After signing three right-handed defensemen in Justin Schultz, Trevor Van Riemsdyk, and Paul LaDue in free agency, the Washington Capitals are currently more than $1 million over the NHL salary cap. The only solution: someone appears to be heading out the door soon. Among the five right-handed defensemen on the roster, Nick Jensen appears to be the most likely candidate to be moved as the Capitals will not trade three players they just signed nor John Carlson, who finished second in Norris Trophy voting as the NHL’s best defenseman last season. Who might fit as a trade partner with the Capitals? NoVa Caps takes a look.
The Flames just lost Derek Forbort, Erik Gustafsson, T.J. Brodie, and Travis Hamonic in free agency and are looking for a right-handed defenseman, according to TSN. The team’s average of 3.06 goals-against per game last season was at the league average and with a deep defensive core like the Flames had, perhaps a shake-up on the blueline would not be a bad thing.
Right now, it looks like their second-pairing will have Rasmus Andersson on the right side and they do not have any options at the NHL-level on the right to play on their third-pairing. Their best options at the moment appear to be Alexander Yelesin, who has just four games worth of NHL experience, and Johannes Kinnvall, who has never played an NHL game in his career.
The Flames currently have $1,010,834 remaining in cap space with right-handed shot Oliver Kylington still a restricted free agent, so they would have to find a way to get creative if they were to acquire Jensen, who has three years remaining on his contract, which carries an annual cap hit of $2.5 million. As the Flames are in the Western Conference and the Capitals are in the Eastern and with the Flames needing help at the position and the Capitals having more than they need, perhaps these two are perfect trading partners if the Flames can find a way to clear some cap space.
Columbus Blue Jackets
The Blue Jackets parted with two top defensemen in Markus Nutivaara and Ryan Murray in an effort to upgrade their forward group this offseason. Even though they are both lefties, the Blue Jackets’ defensive core looks a lot thinner for this upcoming season.
The top-two right-handed defensemen appear to be set with Seth Jones and David Savard but there is a considerable drop-off with sophomore Andrew Peeke projected to play on their third-pairing. In addition, they have another young defenseman in Vladislav Gavrikov projected to take on a role on the left side of the Blue Jackets’ second-pair. While they are certainly not in bad shape, the Blue Jackets’ defensive corps looks worse for the upcoming season and they could use a safety net.
The Capitals could be hesitant to deal with a division rival but the Blue Jackets do not appear to be ready to challenge the Capitals for the Metropolitan Division crown this season. While the Blue Jackets still have to sign Gavrikov and center Pierre-Luc Dubois, who are both restricted free agents, they should still have room for Jensen after inking those two as they currently have $12,025,875 remaining in cap space.
San Jose Sharks
The Sharks only have two right-handed defensemen on the NHL roster in Erik Karlsson, who has had some injury issues over the past few seasons, and Brent Burns, who posted a career-worst -22 rating last season and is not getting any younger at age 35. Those two are also more known for their offense rather than defense so perhaps the Sharks wouldn’t mind adding Jensen to get a more defensive-minded defenseman on the right side, especially after the team averaged 3.21 goals-against per game last season (fifth-most in the NHL).
The Sharks have only $2,353,333 remaining in cap space but they could easily shed a little spare cash to make room for Jensen and do not have any other major players to re-sign prior to the start of next season.
The Canucks lost Chris Tanev, Troy Stetcher, and Oscar Fantenberg in free agency, and all of a sudden, their defense looks a lot worse heading into next season after their average of 3.10 goals-against per game was already tied for the 10th-worst in the NHL and their 80.5% penalty-killing rate was a hair below the league average last season.
Right now, the Canucks are projected to have Tyler Myers to play on the right side of their second-pairing and he disappointed with a -7 rating and has finished with a Corsi-for percentage below 50% in each of the last two seasons and eight times in his 11-year NHL-career, suggesting that he may be better suited to play on the third-pairing.
While the Canucks appear to like to add former Capitals (picking up three in the past three years), they would have to clear some cap space to acquire Jensen as they are a bit over the salary cap.
Defense has been a huge issue in Southern Florida over the past several seasons and last year was no different as the Panthers’ average of 3.25 goals-per-game was the worst among the 24-teams that participated in the NHL’s return-to-play plan and tied with the New Jersey Devils for the third-worst in the league. They could also use some help on the penalty-kill as their 78.5% penalty-killing rate was the 12th-worst in the NHL.
The top-two spots on the right side appear to be set with Aaron Ekblad and MacKenzie Weegar but Anton Stralman is not the player who he once was at age 34 and has shown signs of declining over the past couple of seasons as he finished last year with a 47.57% Corsi-for percentage. They signed former Capitals’ defenseman Radko Gudas in free agency but he was scratched for six of the team’s final 14 regular-season games and three of eight Stanley Cup Playoff games.
While the Panthers have a need that the Capitals could help them with, they also have the cap space with $15,377,277 available, and Weegar and forward Aliaksei Saarela the only restricted free agents.
By Harrison Brown