The Washington Capitals have a big summer looming with major contributors’ contracts set to expire, key role players up as restricted free agents, and some big names that can sign contract extensions on July 1. NoVa Caps takes a mid-season look at what’s to come as GM Brian MacLellan will have his work cut out for him this summer. The good news is that he has his biggest re-signing (center Nicklas Backstrom) done and will have $12,394,872 with which to work.
While the salary cap situation appears to give the Capitals a lot of flexibility, Washington has five contracts that expire on July 1 and three key contracts that expire in 2021 without much additional money coming off the books a year from now, meaning that MacLellan can’t spend everything he has on contracts for 2020-2021.
Braden Holtby (UFA) – The 30-year old goaltender’s five-year contract that carries a cap hit of $6.1 million is set to expire. He will reportedly not negotiate a contract extension during the season. The timing for the Capitals and Holtby could not be worse. Holtby has been the Capitals’ workhorse and was a key player in Washington’s run to the Stanley Cup Championship in 2018. He made the save of the decade in Game 2 of the Cup Final against the Vegas Golden Knights, which is credited by many hockey observers as the turning point of the series. His involvement in the Washington community has made him a huge fan favorite. Unfortunately, he is not getting any younger and is in the midst of the worst season of his career with an .897 save percentage and a 3.09 goals-against average. Backup goaltender Ilya Samsonov is in the Calder Trophy discussion as the NHL’s rookie of the year. While many expected Holtby to be in line for a contract similar to the seven-year contract, $70 million that Sergei Bobrovsky got from the Florida Panthers last summer, Bobrovsky’s uneven performance this year has highlighted the risks of long-term bets on goalies. The bottom line is as painful as it is clear: it will be a big stretch to expect No. 70 to be back in Washington next season unless the Capitals win the Stanley Cup again or unless Holtby is willing to take a big discount. The situation is further complicated by the 2021 expansion draft for the Seattle franchise since the Capitals will only be able to protect one goalie.
Radko Gudas (UFA) – The 29-year old has had an impressive first season in Washington after the team acquired him from the Philadelphia Flyers in exchange for defenseman Matt Niskanen on June 14, leading the team with a +22 rating and earning 14 points in 49 games with the team. However, with the emergence of young defensemen in the Capitals’ system like Martin Fehervary and Alexander Alexeyev, the team will likely let Gudas go to promote someone from Hershey. Even if the Capitals wanted an NHL defenseman in that spot, there are other options on the free-agent market that could be more appealing than re-signing Gudas. Whoever signs him, they will likely have to give him a contract in the $3-4 million range.
Jonas Siegenthaler (RFA – Not Arbitration Eligible) – The 22-year old has developed into the Capitals’ top penalty-killing defenseman and has cemented himself as a full-time NHL player this season with two goals, nine points, and a +10 rating while playing in all 49 games this season to date. The Capitals have trusted Siegenthaler when Michal Kempny has been out to play on the top defensive pairing with John Carlson and he has been up to the task when called upon. Siegenthaler will be a big part of the Capitals’ blueline for many years to come but it would be fair to expect the defenseman to get a two or three-year bridge deal. He could have a cap hit in the $1.5-2 million range.
Travis Boyd (RFA – Arbitration Eligible) – The 26-year old has seized the opportunity when in the lineup this season, but unfortunately for him, that opportunity has not come often due to the fourth-line that the Capitals boast this season. He has recorded two goals, eight points, and a +7 rating in 19 games, which could be enough to earn him a full-time job next season with an opening on the fourth-line. Boyd will likely sign a one or two-year contract with a cap hit of less than $1 million.
Brendan Leipsic (RFA – Arbitration Eligible) – The 25-year old has been everything the Capitals have hoped for him to be when they signed him to a one-year, $700,000 contract on July 1, bringing speed, physicality, and energy to the fourth-line. He has earned three goals, 10 points, and a +7 rating while appearing in all off the Capitals’ 49 games, a career-high. The Capitals will have a tough decision to make with Leipsic. They love his energy, but Boyd and a couple of players from Hershey could be ready to step into his place for less money. If he stays, Leipsic is likely to get a raise and sign for $1.25-1.5 million.
Alex Ovechkin – The face of the Capitals’ franchise will be eligible to sign a contract extension as he could become an unrestricted free agent after next season. There is no doubt that the Capitals will lock him up as he is showing no signs of slowing down with 34 goals and 50 points in 49 games this season, and it could happen as soon as July 1. Since forwards Backstrom, T.J. Oshie, and Evgeny Kuznetsov all see their contracts expire after the 2024-25 season, it only seems fitting that Ovechkin’s next deal, will expire at the same time. Ovechkin will be coming off a 13-year, $124 million contract ($9.538 million AAV) — the largest single contract in NHL history. Edmonton’s Connor McDavid has the highest cap hit in the league at $12.5 million and is considered the best player in hockey. Where is Ovechkin’s contract likely to land? Probably close to $12 million per season.
To put things in context, when Ovechkin signed his 13-year deal, his cap hit amounted to 21.59% of the salary cap that was in effect that year. A similar contract next year would pay around $18.5 million assuming an $85 million cap.
