Photo: Eyes On The Prize
With training camp just two weeks away, many remaining free agents will sign professional tryout (PTO) agreements as they look for jobs and teams look for low-risk, but possible high-reward solutions to fill the gaps they have. Could the Washington Capitals go that route? NoVa Caps looks at a few possible candidates.
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 to get moved before the season to create more cap room.
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.
The Capitals’ forward lineup is pretty much set, but they could add some depth at center to step into the lineup when one gets hurt as they have struggled to replace Nicklas Backstrom, Evgeny Kuznetsov, and Lars Eller when one of them has been injured in the past two years.
C Lucas Wallmark
The soon-to-be 26-year-old tallied just three assists and a -4 rating in 20 games with the Chicago Blackhawks and Florida Panthers last season but scored 10 goals and 28 points in 81 games with the Carolina Hurricanes during the 2018-19 season and 12 goals and 25 points in 67 games with the Hurricanes and Panthers in 2019-20.
Wallmark did not get a ton of responsibility from either team he played for last season as he averaged just 11:23 per game, including 14 seconds on the power play and 1:01 on the penalty kill. He also tallied a 46.41% Corsi-for percentage, a 46.63% expected goals-for percentage, and a 45.99% scoring chances-for percentage at five-on-five.
In 187 career NHL games with the Hurricanes, Blackhawks, and Panthers, Wallmark has posted 23 goals and 64 points.
C Mark Jankowski
The soon-to-be 27-year-old earned four goals, 11 points, a 44.22% five-on-five Corsi-for percentage, a 41.76% five-on-five expected goals-for percentage, and a 46.56% five-on-five scoring chances-for percentage in 45 games with the Pittsburgh Penguins last season. Jankowski has shown some offensive potential in the past as he tallied a career-high 17 goals and 25 points in 72 games in 2017-18 and 14 goals and a career-best 32 points in 79 games during the 2018-19 season with the Calgary Flames.
He did not get a ton of trust in Pittsburgh in 2020-21 as he averaged just 10:43 per game, 1:48 of which came on the penalty kill.
In 253 career NHL games with the Penguins and Flames, Jankowski has put up 40 goals (including seven shorthanded) and 75 points (10 shorthanded).
The 25-year-old has tallied at least 20 points in each of his first three NHL seasons and hit that number on the mark (including six goals) in 50 games with the San Jose Sharks last season. He earned 10 and 14 goals, respectively, in his first two full NHL seasons with the Boston Bruins and Minnesota Wild.
Donato earned a 46.65% Corsi-for percentage, a 49.33% expected goals-for percentage, and a 48.62% scoring chances-for percentage last season, when he averaged 12:36 per game (including 1:43 on the power play).
Donato has posted 35 goals and 77 points in 180 career NHL games with the Bruins, Wild, and Sharks.
LW Nikita Gusev
After earning 31 assists and 44 points in 66 games with the New Jersey Devils in his first NHL season in 2019-20, the 29-year-old earned two goals and five points in 20 games before having his contract terminated. In 11 games with the Florida Panthers to finish the season, Gusev recorded two goals and five points.
Gusev averaged over a point-per-game in his final season with the KHL’s SKA St. Petersburg.
The problem with signing Gusev is that the Capitals are already deep at left-wing with Alex Ovechkin, Anthony Mantha, Conor Sheary, and Carl Hagelin. Unless one (the most obvious is Hagelin) is dealt, there would not be any room for Gusev. However, a player of Gusev’s caliber should be included as long as they are available.
After trading Brenden Dillon to the Winnipeg Jets, a hole opened on the left side of the Capitals’ second-pairing and the best options to fill it currently include Michal Kempny, who did not play last year after undergoing his second major surgery in an 18-month span on October 8, 2020, and Martin Fehervary, who has played just six career NHL games. Fehervary is expected to slot into the lineup full-time this season but playing second-pairing minutes would be a lot to ask of him.
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 30-year-old earned two goals, six points, a +3 rating, a 52.4% five-on-five Corsi-for percentage, a 52.52% five-on-five expected goals-for percentage, and a 50% five-on-five scoring chances-for percentage in 39 games with the New Jersey Devils and Dallas Stars last season. He averaged 17:01 per game, including 14 seconds on the power play and 1:59 while shorthanded.
Before the Devils started to decline, Vatanen recorded at least 15 assists and 28 points in each of his first five NHL seasons. In fact, he earned 23 points (including five goals) in 47 games as recently as 2019-20.
In 473 career NHL games with the Devils, Stars, and Anaheim Ducks, Vatanen has earned 47 goals and 200 points.
Even though he is listed a left-handed defenseman, he could play either side. Although, it might be best for the Capitals to play him on the third pairing and Martin Fehervary to be on the second due to Justin Schultz’s defensive deficiencies.
