After a busy offseason, the Washington Capitals’ lineup will look quite different when they take the ice for opening night against the Boston Bruins on October 12. In addition to overhauling their goaltending tandem, they brought in two defensemen and three forwards.
However, there could be more work to do as the forward group is overflowing and there is some uncertainty to the third defensive pairing. NoVa Caps looks at what could be left in store for GM Brian MacLellan before he has to submit his opening night roster by October 10 at 5 PM ET.
First, we examine the Capitals’ projected lineup with the pieces they currently have in terms of skaters:
Alex Ovechkin — Evgeny Kuznetsov — Conor Sheary
Anthony Mantha — Dylan Strome — Connor Brown
Marcus Johansson — Connor McMichael — T.J. Oshie
Axel Jonsson-Fjallby — Nic Dowd — Garnet Hathaway
Extra: C Lars Eller
Injured: C Nicklas Backstrom (hip, expected to miss most of the season), RW Tom Wilson (torn ACL, expected to return in December)
The Capitals have too many forwards with others from the system (such as center Aliaksei Protas, right-wing Brett Leason, and left-wing Joe Snively) other options available. After signing Strome, the team is pretty deep down the middle even without Backstrom for most of the season.
With McMichael in need of a bigger role, it makes a lot of sense to trade Eller, who counts $3.5 million against the NHL salary cap and is coming off of a tough season where he had COVID-19 twice. In addition, he just turned 33 earlier this week.
Since the Capitals have a surplus of centers, could use some space under the salary cap, and Eller’s trade value has gone down lately, the return in a possible deal involving him could be cap space. If you think that’s not good enough, remember that the Vegas Golden Knights had to give up a 24-year-old defenseman in Dylan Coghlan to clear left-wing Max Pacioretty’s $7 million cap hit for this year even after Pacioretty scored 19 goals and 37 points in 39 games in 2021-22.
Even if the Capitals would have to take a marginal return for Eller, perhaps it would be acceptable considering the overflowing group of forwards available to them and the need to clear cap space in addition to getting younger.
Dmitry Orlov — John Carlson
Martin Fehervary — Nick Jensen
Erik Gustafsson — Trevor Van Riemsdyk
Extra: Matt Irwin (left-handed), Gabriel Carlsson (left-handed)
The Capitals’ defensive corps looks strong for the most part, though there is a possibility that none of Gustafsson, Irwin, or Carlsson are ready for an every day role. If the team is uncomfortable with any of them in that spot next to Van Riemsdyk, they could look to upgrade before or during training camp or in-season.
In addition to clearing some much needed roster space up front, moving Eller would allow the team to clear the cap space to make this move happen if it is necessary.
While the Capitals have made a lot of moves this offseason, more could be coming to make the pieces fit all together. Stay tuned.
By Harrison Brown