The Washington Capitals have a big offseason up ahead. Center Nicklas Backstrom and goaltender Braden Holtby can both become unrestricted free agents on July 1 and forwards Alex Ovechkin and Jakub Vrana will both be eligible to sign contract extensions the same day. Supposing the salary cap is at the expected $83.5 million next season, the team currently has $21,594,872 in space. NoVa Caps’ Harrison Brown offers his thoughts on what the Capitals’ should do over the 2020 offseason.
The Capitals’ 2020-21 Opening Night Roster Right Now
Ovechkin — Evgeny Kuznetsov — Tom Wilson
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
With defenseman Radko Gudas set to become an unrestricted free agent at the season’s end and the fact that Nick Jensen has shown that he cannot grab that spot on the second pair with Dmitry Orlov permanently, the Capitals will have to find a top-four or five defensemen in free agency. The quality of defensemen on this summer’s UFA class are significant upgrades over Gudas, so I imagine that the Capitals will go after one of those and let Gudas walk.
While the Capitals boast one of the best top-six forward groups in the league, they could use some reinforcements as captain Alex Ovechkin will be 35 in September, T.J. Oshie just turned 33, and Nicklas Backstrom turned 32 last month. While none of these guys show no signs of slowing down, they cannot stay at this level forever and more support in that group will help take of pressure off of them and keep them fresher for the Stanley Cup Playoffs every year.
Holtby will likely walk, so that’s $6.1 million available right there. Forward Brendan Leipsic has been impressive so far this season but I don’t think the Capitals will sign him with other options throughout the organization, such as Travis Boyd and Beck Malenstyn in the wings. Backstrom will likely sign a contract extension at some point in the next few months. Since he’s having a down year and is getting older, let’s say he gets a $7.35 million cap hit on his next deal. The Capitals would have $14,244,872 left to spend, plenty of room to add another forward and defenseman. Trade forward Richard Panik to a team that could use some more forward depth, maybe the Edmonton Oilers, Anaheim Ducks, or the San Jose Sharks, and you have $16,994,872 to play with in free agency.
I discussed the best options for the Capitals at forward and defense in July last month (here), so I am going to go with the best two from that list in my opinion: Alex Pietrangelo and Tyler Toffoli. While many of you reading probably expect the St. Louis Blues to re-sign Pietrangelo, it has not happened yet so it’s worth kicking the tires as long as he remains a possibility. And we’re going to do this many times before free agency so things are going to change based on many things: whether their play drastically declines, their price tag goes up, they fit into the Capitals’ lineup, etc.
Pietrangelo, who has hit the 50-point and +10-rating mark three times during his career, respectively, and the 11-goal mark five, would stabilize the top-four defensive corps, provide another offensive weapon from the backend, and allow Jensen to play with Jonas Seigenthaler, whom he appears most comfortable playing with. He would help take the pressure off of John Carlson on the Capitals’ backend as he has averaged around 24 minutes per game for each of the last three seasons and plays on both the power-play and penalty-kill. Pietrangelo also had more takeaways than giveaways in each of the last two seasons before this one. He had at least 139 hits and 48 takeaways, respectively, in the last two seasons.
Toffoli, who has hit the 20-goal mark three times in his career and the 30-goal one once, would help take the pressure off of the aging forwards, especially Oshie who has been injury-prone during his tenure in Washington, and could further boost his production playing with one of the most talented players in the league in center Evgeny Kuznetsov. Although his play has dipped the past two seasons as he scored only 13 goals last and only nine through 38 games this one, the 28-year old has not had a lot of help as the Los Angeles Kings have been at the bottom in goals-scored for both of those seasons. Toffoli would also bring leadership to the room having won a Stanley Cup with the Kings in 2014. With Oshie aging, the Capitals could play him and Toffoli on the second-line full time.
With all of those moves, here is the Capitals’ projected lineup for next season.
In the plan, Pietrangelo was signed for seven seasons, which is what it will likely take to sign the top defenseman on the market this summer, and Toffoli for four.
By Harrison Brown