In 38 games with the Ducks and Toronto Maple Leafs in 2020-21, the 28-year-old earned a goal, five points, a -13 rating, a 46.65% five-on-five Corsi-for percentage, a 43.67% five-on-five expected goals-for percentage, and a 44.66% five-on-five scoring chances-for percentage. He averaged 18:28 per game, including 2:21 on the penalty kill.
Hutton hit the 12-assist and 16-point mark in four of his first five NHL seasons. He earned a -65 rating but played on a Canucks team that struggled defensively and was one of the worst in the league over that time as they allowed an average of 3.01 goals-per-game over Hutton’s tenure (the fifth-lowest in the NHL).
In 376 career NHL games with the Canucks, Ducks, Maple Leafs, and Los Angeles Kings, Hutton has earned 16 goals, 91 points, and a -83 rating.
If the Capitals are looking to get younger, adding Hutton would do it as he would be their only defenseman out of eight that are under 30 years of age.
The Capitals go into training camp with the same tandem from last season with Ilya Samsonov and Vitek Vanecek, who have a combined 82 games of NHL experience. While both played well for the most part, Samsonov finished the season with a pedestrian .902 save percentage and missed significant time with COVID-19 and due to disciplinary issues. While Vanecek finished sixth for the Calder Trophy as the NHL’s rookie of the year, his .908 save percentage does not imply “elite.” Since Samsonov cannot be relied upon to be a full-time starter yet, perhaps bringing in a veteran to play primarily with the AHL’s Hershey Bears on a two-way contract and mentor the two would not be a bad idea.
In 12 games with the Lightning last season, the 38-year-old went 4-6-2 with an .875 save percentage, a 3.09 goals-against average, and one shutout, in what was the worst campaign of his NHL career but keep in mind that he would be No. three or even four on the depth chart.
At five-on-five last season, McElhinney posted an .875 save percentage, a 3.03 goals-against average, a -9.47 goals-saved above average, a .740 high-danger save percentage, a 1.41 high-danger goals-against average, and a -4.03 high-danger goals-saved above average.
In three straight seasons from 2016-19, McElhinney finished with a save percentage no lower than .912 and a goals-against average no higher than 2.62.
McElhinney did not play a lot over the past two seasons as he has been playing behind Andrei Vasilevskiy in Tampa Bay.
His best season came as recently as 2017-18 with the Toronto Maple Leafs where he went 11-5-1 with a .934 save percentage, a 2.14 goals-against average, and three shutouts. In 249 career NHL games, McElhinney has earned a 94-95-20 record, a .907 save percentage, a 2.83 goals-against average, and 12 shutouts.
The 35-year-old did not appear in the NHL and played in just two games with the AHL’s Bridgeport Sound Tigers (the New York Islanders’ minor league affiliate), where he earned an .843 save percentage and a 3.94 goals-against average.
After posting a .925 save percentage and a 2.20 goals-against average in 127 games over two seasons with the New Jersey Devils, his save percentage and goals-against average rose in every season to the point where he was not in the NHL last season. Schnieder earned a 3-6-2 record, an .887 save percentage, a 3.53 goals-against average, and one shutout in the 2019-20 NHL season.
Schnieder has earned a save percentage above .920 and a goals-against average below 2.27 six times in his NHL career. While he is no longer that goalie, he has proven that he can play well at times and would be beneficial for organizational depth at the position.
The best season of his career came in 2011-12 with the Canucks when he went 20-8-1 with a .937 save percentage, a 1.96 goals-against average, and three shutouts. In 409 career NHL games with the Canucks and Devils, Schnieder has gone 170-159-58 with a .918 save percentage, a 2.43 goals-against average, and 26 shutouts.
Schnieder and Roberto Luongo won the Jennings Trophy for the fewest goals-against in the 2011-12 season.
In 22 games with the San Jose Sharks and Colorado Avalanche last season, the 35-year-old went 6-11-2 with an .892 save percentage, a 3.22 goals-against average, one shutout, a .904 five-on-five save percentage, a 2.83 five-on-five goals-against average, a -5.94 five-on-five goals-saved above average, a .798 five-on-five high-danger save percentage, a 1.54 high-danger goals-against average, and a -2.66 high-danger goals-saved above average.
Before the 2019-20 season, Dubnyk finished with a save percentage of at least .913 and a goals-against average of 2.54 at the highest in five straight seasons where he was a Vezina Trophy finalist as the NHL’s goaltender of the year twice with the Minnesota Wild.
In 542 career NHL games with the Wild, Sharks, Avalanche, Predators, Edmonton Oilers, and Arizona Coyotes, Dubnyk is 253-206-54 with a .914 save percentage, a 2.61 goals-against average, and three shutouts. The best season of his career came in 2014-15 where he went 36-14-4 with a career-high .926 save percentage and six shutouts in addition to a career-low 2.24 goals-against average.
Dubnyk won the Bill Masterton Trophy as the NHL’s comeback player of the year in 2014-15.
By Harrison Brown