Constructing The Capitals Final 23-Man Roster: 14-7 Or 13-8?

We’re (finally) getting down to “nitty gritty”, as they say. The deadline for teams to reduce their rosters to the 23-man maximum is set for 5:00 PM on the night before the start of the season. And even though the Capitals 23-man roster has been pretty much set since free agency began in July, there are still a couple of vacancies that could see a wide range of solutions.

With Darcy Kuemper and Charlie Lindgren assured two of the 23 spots, the Capitals could go with 14 forwards and seven defensemen or 13 forwards and eight defensemen for their final roster openings. And while the openings are scant, there are dozens of line permutations involved with the decision. Here’s a look at a few of the key variables.


14 Forwards

The following is a breakdown of the forward’s general assignments. You can flip players and lines and the single open position, but the names are set.

Alex Ovechkin – Evgeny Kuznetsov – Connor Brown
Anthony Mantha – Dylan Strome – Conor Sheary
Marcus Johansson – Lars Eller – T.J. Oshie
Opening A – Nic Dowd – Garnet Hathaway

Opening B, Opening C [Extras, 13th and 14th Forwards]

Options For Openings: Connor McMichael, Axel Jonsson-Fjallby, Joe Snively, Aliaksei Protas, Brett Leason, Henrik Borgstrom.

In all actuality, “Opening A” could occur anywhere in the lineup, so a player that can play center or wing most likely has an edge.

Borgstrom and Leason are on the outside looking in, and will likely not get a spot on the roster. Unfortunately both Borgstrom and Leason, they will also require waivers to return to Hershey.

This leaves four players, McMichael, Jonsson-Fjallby, Snively and Protas competing for three spots. McMichael and Protas are waivers exempt. Snively and Jonsson-Fjallby would need to clear waivers to return to Hershey.

Here’s where the decision comes: Do you send McMichael and Protas to Hershey, because you can (they are waivers exempt and can be called up/down anytime), and thus, lessen the risk of losing a player like Axel Jonsson-Fjallby and/or Joe Snively on waivers? Do you keep one waivers-exempt player, say Protas, who could be returned to Hershey when Tom Wilson returns to the lineup? (Snively or Jonsson-Fjallby would then need to be waived when Wilson returns).

Of the four, Snively and Protas have made the best showing in the preseason, with one tuneup game remaining. However, Axel Jonsson-Fjallby might be the best natural fit to replace Hagelin, as he is excellent on the penalty kill, a solid back checker and has an excellent shot. McMichael has the most NHL experience, and can play center or wing.

7 Defensemen

The Capitals blueline has also been relatively set since the summer, with one open spot available.

Martin Fehervary — John Carlson
Dmitry Orlov — Nick Jensen
Open Spot — Trevor van Riemsdyk

Options For Openings: Matt Irwin, Lucas Johansen, Erik Gustafsson.

Knowing Laviolette and the importance of comfort and familiarity to him, Matt Irwin will likely get a spot on the roster, and he should. He was solid last season and preseason has shown much of the same. That leaves Lucas Johansen and Erik Gustafsson battling for the final spot.

Gustafsson has had the best training camp and looked the best in preseason action. Both Gustafsson and Johansen would need to clear waivers to make it to Hershey.



The other option for the Capitals would be to go with 13 forwards and 8 defensemen. The configuration would eliminate any decisions regarding the blueline, but require one additional forward to run the waivers gauntlet.

13 Forwards

Obviously the 13 Forwards option creates greater pressure on the final decision regarding forwards in training camp.

Alex Ovechkin – Evgeny Kuznetsov – Connor Brown
Anthony Mantha – Dylan Strome – Conor Sheary
Marcus Johansson – Lars Eller – T.J. Oshie
Opening A – Nic Dowd – Garnet Hathaway

The forwards discussion above under the 14 Forwards option applies, with the need to cut one more forward from the roster.

