Photo: Richard A. Whittaker/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images
After signing two new goaltenders and forwards in addition to a defenseman on the first day of NHL Free Agency, the Washington Capitals will look fairly different from the team that took the ice for their fourth consecutive Stanley Cup Playoff exit last Spring. But just how different? NoVa Caps looks at the Capitals’ projected lineup as of right now.
First, the Capitals acquired the following players on Wednesday:
* G Darcy Kuemper (five years, $5.25 million cap hit)
* RW Connor Brown (from Ottawa Senators for 2024 second-round pick)
* G Charlie Lindgren (three years, $1.1 million cap hit)
* RW Marcus Johansson (one year, $1.1 million cap hit)
* D Erik Gustafsson (one year, $800,000 cap hit)
* D Matt Irwin (one year, $750,000 cap hit)
The Capitals played left-wing Conor Sheary on the top line a fair amount last season and with right-wing Tom Wilson set to be out until some time until around Thanksgiving and the NHL All-Star Break due to a torn ACL, it is fair to expect the 29-year-old to step in for Wilson in that spot.
With center Nicklas Backstrom out indefinitely, the Capitals have numerous options but a likely one could be to give Connor McMichael some more opportunity after the rookie impressed with nine goals, 18 points, and a 52.24% five-on-five expected goals-for percentage in 68 games last season. The team may also move Lars Eller or Johansson to that spot as well, though Johansson is a natural right-wing. Eller or Borgstrom could be the third-line center.
After re-signing Johansson and inking Borgstrom, the 23rd overall pick in the 2016 NHL Draft, it is possible that the Capitals could look to move Eller, who will turn 33 next month and has one season at $3.5 million remaining on his contract.
Brown, who was acquired from the Ottawa Senators in exchange for a 2024 second-round pick on Wednesday, could skate in the Capitals’ top-six forward group after T.J. Oshie was limited to 44 games last season due to numerous injuries and is not getting any younger at age 35. Brown, 28, scored 10 goals and 39 points in 64 games last season and notched a career-high 21 goals in just 56 games two campaigns ago.
That would leave Johansson and one of Joe Snively or Axel Jonsson-Fjallby to be the two bottom-six left-wings if Eller stays put in Washington.
On defense, the Capitals’ group will look similar to last season except on the third-pairing where Gustafsson, who earned three goals, 18 points, a -4 rating, 50% five-on-five Corsi-for percentage, 47.07% expected goals-for percentage, and 47.71% five-on-five scoring chances-for percentage in 59 games with the Chicago Blackhawks in 2021-22, will likely skate on the left side of the third pairing. Matt Irwin, who re-signed on a one-year, $750,000 contract, will likely be the extra.
The Capitals got clarity in goal on Wednesday when they signed reigning Stanley Cup winner Kuemper, who went 37-12-4 (tied for fourth in the NHL in wins), a .921 save percentage (fifth), a 2.54 goals-against average (11th), and five shutouts (tied for fourth) with the Colorado Avalanche in the regular season, to a five-year contract that carries a $5.25 million cap hit. During the Avalanche’s run to the Stanley Cup this past Spring, The 32-year-old went 10-4 with a .902 save percentage, a 2.57 goals-against average, and one shutout. He will be the Capitals’ No. 1 goaltender.
Kuemper’s back-up will be Lindgren, who signed a three-year contract (that carries a $1.1 million cap hit) after going 5-0-0 with a .958 save percentage and 1.22 goals-against average in five NHL games with the St. Louis Blues last season. He also posted a .925 save percentage and a 2.21 goals-against average in 34 games with the AHL’s Springfield Thunderbirds.
With quite a few new of new pieces, there are lots of possibilities as to how the Capitals will look when they take the ice for opening night on October 12 against the Boston Bruins. It will get even more interesting when Backstrom and Wilson will be ready to take the ice, which will force the team to make even more decisions. Could even more pieces to the puzzle be added? It’s possible but we’ll have to wait and see.
By Harrison Brown