As the NHL will officially flip the calendar to the 2020-21 season on October 9 when free agency kicks off, pending free agents in 2021 will be able to sign contract extensions with their existing club. For the Washington Capitals, that is an important date as their captain Alex Ovechkin, who has won the NHL’s goal-scoring championship in seven of the past eight seasons; 24-year-old forward Jakub Vrana, who followed up a 24-goal campaign in 2018-19 with a 25-goal output in only 69 games during the 2019-20 season; and 23-year-old goaltender Ilya Samsonov, who finished 12th in the Calder Trophy race as the league’s top rookie and is expected to take over as the No. 1 next season, will be eligible to sign contract extensions starting on that date.
With a flat salary cap for the next three seasons due to the financial implications of COVID-19, the Capitals currently have $23,133,334 left in cap space with 14 players under contract for the 2021-22 season. That will change later on after free agency and trades happen this offseason, but how much will the three take up? NoVa Caps takes an early look.
For Ovechkin, next season will be the end of a massive 13-year contract extension that even earned owner Ted Leonsis a call from the NBA commissioner when it was signed.
Even at age 35, the Great Eight shows no signs of sl0wing down anytime soon as he finished the regular season with 22 goals in his last 22 games to earn a tie with Boston Bruins forward David Pastrnak for the league-lead. Ovechkin took challenges from GM Brian MacLellan and then-head coach Barry Trotz to evolve his game after a disappointing 33-goal output in 2016-17 to score 148 goals in the past three seasons, leading the league in each of them.
After being arguably underpaid for all of his career so far, Ovechkin will want a big payday. Even though he is on the older side and has said that he only wants to play for the Capitals in his career, Ovechkin will want his money. The Capitals have already reportedly offered him a three-to-five-year contract extension that would carry a cap hit somewhere between $9.5-10 million per season. Still, we will not know the result of that until October 9, the first day he can sign. However, he will likely want more than that.
With forwards Nicklas Backstrom, T.J. Oshie, and Evgeny Kuznetsov’s contracts set to expire after the 2025-26 season, it seems only fitting that Ovechkin’s next one will expire at the same time with all four of those players being in their early-to-late 30s.
While there is no doubt, Ovechkin deserves a raise, does he deserve to make as much as Connor McDavid and Artemi Panarin, who have both had more points than Ovechkin in each of the past four seasons? You could make an argument against that, but Ovechkin has scored the most goals in the NHL for three consecutive seasons. That has got to count for something, right?
Ovechkin could see him earn a cap hit between $11-12 million per season under normal circumstances, but that could drop slightly due to the flat salary cap.
Vrana had the best season of his career with 25 goals (a 30-goal pace over 82 games) and 52 points in 69 games and looked well on his way to a massive payday. However, the Capitals may wait now as Vrana has not gotten on the scoresheet and earned a -8 rating in 15 Stanley Cup Playoff games over the past two seasons.
Though, after a listless showing in the 2019 tournament, Vrana came back with an even better 2019-20 season. The question is whether it is better to pay the young Czech now or wait to see how he does next season. Maybe Vrana wants to wait and see how he does next season before signing a contract.
While he has not performed up to standards where it matters the most, Vrana’s 49 goals in the past two seasons are tied for 54th in the NHL, which has to count for something. He is also only 24 and has one of the strongest work ethics on the Capitals. Vrana deserves a payday but maybe not $7 million per season.
One contract comparison is Nashville Predators forward Filip Forsberg’s six-year contract that pays him $6 million per, but Vrana may not want to sign for that long until he can prove that he can produce until it matters the most. After next season, Vrana will probably have 1-2 more restricted free agent years, so perhaps, going short term is the best option for both player and team.
If Vrana and the Capitals opt to do a short-term deal, a $6 million cap hit is appropriate for the young Czech, but if they decide to do a long-term one, perhaps that number is a lot bigger.
Of the three, Samsonov would be the least likely to sign an extension this offseason as he played only 26 games in his rookie season, and pending UFA Braden Holtby received a bulk of the starts after the NHL All-Star Break this past season. Also, Samsonov missed the entire 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs due to an injury from an ATV accident that later tweaked his nerve. during the pause. Both the team and goalie would probably like to see him as a No. 1 or 1A goalie before agreeing to a contract extension.
Samsonov impressed during his rookie season, going 16-6-2 (second among rookie goaltenders in wins) with a .913 save percentage (seventh), a 2.55 goals-against average (fourth), and one shutout but declined after starting the season 15-2-1 with a .927 save percentage and a 2.06 goals-against average. He went 1-4-1 with an .873 save percentage and a 4.11 goals-against average in the few starts he got after the All-Star break, forcing his value to take a slight hit for the meantime.
Since the Capitals missed out on seeing how Samsonov plays during the season’s stretch run, they will likely have to see how he does when the time matters most before assessing whether to give him a bridge deal or a long-term one especially after his play dipped after the All-Star Break. He could see a contract similar to the one the Penguins signed goaltender Matt Murray to in 2016-17, which was three years with a $3.75 million cap hit if he plays well as a 1A goaltender next season. However, he could get less than that as Murray led the Penguins to the Stanley Cup twice as a rookie. Samsonov will not come cheap, though.
By Harrison Brown
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