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With defenseman Justin Schultz expected to leave as an unrestricted free agent and Trevor Van Riemsdyk set to slide back to his natural side, the Washington Capitals have an opening on the left side of their third defensive pairing. With no one in house fully ready to take on the roll, they will likely have to outsource to find their man for the job.
The following table presents the Capitals forecasted organizational depth chart for the blueline following projected departures and elevated prospects (more on the Capitals forecasted depth here.)
As a result, here are three unrestricted free agent candidates, two offersheet/trade possibilities, and three trade options the Capitals should consider to fill the experience void:
Unrestricted Free Agency
In 66 regular-season games for the Los Angeles Kings in 2021-22, the 27-year-old posted a goal, eight points, a +17 rating, a 52.81% five-on-five Corsi-for percentage, a 52.77% five-on-five expected goals-for percentage, and a 52.5% five-on-five scoring chances-for percentage. The Kings tied the Colorado Avalanche for ninth in goals-against per game (2.83).
Maatta, who won the Stanley Cup with the Pittsburgh Penguins twice (2016, 2017), also averaged 1:47 on the Kings’ penalty kill (fifth). Among Penguins defensemen to appear in at least 25 games over those back-to-back championship runs, Maatta finished fourth in average ice-time per game (19:25), including fifth while shorthanded (1:12). During this postseason, Maatta averaged 16:55 of ice-time (last among Los Angeles defensemen), including 53 seconds (sixth) with a man short.
He could make around $2-3 million on his next contract. The Capitals could entice him with term since Maatta, who finished seventh on the Kings in average time-on-ice (18:17) last season, is in his prime.
While averaging 16:55 per game (seventh among Calgary Flames defensemen), including 11 seconds on the man advantage (sixth) and 46 with a man down (seventh), this past season, the 27-year-old earned four goals, 22 points, a +22 rating, a 59.24% five-on-five Corsi-for percentage (third on his team), a 55.42% five-on-five expected goals-for percentage, and a 57.26% five-on-five scoring chances-for percentage in 74 regular-season games.
Zadorov, who set career-highs in helpers and points this past season in addition to tallying the second-highest plus-minus rating of his eight-season NHL career (+11), was on his third team in as many seasons. He hit the seven-goal plateau in back-to-back seasons with the Colorado Avalanche from 2017-19 and earned three assists in 12 postseason appearances for the Flames this Spring, where he averaged 18:08 per game (fourth among Calgary blueliners).
Zadorov’s next contract could carry a cap hit of around $2.5 million.
Calvin de Haan
While taking on an average of 18:57 per game (fourth among Chicago Blackhawks defensemen), including 1:36 on the penalty kill (fourth), in 2021-22, the 31-year-old put up four goals, eight points, a -21 rating, a 47.31% five-on-five Corsi-for percentage, a 45.48% five-on-five expected goals-for percentage, and a five-on-five 45.21% five-on-five scoring chances-for percentage in 69 regular-season games.
De Haan may have had a down season by his standards but was on a rebuilding team that allowed the seventh-most goals in the NHL (3.52) and had the ninth-worst penalty kill (76.2%). In three seasons before getting dealt to Chicago, he earned a 51.25% Corsi-for percentage, 52.25% expected goals-for percentage, and a 50.12% scoring chances-for percentage. De Haan was also limited to just 142 games during his three-season tenure with the Blackhawks.
De Haan has never been a flashy offensive defenseman but hit the double-digit point mark in each of his first five NHL seasons before going to Chicago. His career-high in goals is five, set with the New York Islanders in 82 games during the 2016-17 camaign.
De Haan’s cap hit will likely be similar to Maatta’s but could come in a bit lower due to his age and value dropping since joining the Blackhawks. Though, GM Brian MacLellan said that the Capitals are hoping to get younger over the offseason, so it is a question whether de Haan would be considered too old for the Capitals. His solid play in his own end could make him a candidate if the price tag is right.
Potential RFA Offersheets
Rasmus Sandin — Toronto Maple Leafs
After signing Mark Giordano to a two-year contract extension, the Maple Leafs have four left-handed defensemen at the NHL level currently under contract for next season, which could push the 22-year-old 29th overall pick in 2018 out of Toronto.
In 51 games during this past regular-season, Sandin posted five goals, 16 points, a +9 rating, a 54.69% five-on-five Corsi-for percentage, a 58.28% five-on-five expected goals-for percentage, and a 58.17% five-on-five scoring chances-for percentage while averaging 16:58 per game (sixth among Maple Leafs defensemen), including 1:21 on the power play (third).
Sandin has not posted a five-on-five Corsi-for percentage lower than 52.41% or a scoring chances-for percentage lower than 52.66% in each of his three NHL seasons in addition to a five-on-five expected goals-for percentage of least 55.05% in each of his first two full ones.
Sandin will likely make around $2.75 million on his next contract. The Capitals could either trade for his rights, which could cost a second-round pick and a mid-round pick, or tender Sandin an offersheet, which would cost just a second-round pick.
The Maple Leafs have $7,844,384 with no significant free-agents this offseason so they would likely be able match any offersheet Sandin gets should they choose to.
Hadyn Fleury — Seattle Kraken
The 25-year-old seventh overall pick in 2014 played in just 36 games for the expansion Kraken, his third team in two seasons after getting dealt from the Carolina Hurricanes to the Anaheim Ducks at the 2021 NHL Trade Deadline.
