Prior to the shutdown of NHL operations due to COVID-19, there were reports that the salary cap ceiling could increase to a value between $84M and $88.2M. Given the fact that the NHL may lose revenue from the key stretch run of the regular season and the playoffs due to COVID-19, it may be unlikely that the cap ceiling rises. There have been some articles circulating about the cap ceiling staying static, or even lowering, which would put the Capitals, among other teams, in a precarious situation.
In this piece, NoVa Caps will explore a roster construction for the 2020-2021 season with the cap ceiling staying exactly the same as the 2019-20 season: $81.5M.
Unrestricted Free Agents
- Ilya Kovalchuk, Right Wing
- Brenden Dillon, Defense
- Braden Holtby, Goaltender
- Radko Gudas, Defense
- Liam O’Brien, Center (Group 6 UFA)
- Colby Williams, Defense (Group 6 UFA)
- Tyler Lewington, Defense (Group 6 UFA)
At this point in time, the Capitals would likely have interest in bringing back Brenden Dillon as the sole NHL level unrestricted free agent talent. Braden Holtby would certainly be welcomed back with open arms if he was open to re-signing with a hometown discount, but with the market set by Sergei Bobrovsky in free agency last season, Holtby may be tempted by a high dollar, long term contract.
O’Brien, Williams, and Lewington may be back, but with a Group 6 UFA status attached to them, they may explore the open market. A Group 6 UFA is defined as (thanks to CapFriendly for the definition):
A player whose contract is expiring and meets all the following conditions will become an unrestricted free agent:
- The player is 25 years or older (as of June 30th of the calendar year the contract is expiring)
- The player has completed 3 or more professional seasons – qualified by 11 or more professional games (for an 18/19 year old player), or 1 or more professional games (for a player aged 20 or older). This can include NHL, minor league, and European professional leagues played while under an SPC.
- The player has played less than 80 NHL games, or 28 games of 30 minutes or greater for a goaltender.
The Capitals saw Riley Barber depart for Montreal in free agency after qualifying for the group six unrestricted free agency last off-season. There’s certainly a chance these three players are back, but Lewington is the only player to recently have NHL minutes.
Restricted Free Agents
- Travis Boyd, Center/Right Wing
- Brendan Leipsic, Left Wing
- Jonas Siegenthaler, Defense
- Daniel Sprong, Right Wing
- Brian Pinho, Center/Right Wing
- Shane Gersich, Center/Left Wing
- Lucas Johansen, Defense
- Kris Bindulis, Defense
- Connor Hobbs, Defense
It’s likely that all of these players are back in the Capitals organization. It’ll be interesting to see what the Capitals and General Manager Brian MacLellan does with Lucas Johansen, who has yet to crack the NHL roster, and hasn’t shown a consistent spark at the AHL level.
The top priority out of this group is Jonas Siegenthaler, who has shown considerable improvement this season, and is a stalwart on the Capitals top penalty killing unit. Travis Boyd will likely be back in a depth role. Leipsic could be back as well, depending on his appetite for a continued depth role on the Capitals. A qualifying offer for Leipsic would not be expensive, so the Caps will likely go that route with him and see how the roster pans out.
Sprong is another interesting case. He has NHL level offensive talent, but has not developed a full 200 foot game. Perhaps a deployment on a line with more defensively stout line-mates like Carl Hagelin and Lars Eller could be an effective learning situation for him, while also injecting a bit more offensive talent into the bottom six.
NHL Roster and Signings
While no one knows the Caps’ strategy for this off-season other than the Caps’ top brass, we’ll make a few projections here. The cap hit and contract estimates are thanks to the contract projections data that Evolving-Hockey put together. This piece rounded up some of the cap hits to account for any “undervaluing” of players’ contract value.
NHL Level Signings:
- Brenden Dillon: 3 years, $3M average annual value
- Daniel Sprong: 1 year, $800k average annual value
- Travis Boyd: 1 year, $865k average annual value
- Jonas Siegenthaler, 2 years, $1.3M average annual value
NHL Roster with $81.5M Cap Ceiling
With a high percentage of Capitals slated to return next season that have filled key roles, there may not be much of a roster shake up. Both Nick Jensen and Richard Panik were both considered trade-bait by Caps fans, but both had shown an increase in quality of play down the stretch. With term left on their contracts, it’s likely that the Caps will keep those two around for at least another season.
The Dillon signing solidifies the top four defensive group, keeping it largely the same as this season. Kempny and Siegenthaler performed well in a smaller sample size, but there’s enough cap room to bring up Martin Fehervary and insert him into the lineup if there’s a need there.
Sprong is one of the more interesting pieces. As noted earlier, he’s a true offensive talent, but isn’t defensively responsible. With his price point, he could be a real low-risk, high-reward candidate on the third line. He’d also be the only fresh face to the Capitals’ forward group.
It’s a likely scenario that the Caps aren’t going to be big buyers in free agency this off-season with the upcoming expiring contracts for Alex Ovechkin, Ilya Samsonov, and Jakub Vrana. The Caps have a lot of cost certainty for this season, with some wiggle room under the cap ceiling to make a move in-season.
The biggest question mark comes in at backup goaltender. With the likely departure of the stalwart Braden Holtby, will the Caps look to former NHL backup Pheonix Copley, give AHL goalie Vitek Vanecek a shot, or look to free agency in goaltenders like Anton Khudobin? It’s hard to imagine that the Caps will be looking to pay a premium for a backup goalie unless they feel Samsonov isn’t ready for true number one minutes. A trade for a backup with an expiring contract is more likely.
All in all, the Caps are likely going to look very similar to what they looked like this season in terms of roster construction. With another off-season to either modify defensive systems or even the assistant coaching staff, some of the issues the Caps had been facing this season could be remedied, to an extent.
By Justin Trudel