Photo: Joel Auerbach/Getty Images
After the Seattle Kraken make their 30 picks in the 2021 NHL Expansion Draft, they must trim their roster to 23 by opening night. That means that they must trade or send down at least eight players and that could start pretty soon after they make their selections.
Could the Washington Capitals be in a position to take one of those players off their hands? Since Seattle must move a number of players, the Capitals (and other teams) might be able to get a quality player for a reasonable price.
In our mock expansion draft last week, we had the Kraken taking right-handed defenseman Nick Jensen from the Capitals. Washington has an internal replacement for Jensen after they re-signed Trevor Van Riemsdyk to a two-year contract extension on March 21, and while the 29-year-old played well in his first season with the team, he dressed for just 20 games and has primarily been a No. 7 defensemen for the past two seasons dating back to his final campaign with the Carolina Hurricanes.
Here is the Capitals’ projected opening night roster without Jensen:
Alex Ovechkin — Evgeny Kuznetsov — Tom Wilson
Anthony Mantha — Nicklas Backstrom — T.J. Oshie
Conor Sheary — Lars Eller — Daniel Sprong
Carl Hagelin — Nic Dowd — Garnet Hathaway
Extra: Garrett Pilon, Beck Malenstyn
Dmitry Orlov — John Carlson
Brenden Dillon — Justin Schultz
Martin Fehervary — Van Riemsdyk
Extra: Michal Kempny
The Capitals are expected to make some trades, so the projected lineup is sure to change after three consecutive first-round exits in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Washington also had the oldest team in the NHL during the 2020-21 season. The forwards look pretty good and the defense looks deep, though the Capitals could consider making changes after it has arguably underperformed over the past three seasons, where they have averaged 3.00 goals-against per game.
The second defensive pairing is a place the Capitals are most likely to look to upgrade after Schultz’s performance dipped after a hot start. There’s no natural internal replacement with Van Riemsdyk having served primarily as the No. 7 defenseman for the past two seasons and Kempny coming off of his second surgery in two-and-a-half years. Fehervary, 21, is expected to make the jump to the NHL full-time this season and start on the third pairing.
With Jensen out of the picture, the Capitals will have $11,518,695 in salary cap space, but a large chunk of that will be used to re-sign Ovechkin, who can become an unrestricted free agent on July 28 but is expected to stay in Washington, and goaltender Ilya Samsonov, who can become a restricted free agent on the same day.
Here are four possible options, all defensemen, for the Capitals to consider talking to Seattle about.
LHD Gustav Forsling
After the Florida Panthers claimed him off of waivers from the Chicago Blackhawks on January 9, the 25-year-old set career-highs in goals (five), assists (12), points (17), and plus-minus (+17) while tying his career-high in games played (43) set in 2019-20. Forsling finished the season with a 53.16% five-on-five Corsi-for percentage and a 55.2% five-on-five expected goals-for percentage while averaging 19:57 per game, including 1:36 on the power play and 1:33 on the penalty kill.
The Panthers are expected to expose Forsling since Keith Yandle (whose contract carries a no-movement clause), Aaron Ekblad, and MacKenzie Weegar all need to be protected. He might be on the outside looking in with Seattle too if they stockpile defensemen in the expansion draft like the Vegas Golden Knights did in 2017. In each of his first three seasons in Chicago, he never played more than 43 games.
Of Forsling’s 12 assists this season, eight were primary, according to MoneyPuck. He also finished with 30 hits, 42 blocked shots, 19 takeaways, 25 giveaways, and a 54.6% shot attempts for percentage. The Panthers tallied a 51.8% expected goals percentage with him on the ice.
Forsling can become a restricted free agent on July 27 and will most likely get somewhere between $2-2.5 million for two-to-three seasons. Acquiring Forsling may force Dillon out of D.C. but it may be worth it. Of course, Dillon would have to go in a separate deal.