Like most of the Kraken players, Fleury saw a dip in his play this past season as he earned just two goals, four points, an even rating, a 48.44% five-on-five Corsi-for percentage, a 49.6% five-on-five expected goals-for percentage, and a 47.92% five-on-five scoring chances-for percentage while averaging 16:17 per game (eighth among Kraken blueliners), including 11 seconds on the power play (fifth) and 56 on the penalty kill (sixth).
Fleury has not gotten much opportunity at the NHL level due to being on a Carolina team that has been known for their deep defense over the years as he has earned just four points in each of the past two years. In 45 games over the 2019-20 season, Fleury put up career-highs in goals (four), assists (10), and points (14).
Fleury will likely cost around as much as Sandin will to get under contract in addition to the second-rounder the Capitals would have to send to Seattle as RFA compensation. It would cost around the same price to acquire his RFA rights.
The Kraken have $22,885,834 available in salary cap space remaining entering the offseason. So for them, it’s a matter of how much they value Fleury rather than their ability to pay him in deciding to match a potential offersheet.
Both of these candidates could be good fits for the Capitals because of their age, promising stats, strong reputations as former first-round picks, and role they would fill. Acquiring one through an offersheet could be cheaper to acquire in terms of assets but the major obstacle in doing so would be that the Capitals would have to overpay on the offersheets for either. Last season, the Carolina Hurricanes overpaid RFA Jesperi Kotkaniemi (one year, $6,100,035) when they tendered an offersheet to the Montreal Canadiens young center to the extent that the Canadiens decided not to match. However, the Hurricanes re-signed him to a eight-year contract that carries a $4.82 million cap hit at the trade deadline. The Capitals could have to do the same to convince the Maple Leafs or Kraken not to match but may just offer a one-year contract and then re-sign either player to a much more reasonable cap hit for longer term either mid season when they become eligible to sign contract extensions or next offseason when they will be up to sign a new deal again.
Potential Trade Targets
Travis Sanheim — Philadelphia Flyers
The 26-year-old has one season left on a contract that counts $4.675 million against the NHL salary cap before becoming eligible for unrestricted free agency.
While averaging 22:58 per game (second among Philadelphia defensemen), including 41 seconds on the man advantage (tied for sixth) and 2:09 on the penalty kill (fourth), in 2021-22, Sanheim finished with seven goals, 31 points, a career-best +9 rating, a career-worst 47.34% five-on-five Corsi-for percentage, a 48.66% five-on-five expected goals-for percentage, and a 47.48% five-on-five scoring chances-for percentage in 80 games.
Sanheim has consistently averaged around .2-.4 points-per-game each season of his five-season NHL career, including a personal-best nine goals and 35 points while playing all 82 games in 2018-19.
Luring Sanheim out of Philadelphia could cost around a second-round pick and a third- or fourth-round pick, which could be a bit much if the Capitals are looking for just a third-pairing blueliner.
Carson Soucy — Kraken
The 27-year-old has one season remaining on a deal that costs his team $2.75 million against the cap before becoming eligible for unrestricted free agency.
While averaging 17:40 per game (seventh among Kraken defensemen), including 43 seconds on the man advantage (fourth) and 1:32 on the penalty kill (fifth), this past season, Soucy notched career-highs in goals (10) and points (21) in addition to a +7 rating, a career-best 50.59% five-on-five Corsi-for percentage, a 49.54% five-on-five expected goals-for percentage, and a 50.31% five-on-five scoring chances-for percentage in 64 games.
Before getting plucked from the Kraken as their pick from the Minnesota Wild in the 2021 NHL Expansion Draft, Soucy earned eight goals, 31 points, a +38 rating, a 44.65% five-on-five Corsi-for percentage, and a 50.31% five-on-five expected goals-for percentage in 105 games over his first two full NHL seasons.
Acquiring Soucy would likely require sending a second-round pick and a fourth-round pick to the Pacific Northwest.
Jakob Chychrun — Arizona Coyotes
Out of all of the options listed, this one would almost certainly appear to be the most expensive and least likely. The Coyotes have been trying to deal the 24-year-old, who’s on a team-friendly contract that pays him just $4.6 million against the salary cap for three more seasons so perhaps it is worth kicking the tires, as they are in a full rebuild and trading their most prized possession could get them a big haul. Since Chychrun is in his prime, making such a deal could make sense to acquire even with a rebuild looming with the Capitals trying to make the most of captain Alex Ovechkin’s final years.
In 23 minutes worth of ice-time this past season (tied for 36th in the NHL), including 1:53 on the power-play (second on Arizona) and 1:44 on the penalty kill (fourth), Chychrun’s production dropped to seven goals, 21 points, a -6 rating, a 47.19% five-on-five Corsi-for percentage, a 45.23% five-on-five expected goals-for percentage, and a 45.57% five-on-five scoring chances-for percentage in just 47 games this past season.
This came after a career-season where Chychrun set career-highs in goals (18), assists (23), and points (41) in 56 games but he has hit over 12 goals and 21 points, respectively, just one other time in his six-season NHL career.
The Coyotes would likely command a first-round pick, a B-level prospect, and a fourth-round pick to give up Chychrun.
By Harrison Brown