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After the Washington Capitals gave up an average of 3.44 goals-per-game from December 22 onward (the most among the 24 teams that were invited to the NHL’s return-to-play plan) and saw their defensive lineup turn into a revolving door for the last month of the regular season, it is clear that defense will be the team’s priority this offseason.
GM Brian MacLellan even went out during his press conference this past weekend, saying that signing a defenseman in unrestricted free agency will be the team’s primary focus in terms of roster movement. The team will enter the offseason with $10,394,872 in cap space and 16 players under contract, including four defensemen. With that in mind, NoVa Caps looks at the Capitals’ best options at defense.
Current 2020-21 Projective Defensive Lineup
Michal Kempny — John Carlson
Dmitry Orlov — UFA signing
Jonas Siegenthaler — Nick Jensen
Extra: Martin Fehervary
The Capitals are looking pretty good on the left side with the team’s leader in plus-minus for two consecutive seasons in Kempny, a solid second-pairing defenseman in Orlov, and a young blueliner in Siegenthaler who established himself as the team’s top penalty-killer in 2019-20. On the right side, the Capitals are looking good with a Norris Trophy nominee in Carlson and Jensen, who seemed to find his place with the team after getting scratched for the first time since the Capitals acquired the 29-year-old in a trade with the Red Wings on February 22, 2019. Fehervary showed promise during his NHL call-up this past February but will likely need to take baby steps towards an everyday role before he gets that.
Trevor Van Riemsdyk
The 29-year-old had a little bit of a down season as he posted just a goal, eight points, and a -7 rating in 49 games but did not get as much opportunity as he could have since the Carolina Hurricanes have arguably the deepest blueline in the NHL. At five-on-five, he recorded a nice 53.22% Corsi-for percentage, a 52.12% expected goals-for percentage, a 54.51% scoring-chances for percentage, and a 53.2% shot-attempts percentage.
Van Riemsdyk was a solid third-pairing defenseman in Carolina, and based on some of his stats above, he could be looked up to as a second-pairing guy. He averaged 14:52 worth of ice-time per game this past season, including 1:14 on the NHL’s fourth-best penalty-killing unit. Van Riemsdyk’s 37 blocked shots this season were seventh on the Hurricanes while he also posted 21 hits, 13 takeaways, and 17 giveaways. He won the Stanley Cup with the Chicago Blackhawks in 2015.
He will likely get a three-to-four year contract with a cap hit between $2-2.5 million.
The 30-year-old defenseman had a nice season with the Vancouver Canucks, posting two goals, tying a career-high with 20 points, and recording a +2 rating in 69 games. Tanev earned a 46.47% Corsi-for percentage, a 48.16% expected goals-for percentage, a 44.91% scoring-chances for percentage, and a 46.4% SAT percentage at five-on-five.
Tanev is not known for his offense as he has scored five goals in a season just once in his career (2013-14: six), but he is better defensively. While averaging 19:32 per game, including a team-high 3:25 while shorthanded, Tanev recorded 32 hits, 159 blocked shots (just three behind the team lead), 45 giveaways, and 20 takeaways. The Canucks had an 80.5% penalty-killing percentage this season, just shy of the league average (80.7%).
Tanev is expected to receive a three-to-five-year deal with a cap hit of around $4 million.
The 29-year-old has expressed interest in re-signing with the Capitals as has the team after acquiring him from the San Jose Sharks on February 19. He finished the season with a goal, 14 points, and a -2 rating in 69 games with the Capitals and Sharks. Dillon also recorded a 51.68% Corsi-for percentage, a 52.21% expected goals-for percentage, a 52.2% scoring-chances for percentage, and a 51.6% SAT percentage at full strength.
Like Tanev, Dillon is not an offensive defenseman as he has only posted at least five goals twice in his 10-season NHL career but put up admirable defensive stats. As he averaged 19:27 worth of ice-time per game, including 2:07 on the penalty kill, Dillon recorded 194 hits (the fourth-most among NHL defenseman), 74 blocked shots, 16 takeaways, and 26 giveaways. The Sharks were the NHL’s best penalty-killing team during the regular season with an 85.7% killing rate, though the Capitals were 21st with a 75% efficiency after the trade. Dillon’s average of 2:02 shorthanded ice-time per game was the fourth-most on the Sharks.
Dillon’s next contract will likely be three-to-four years long with a cap hit somewhere in between $3-3.5 million.
The 27-year-old was a highly sought after defenseman at the 2020 NHL Trade Deadline when the Ottawa Senators made him available. He posted ten assists and a +4 rating in 59 games with the Senators and Winnipeg Jets this season. DeMelo finished the year with a 52.47% Corsi-for percentage, a 53.97% expected goals-for percentage, a 54.32% scoring-chances for percentage, and a 52.3% SAT percentage.
DeMelo played solid defensively this past season, posting 105 hits, 77 blocked shots, nine takeaways, and 42 giveaways. He averaged 20:09 per game, including 2:17 while shorthanded. After getting acquired on February 18, the Jets were the best defensive team in the NHL, allowing an average of only 1.91 goals-per-game (third), posting a 91.7% penalty-killing rate (third), and yielding an average of 31.2 shots-per-game (16th).
DeMelo’s next contract could be three-to-four years-long and carry a cap hit of around $2 million.
By Harrison Brown