Possible Trade: Forsling for Capitals’ 2023 third-round pick, 2022 fifth-round pick
RHD Brett Kulak
The 27-year-old recorded two goals, eight points, a +3 rating, a 56.33% five-on-five Corsi-for percentage, and a 52.92% five-on-five expected goals-for percentage while averaging 16:06 per game in 46 games with the Montreal Canadiens this season. Though, he was seventh among Canadiens defensemen in average ice-time per game and has been their seventh for the past two seasons, including for their run to the 2021 Stanley Cup Final.
Since Kulak is not an everyday player for the Canadiens, there is no reason to believe that he will be protected in the expansion draft. With Matt Dumba, Colin Miller, Jake Gardiner, and possibly Jensen ahead of him on the depth chart in our mock, it would make sense for the Kraken to trade him, especially when his trade value is higher than ever.
Four of Kulak’s five five-on-five assists were primary while he was also credited with 28 hits, 54 blocked shots, eight takeaways, 33 giveaways, a 53.8% on-ice goals percentage, a higher expected goals percentage with him on the ice (51.9%-48.1%), and a Canadiens-best 56.4% shot-attempts percentage (among players who played at least six games with the club).
Kulak carries a $1.85 million cap hit for the 2021-22 season before becoming eligible for unrestricted free agency.
Potential Trade: Kulak (50% retained) for Capitals’ 2021, 2022 fourth-round picks
LHD Calvin de Haan
The 30-year-old tallied one goal, 10 points, a -16 rating, a 49.75% five-on-five Corsi-for percentage, and a 48.3% five-on-five expected goals-for percentage but was on a Chicago Blackhawks team whose 3.29 goals-against per game was tied for the seventh-worst in the NHL. He averaged 18:37 per game, including 1:50 while shorthanded and 11 seconds on the power play.
As de Haan is on the wrong of 30 and has one season left before becoming eligible for unrestricted free agency, it would make sense if he is one of the odd men out of Seattle if the Kraken choose to give their top-four minutes to younger options such as Travis Dermott and salvage picks for players like de Haan, who is still a very serviceable top-four option.
de Haan earned 99 hits, 74 blocked shots, 17 takeaways, 41 giveaways, a 33.8% on-ice goals percentage, a 45.1% on-ice expected goals percentage (a -5.3% relative expected goals percentage), and a Blackhawks defensemen-leading 50.5% shot-attempts percentage (among players who played at least six games with the club). Seven of his 11 five-on-five assists were primary.
de Haan carries a $4.55 million cap hit, so it would almost certainly require moving Schultz in a separate deal to acquire him.
Potential Trade: de Haan for Capitals’ 2022, 2023 third-round picks
Since landing with the Buffalo Sabres, the 28-year-old has not fit in as well as he did with the Vegas Golden Knights from 2017-19, where he recorded 13 goals, 70 points, and a -4 rating in 147 games.
Miller is coming off of a season where he recorded four goals, 12 points, a -20 rating, a 48.56% five-on-five Corsi-for percentage, a 44.82% five-on-five expected goals-for percentage, and a 45.34% five-on-five scoring-chances for percentage. While those are anything but solid, Miller was on a Sabres team that finished last in the NHL with 37 points and tied for 29th with an average of 3.50 goals-against per game.
Miller finished the season with 91 hits, 51 blocked shots, 25 giveaways, 14 takeaways, and a 48.5% shot-attempts percentage while averaging 18:00 per game, including 58 seconds on the power play and 50 on the penalty kill. Three of his assists were primary. He also tallied a 57% on-ice goals percentage, just a slightly lower expected goals percentage with him on the ice (45.4%-45.8%), and a 48.5% shot-attempts percentage.
Miller, who carries a $3.875 million cap hit in 2021-22 before becoming eligible for unrestricted free agency, is known for his heavy shot and has had offensive success in the past as he scored 10 goals and 41 points in 82 games with the Golden Knights in 2017-18.
The Capitals would almost certainly have to offload Schultz and his $4 million cap hit to acquire Miller.
Potential Trade: Miller for Capitals’ 2022, 2023 third-round picks
By Harrison Brown