Often lost in the day-to-day rumblings and grumblings among Capitals fans (myself included) is the fact that the Capitals have been operating for more than two seasons with little-to-n0 fiscal budget. The scant salary cap space has often dwindled to next-to-nothing, forcing the Capitals to make moves they normally wouldn’t make.
First and foremost, you’re right, the Capitals have nobody to blame but themselves for the ridiculously skimpy margins they must contend with, but that’s where we’re at. A pricey roster core has maxed out the budget.
The loose change in cap space has led to boring trade deadlines and game rosters with atypical numbers of forwards and defensemen, all because the Capitals couldn’t afford to callup even the cheapest of prospects.
But those days will be finally drawing to a close this summer. The Capitals will be shedding a few, of what now seem like. exorbitant contracts, and will likely backfill the vacancies with primed young whipper snappers awaiting in the wings.
The Capitals will likely say goodbye to Justin Schultz ($4,000,000) and Michal Kempny ($2,500,000) in free agency this summer. That’s $6,000,000 in cap space realized right off the bat. That’s huge.
Yes, the Capitals will need to fill those vacancies, and you can’t ask two young prospects to replace that level of experience. But you can ask one young prospect to work with an experienced free agent veteran to fill the two vacancies.
If the Capitals can sign an experienced blueliner for $3,000,000 (plus or minus) and elevate Lucas Johansen and/or Alex Alexeyev, you’re looking at saving a net of $3,500,000. The Capitals could also retain Matt Irwin at $750,000, but he will be a free agent and likely get a few more dollars.
Potential Additional Cuts
It’s always difficult for fans to consider cutting loose a member of the 2017-18 team. Heck, I’ll even feel glum when Michal Kempny departs. But in the age of the salary cap, it’s part of hockey business.
Center Lars Eller could also be on the trade blocks this summer. Younger players have been nipping at his skates all season, as the time for saying goodbye to “The Great Dane” is sadly drawing near.
On the plus side, that’s a $3,500,000 contract that will be cut loose in exchange for a $863,000 contract (Connor McMichael or Aliaksei Protas). An additional savings of $2,637,000. Now we’re rolling in it.
Carl Hagelin’s injury was extremely unfortunate, first and foremost, because of the nature of the injury. Two surgeries later and it looks like Hagelin will be alright and might even be able to return to hockey some day.
On a much less important level, the injury complicates the ability to move Hagelin. But the Capitals also have much cheaper alternatives waiting in the wings in Axel Jonsson-Fjallby, and Johan Larsson is proving to be up to the task in filling in for Hagelin in the meantime. There will actually be good competition for Hagelin’s spot.
Removing Hagelin’s $2,750,000 may seem marginal in comparison to the aforementioned roster changes, but replacing him with Axel, who is 10 years younger and $2,000,000 cheaper, would be a huge savings. Larsson is even cheaper at $700,000, but he will also be an unrestricted free agent this summer, will command more money and likely get it.
The Bottom Line
By making the roster adjustments noted above and the pending $1,000,000 increase in the league salary cap, the Capitals could realize a surplus of approximately $9 million in salary cap space to address other roster needs. Did somebody say goaltending?
The outlined moves I’ve specified in this post are what I would do. MacLellan and the Capitals may have other variations to the plan, but one thing is for certain, the days of Ramen Noodle cups for three meals a day are finally over.
By Jon Sorensen