Assuming the two sides can agree on a contract with an average annual value of somewhere around $7 million, the team could have $8 million to 10 million to spend to upgrade the roster. Holtby is expected to see an eight-figure payday, which would put the Capitals in another tight position on the salary cap. Should the Capitals opt to go all-in on Ilya Samsonov at goal, the team will have a fair amount of cash to use in the free agency market. NoVa Caps looks at what General Manager Brian MacLellan could do with that cash in the summer.
Below you can find the Capitals’ projected 2020-21 opening night roster with Backstrom included as of right now.
Alex Ovechkin — Evgeny Kuznetsov — Tom Wilson
Jakub Vrana — Backstrom — T.J. Oshie
Carl Hagelin — Lars Eller — Richard Panik
Brendan Leipsic — Nic Dowd — Garnet Hathaway
Extra: Travis Boyd, Beck Malenstyn
Michal Kempny — John Carlson
Dmitry Orlov — Martin Fehervary
Jonas Seigenthaler — Nick Jensen
Extra: Tyler Lewington
The roster above has a cap hit of around $75 million, so the Capitals have plenty of cap space to make some upgrades. Seigenthaler, Lewington, Boyd, and Leipsic can become restricted free agents on July 1, and all are expected to get a boost in their salaries.
While this lineup looks pretty good at the moment, there are still some areas where the Capitals could tweak. Top-four defenseman Radko Gudas can become an unrestricted free agent on July 1 and Jensen has looked more comfortable with Seigenthaler than with Orlov, so it would be more ideal to keep him in that spot. With Gudas an unrestricted free agent, the Capitals would need to re-sign him or find a replacement to play in the top-four on the free-agent market. A right-handed defenseman could be at the top of the Capitals’ wish-list.
With Oshie turning 33 next month, the Capitals could look for another top-six forward to shave some of his workload since he has been relied on as a two-way forward. With plenty of cap space available, this might be a good option for the Capitals to pursue a right-hander who can put the puck in the back of the net.
Here are some options for the Capitals to consider to strengthen their 2020-21 roster:
The 30-year old right-hander is the cream of the crop when it comes to unrestricted free agent defensemen in the 2020 class, but it is doubtful that the St. Louis Blues, who drafted Pietrangelo fourth overall by in 2008, would let their captain go. Still, until he puts pen to paper, plenty of teams will be in line hoping to land him.
Pietrangelo and the Capitals would be a great fit. He has recorded at least 13 goals, 41 points, and a +2 rating in each of the past three seasons and topped the 40-point mark four other times. He is on pace to score 20 goals and 65 points this season, which would shatter his previous career-highs. In addition, Pietrangelo ranks 20th in the NHL in ice-time this season (24:04 per game) and is responsible defensively as his 31 blocked shots are tied for second on Blues while his 11 takeaways rank eighth.
He will likely command a cap hit around the $7-7.5 million range.
The 28-year old right-hander is another gem among unrestricted free agent defensemen next summer. Barrie, playing his first season in Toronto, has had a down year by his standards with just two goals, 10 points, and a -10 rating in 25 games. However, he has stepped up his play since the Maple Leafs replaced head coach Mike Babcock with Sheldon Keefe as he has two goals, three points, and a +1 rating in two games since the coaching change.
Barrie earned a reputation as one of the league’s best offensive defensemen after back-to-back 14-goal and almost 60-point outputs in back-to-back seasons with the Colorado Avalanche in 2017-18 and 2018-19. Defensively, Barrie has four takeaways, 25 giveaways (tied for the second-most on the Maple Leafs), 25 blocked shots (fourth), and 21 hits. He would definitely provide the Capitals with an additional option for the second power-play unit as he averages 2:03 on the man advantage per game.
If he can return to form, Barrie will likely make around $6 million per season on his next contract.
The 30-year old right-hander has been a solid defenseman for the past several seasons as he’s earned at least eight goals and 28 points in each of the past five seasons and a +10 rating in each of the past three, including a +10 in 51 games with the Los Angeles Kings in 2018-19 when they finished last in the Western Conference. Muzzin has posted three goals, 13 points, and a +4 rating in 24 games this season.