Jakub Vrana – Once Ovechkin is signed, most of MacLellan’s attention will likely turn the 23-year old, who is currently two off of his previous career-high in goals and seven in points in only 49 games this season. Like Ovechkin, Vrana will be eligible to sign a contract extension on July 1, but unlike Ovechkin, Vrana is set to become a restricted free agent after next season, giving MacLellan an opportunity to wait a year to see if Vrana continues to have a hot hand. Vrana is the best young forward in the Capitals’ system and is entering his prime, making him a must-sign for the team. His next contract will likely be a long-term deal with a cap hit of around $6 million.
Ilya Samsonov – Like Vrana, the 22-year old can become a restricted free agent after the 2020-21 season and will be eligible to sign a contract extension on July 1. Samsonov has had an incredible rookie season for the Capitals as he currently ranks first in the NHL in goals-against average (2.06) and is tied for fourth in save percentage (.927) this season. With Holtby most likely on the move, it will be important to lock Samsonov up sooner rather than later, but again, MacLellan can wait to see if he can repeat his stellar performance as a full-time starter. As to whether he will earn a short-term or long-term contract, that’s up to MacLellan and Samsonov’s agent. Assuming he were to sign a bridge deal, he could make more money than Pittsburgh Penguins goaltender Matt Murray, who finished his rookie season with a .923 save percentage and a 2.41 goals-against average in 49 games, on his first contract after his entry-level one. Murray signed a three-year contract that carries a cap hit of $3.75 million per season in the middle of that year, so if Samsonov maintains his current play, he could be in line for around $4 million per season on his next deal.
AHL Hershey Bears Roster
Christian Djoos (RFA – Arbitration Eligible) – The 25-year old defenseman can become a restricted free agent on July 1 but, with players like Seigenthaler, Fehervary, and Alexeyev moving ahead of him on the depth chart, could be dealt before or during the summer. He has three goals, 20 points, and a +8 rating in 29 games with the Bears and just a -1 rating in two games with the Capitals this season. His current cap hit of $1.25 million would seem to price him out of the market for the Capitals next year.
Lucas Johansen (RFA – Not Arbitration Eligible) – The 22-year old defenseman, who has just two assists and a -3 rating in nine games with the Bears this season, has been passed by on the organizational depth chart as Alexeyev and Fehervary have had impressive seasons. He could get a short-term, two-way deal if the Capitals do not trade him first. A trade may be the best move for both Johansen and the Capitals at this point.
Brian Pinho (RFA – Arbitration Eligible) – The 24-year old center has 12 goals, 24 points, and a +7 rating in 43 games with the Bears this season. He has become a leading scorer in Hershey this season, is finding his game, and could see a brief call-up this spring. He should get a short-term, two-way deal.
Liam O’Brien (RFA – Arbitration Eligible) – The 25-year old forward has four goals, eight points, and a -4 rating in 45 games with the Bears this season and is unlikely to see NHL time in the near future. He will likely be signed to a short-term, two-way contract, if he is tendered a qualifying offer by the Capitals.
Shane Gersich (RFA – Arbitration Eligible) – The 23-year old center has five goals, 10 points, and a +4 rating in 35 games with the Bears this season. Gersich has changed his game somewhat this season and shown signs of doing well in his new roll. He will likely be extended the minimum qualifying offer, and could return to Hershey on a short-term, two-way deal.
Kris Bindulis (RFA – Not Arbitration Eligible) – The 24-year old defenseman has recorded three goals, 12 points, and a +4 rating in 29 games with the ECHL’s South Carolina Stingrays this season. It’s unlikely that the Capitals will try to re-sign him.
Connor Hobbs (RFA – Not Arbitration Eligible) – The 23-year old defenseman has racked up just a goal, two points, and a +1 rating in 16 games with the Bears this season and is in the back of the line when it comes to who gets a call when a defenseman is needed from Chocolate town. He is also expected to get signed to a short-term, two-way deal, or could be a part of a trade.
Colby Williams (RFA – Arbitration Eligible) – The 24-year old defenseman has gotten just four assists and a +1 rating in 18 games this season and will not likely make his NHL debut anytime soon. In the last week Williams has even spent time at 4RW. It is unlikely that the Capitals extend a qualifying offer or try to re-sign him.
Tyler Lewington (RFA – Arbitration Eligible) – The 25-year old defenseman has earned some NHL time in the past two years but has seen others jump ahead of him on the depth chart. After notching a Gordie Howe hat trick in his second NHL game, Lewington has earned a -2 rating in six games with the Capitals and two goals, seven points, and a +9 rating in 27 games with the Bears this season. Expect the big rig to sign a short-term, two-way deal.
While Backstrom is now signed, MacLellan still has his work cut out for him this summer with a big decision on Holtby looming and Ovechkin, Vrana, and Samsonov all in line for big paydays. The good news is after those four, the rest is just some work around the edges, and the Capitals have more cap space available than in years past. It will be a very big summer for the organization as well as a very interesting one. Stay tuned.
By Harrison Brown