Photo: NBC Sports
After the Washington Capitals dealt defenseman Brenden Dillon to the Winnipeg Jets in exchange for second-round picks in the 2022 and 2023 NHL Drafts (the second of which was dealt to the Seattle Kraken in exchange for goaltender Vitek Vanecek on Wednesday) on July 26, there is a hole on the left side of the team’s defense. Even though the trade was necessary with the Capitals in need of salary cap space to re-sign captain Alex Ovechkin (not to mention picking up a couple of solid picks in return), it still left the team with a hole that could be filled via free agency or trade.
With more moves likely to come before opening night, NoVa Caps looks at the options to fill in the spot created by Dillon’s departure.
Clearing Cap Space
The Capitals currently have $2,668,740 in salary cap space with restricted free agent goaltender Ilya Samsonov still in need of a contract. The 24-year-old’s next cap hit will likely come in the $1.5-2.25 million range, taking up most of that remaining cap space. That would require the Capitals to move even more cap space to acquire a top-four left-handed defenseman. So what are the Capitals’ best options?
Defensemen Michal Kempny (who carries a $2.5 million cap hit through this season) and Nick Jensen ($2.5 million cap hit through next season) and left wing Carl Hagelin ($2.75 million cap hit through next season) would be the most likely candidates. While Jensen had a solid 2020-21 season, Washington has an internal option with Trevor Van Riemsdyk, who played well in his first season with the Capitals ($950,000 cap hit) under contract. With Martin Fehervary ready to make the jump to the NHL this season, the Capitals could choose to move Kempny, who missed last season due to an injury. Hagelin is a key part of the team’s fourth-line, arguably the team’s best last season, and has been a stalwart on the penalty kill, but paying $2.75 million in a flat salary cap environment may make him a cap casualty.
Free Agent Options
While averaging 16:43 per game, including 2:21 on the power play, in just 29 games with the Philadelphia Flyers and Montreal Canadiens last season, the 29-year-old finished with one goal, 11 points, a -1 rating, a 52.02% five-on-five Corsi-for percentage, a 49.69% five-on-five expected goals-for percentage, and a 49.82% five-on-five scoring chances-for percentage. Gustafsson showed some offensive potential in the past when he recorded 17 goals and 60 points in 79 games with the Chicago Blackhawks in 2018-19 but has not been as strong a defensive defenseman throughout his NHL career. Barring a trade that sends Justin Schultz out of Washington, a pairing with two offensive defensemen with defensive deficiencies would not be ideal. In 250 career games with the Blackhawks, Flyers, Canadiens, and Calgary Flames, Gustafsson has recorded 29 goals, 131 points, and a -4 rating. He will likely make $1.5-1.75 million for a year on his next contract.
The Capitals could also opt to bring the 44-year-old defenseman back if Chara wants to play, though GM Brian MacLellan has expressed a desire to ice a younger team after the Capitals were the NHL’s oldest last season. In 55 games in 2020-21, Chara recorded two goals, 10 points, a +5 rating, a 49.5% five-on-five Corsi-for percentage, a 52.33% five-on-five expected goals-for percentage, and a 51.63% five-on-five scoring chances-for percentage in 55 games. Chara averaged 18:19 per game, including a team-high 2:41 on the penalty kill. He averaged 21:01 per game with the Presidents Trophy-winning Boston Bruins as recently as two seasons ago, second on the team, so he can still play. Chara and Schultz earned a 51.83% five-on-five Corsi-for percentage, a 48.74% expected goals-for percentage, a 52.04% five-on-five scoring chances-for percentage, and a 66.7% goals-for percentage in 107.5 minutes together last season. Chara will likely make close to the league minimum this season.
Calvin de Haan, Blackhawks
In 44 games last season, the 30-year-old tallied a goal, 10 points, a -16 rating, a 49.75% five-on-five Corsi-for percentage, a 47.85% five-on-five expected goals-for percentage, and a 48.09% five-on-five scoring chances-for percentage. De Haan averaged 18:37 per game last season, including 1:50 while shorthanded. He has never been an offensive defenseman as he hit the 20-point mark just once in his nine-season NHL career but has had success defending. Defensively, he would bring a similar presence compared to Dillon, though he is less physical. The Blackhawks are currently over the salary cap and de Haan counts $4.55 million against it through this season, so acquiring him would require Jensen and a mid-round pick(s) to head to Chicago, in addition to another trade to facilitate it. De Haan, who has 15 goals, 111 points, and a +21 rating in 451 career regular-season games, can become an unrestricted free agent after this season.
Marcus Pettersson, Pittsburgh Penguins
The Penguins are reportedly looking to move the 25-year-old and exposed him in the 2021 NHL Expansion Draft. While the Penguins would not likely trade with the Capitals, Washington could get a Western Conference team to trade for him and send Pettersson to the Capitals. He recorded two goals, nine points, a +8 rating, a 51.35% five-on-five Corsi-for percentage, a 51.54% five-on-five expected goals-for percentage, and a 53.36% scoring chances-for percentage while averaging 16:29 per game, including 45 seconds while shorthanded last season. In 222 career games with the Penguins and Anaheim Ducks, Pettersson has tallied seven goals, 60 points, and a +37 rating. Acquiring such a player like Pettersson, which could require around a second-round and third-round pick, would accomplish the Capitals’ need of getting younger. It would also mean clearing additional cap space as Pettersson carries a $4,025,175 cap hit for four more seasons.
Hampus Lindholm, Ducks
The 27-year-old tallied two goals, six points, a -1 rating, a 50.49% five-on-five Corsi-for percentage, a 52.3% five-on-five expected goals-for percentage, and a 49.64% scoring chances-for percentage in just 18 games last season, when he averaged a team-high 22:02 per game among defensemen, including 1:44 on the penalty kill. Lindholm has posted at least 20 points in each of his first seven full NHL seasons, including a career-best 13 goals, 31 points, and a +16 rating in 69 games during the 2017-18 campaign. In 521 career NHL games, all with the Ducks, Lindholm has earned 52 goals, 200 points, and a +74 rating. He has one season left on a contract that counts $5,205,556 against the salary cap before he can become an unrestricted free agent, so the Capitals would have to offload two or three players to acquire Lindholm. The Ducks could demand a first-round pick or more for Lindholm, but since he played just 18 games last season, perhaps two seconds and goaltender Vitek Vanecek could work if the Capitals make a couple of other cap-clearing trades. It is possible that they could get outbid in such a deal but it is a possibility worth looking at.
Olli Maatta, Los Angeles Kings
The 26-year-old tallied four assists, a -8 rating, a 47.02% five-on-five Corsi-for percentage, a 44.67% five-on-five expected goals-for percentage, and a 44.56% five-on-five scoring chances-for percentage in 41 games last season. Maatta averaged 16:26 per game, including 1:24 while shorthanded in his first year in Los Angeles. Maatta has hit the 29-point plateau twice in his career and is still in his prime, suggesting that he has more to give on a better team than he has been on the past two seasons with the Kings in 2020-21 and Blackhawks in 2019-20. In 468 career regular-season games, Maatta has posted 29 goals, 128 points, and a +53 rating. The Kings gave up a 24-year-old center prospect, who got drafted in the fourth round, to acquire Maatta just 10 months ago and the fact that his game declined in Los Angeles suggests that it will not cost a ton to acquire him but it would require a couple of cap clearing deals. Maatta counts $3,333,225 against the salary cap before being eligible to become an unrestricted free agent on July 1.
By Harrison Brown