Muzzin, who was part of the Kings team that won the Stanley Cup in 2014, averages the third-highest ice-time per game on the Maple Leafs this season (21:50), including 2:46 on the penalty kill (fifth-most). Muzzin leads the Maple Leafs with 51 hits, is second with 36 blocked shots, and is third with 13 takeaways, though his 26 giveaways are the most on the team.
Muzzin’s next contract will likely carry a cap hit of $6 million.
After setting NHL career-highs with 17 goals, 60 points, and 79 games played last season in Chicago, the 27-year old has taken a step back this season as he has posted just three goals, seven points, and a +3 rating through 22 games. He never played more than 41 games in a single season before last year but hit the 16- and 14-point mark, respectively, in his first two NHL seasons.
Gustaffson has recorded 25 hits, 21 blocked shots (the fifth-most on the Blackhawks), and eight takeaways this season, though his 20 giveaways are tied with defenseman Calvin de Haan for the third-most on the team. He has averaged 20:55 worth of ice-time per game, the third-most on the Blackhawks, including 2:55 on the power-play (which leads Blackhawks defensemen and is fifth on the team).
Gustaffson will likely make $4.5 million per season on his next deal.
The 30-year old winger set career-highs with 36 goals and 70 points in his first season with the Florida Panthers last year and has tallied nine goals, 17 points, and a -2 rating in 23 games this one. He has topped the 22-goal plateau in each of his five full seasons.
While averaging 17:06 worth of ice-time this season, including 3:29 on the power-play, Hoffman has recorded 12 hits, five blocked shots, eight takeaways, and 19 giveaways (the sixth-most on the Panthers).
His next cap hit will likely be in the $6-7 million range.
The 30-year old winger has posted 10 goals, 20 points, and a +1 rating in 23 games for Florida this season after reaching the 65- and 70-point mark in the past two, respectively, after coming over from the KHL. He is from the same hometown as Capitals center Evgeny Kuznetsov, so it is possible that Kuznetsov could attract his fellow countryman to Washington.
While playing an average of 17:46 per game, including 3:14 on the power-play, Dadonov has recorded 17 hits, seven blocked shots, six takeaways, and 13 giveaways.
Dadonov will likely make somewhere between $6-7 million per season on his next contract.
The 27-year old isn’t the same player he was when he was on pace to hit 20+ goals in four consecutive seasons from 2014-18 but the fact that the Kings’ offense has scored 259 goals the last two seasons (an average of 2.47 goals-per-game) certainly didn’t help him. After recording 13 goals last season, Toffoli is almost halfway to that point (six goals) in 22 games already this season, where he has also recorded 12 points and a -4 rating.
While averaging 16:00 per game, including 2:38 on the power-play and 59 seconds on the penalty kill, Toffoli has recorded 13 hits, no blocked shots, 10 takeaways (tied for fourth on the Kings), and 14 takeaways (tied for fifth-highest).
His next contract will likely have a cap hit of around $4.5 million.
The 27-year old hasn’t exactly fit in as well as hoped with the Nashville Predators as he only has three goals, nine points, and a -2 rating in 22 games this season. Though, he either hit or was on pace to hit the 40 point plateau in his first six full NHL seasons. Granlund posted back-to-back seasons with at least 21 goals and 67 points from 2016-18. In addition, he has six seasons with at least 30 assists, including two 40-assist campaigns. He has always been responsible, never exceeding the 24-penalty minute mark and last season was the first he hit 20 since 2015-16.
While averaging 16:36 of ice-time per game this season, including 2:19 on the power-play, Granlund has posted 14 hits, 14 blocked shots (tied for seventh on the Predators), five takeaways, and 16 giveaways (the second-most).
Granlund’s next contract will likely have an average annual value of $5.5-6 million depending on his performance the rest of the season.
By Harrison Brown