What Will the 2020-21 Capitals Roster Look Like?

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:

  1. The player is 25 years or older (as of June 30th of the calendar year the contract is expiring)
  2. 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.
  3. 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

capitals cap roster

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

About Justin Trudel

Justin is a lifelong Caps fan, with some of his first memories of the sport watching the team in the USAir Arena and the 1998 Stanley Cup appearance. Now a resident of St. Augustine, FL, Justin watches the Caps from afar. Justin graduated with a Bachelor's of Science in Political Science from Towson University, and a Master's of Science in Applied Information Technology from Towson University. Justin is currently a product manager. Justin enjoys geeking out over advanced analytics, roster construction, and cap management.
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9 Responses to What Will the 2020-21 Capitals Roster Look Like?

  1. Anonymous says:

    Could we see Connor Mcmichael on 21-22? Also could Pilon move out Boyd or Sprong? or could Pino move them out? What would the possibility of both Pilon and Pino making the roster? Will miss Holtby but do not see him signing for a discount so Samsonov and a combination of Copley and Vanecek will be the goalies. I see Ilya as the starter and Copley and Vanecek rotating up and down all year until one of the grabs the backup position and the other gets traded. hate to see Gudas go but contract $$$ need to be lower so Dillon fits the cap better. Notice that you said nothing about Alexeyev; is he no longer in the picture?

    • It’s certainly possible that McMichael could be on the roster next season. It’s more a question of what’s better for his development: a bottom six role in the NHL (that he may or may not be ready for) or another season in the OHL. It’s a fair argument to say he has nothing to gain from another season in London, but it’s still a fair concern to wonder if he’s physically ready for the NHL game.

      For more of the depth roles that Boyd, or even Sprong provide, I think it’s an open competition.

      I think Samsonov will be the clear #1 next season unless he doesn’t perform at that level. It’ll be more of a question of who to get to fill that spot mid-season. We’ve seen teams struggle without a strong #2 goalie, like Toronto, and those are a limited commodity. You have less risk in acquiring a goalie in the off-season, but the Caps can use the cap flexibility.

      I doubt that Gudas gets nearly as much as Dillon will, but anything can happen for a right handed defenseman. I could see Toronto going after Gudas to add a right handed defenseman (something they sorely need) and some toughness to their roster.

      Alexeyev is still in the picture, but he could probably use another season in the AHL. It might benefit him a bit more not to rush him, and the Caps don’t really have to rush him. More time to polish his game in the minors will let him play a bigger role in the NHL when he’s ready.

    • Jon Sorensen says:

      Certainly, I see all of those players (Pilon, Pinho, and even McMichael) battling for a bottom six spot in September. All have attractive contracts as well. I would even venture to guess Panik could be moved just for cap space, or even a potential buyout.

  2. Anonymous says:

    I dont see Sprong making it… I think Kovy would stay if possible

    • It’s certainly a possibility that Kovalchuk is re-signed. The main question will be what a contract for him looks like. I can’t imagine MacLellan wanting to sign him to a multi-year contract. A one year deal would probably be the stopping point for MacLellan, and I’m sure Kovalchuk is going to want some term on a contract. It sounded like Montreal was a destination where he liked playing, so it wouldn’t surprise me if they signed him to a 2 year deal.

    • Jon Sorensen says:

      Agree with regards to Sprong. Kovi is more difficult to see. He has 1 goal and 3 assists in his last 20 games. He’s popular, but not producing. He will be 37. With no cap increase, it’s likely he signs somewhere else.

      • Diane Doyle says:

        I figure anydeal for Kovy would be a relatively minimum deal as he had a minimum deal in Montreal. But, given his long time stature as a former star, teams have respect for him and figure they want to give him more than a typical fringe player.

  3. Diane Doyle says:

    Ovechkin doesn’t become a free agent until 2021. But any long term deals offered to anyone would have to account for any potential raise in pay he gets. Ovi’s next contract will be a tough one, as to how much term. With all the rules for 35 and older contracts, offering a long term contract to anyone over the age of 35 is high risk since a team is still stuck with the cap hit even when the guy retires.

    • Larry Finkelstein says:

      Maybe, just maybe, Ovi signs a discount contract, as long as the teams spends those dollars on resigning Vrana and others, giving him a decent chance at another cup and the all time goals scoring record.

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