8 Defensemen

If the Capitals decide to go with 13 forwards and 8 defensemen, the blueline is set with who they have left in training camp.

Martin Fehervary — John Carlson
Dmitry Orlov — Nick Jensen
Erik Gustafsson — Trevor van Riemsdyk
Lucas Johansen- Matt Irwin

To (over)simplify things, the decision to go with 14-7 or 13-8 could be boiled down to one final decision. Is keeping Lucas Johansen worth more than the potential/likely loss of one of the aforementioned forward prospects.

So that’s where we sit with five days to go. There are tough decisions to be made over the next few days at Capitals HQ in Ballston.

Unless of course there is an injury (knocks on wood). Or a trade (dun, dun, dun!) Then all of this is out the window.

Which way are you leaning?

By Jon Sorensen

About Jon Sorensen

Jon has been a Caps fan since day one, attending his first game at the Capital Centre in 1974. His interest in the Caps has grown over the decades and included time as a season ticket holder. He has been a journalist covering the team for 10+ years, primarily focusing on analysis, analytics and prospect development.
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31 Responses to Constructing The Capitals Final 23-Man Roster: 14-7 Or 13-8?

  1. Anonymous says:

    If it is my choice, CMC and AP are in Hershey playing big minutes at C…

    Axel on the 4th line… Joe S fills in for TJ…

    I still say, Eller moves out but not sure where and his money goes to the D…

    • Jon Sorensen says:

      The Eller move is something we’ve discussed quite a bit. I thought the Capitals would use camp to make sure one of the kids (C-Mac, Protas) is ready to take over a center position. Eller is in the final year of his deal, and will likely be dealt at some point (or they will get nothing for him at the end of the season). The question is when?

      • Anonymous says:

        In Salary cap world 3.5 is not considered nothing!!!

        • steven says:

          I think what Jon was saying if they dont trade him before the trade deadline and he walks there is no compensation for the Caps. AS he is a UFA after the season I dont see them getting a lot of him but then again anything is better than nothing.

          • Anonymous says:

            Hell also be 34 at the end of the year and had a steep decline in his advanced stats last year. Giving the coming salary crunch with Wilson coming off LTIR, eller needs to be cut or traded (sadly).

  2. Lance says:

    How about 15 F and 6 D?

    I’d keep CMac, Protas, Snively, Borgstrom. Mojo would be available.

    The defense needs sprucing up.

  3. Jon Sorensen says:

  4. novafyre says:

    “Unless of course there is an injury (knocks on wood). Then all of this is out the window.”

    Oshie? Orlov? I’d make decisions on what is best today leaning heavily on waiver status. 14/7

  5. Anonymous says:

    Waive mojo, trade Eller.

    • KimRB says:

      You sign him, just to waive him a few months later? Seriously?

      • Anonymous says:

        Seriously. It’s very possible he was signed as an insurance policy, should the kids be deemed not ready to step in. If the kids are ready, what’s the point? If they aren’t ready, they are good to go.

        • Anonymous says:

          While it would be unorthodox, Mojo adds next to nothing to this team and isn’t better than any of our younger cheaper options

        • KimRB says:

          I’m trying to understand this. You sign a guy in July as a UFA, because you don’t know if the kids are ready. Two months later, after training camp, you decide the kids are ready, and waive MOJO. Is that correct?

          I’m not buying it. The Caps signed him, because they expect him to be a Top 9 forward. Not saying I agree with that, but Capsanagement pretty obvious want him. He won’t be waived

          • Anonymous says:

            You perceived correctly. If you are unsure about development pace of prospects, you sign an insurance policy and wait to conduct final decision in training camp.

            • KimRB says:

              So why not sign an insurance policy for league minimum, if you don’t expect to keep him? Why pay MOJO $1.1 million?

              • Anonymous says:

                That’s practically league minimum, plus he’s a known commodity, knows the system.

                • KimRB says:

                  $1.1 mill is NOT league minimum. $750 is minimum, and that’s a $350K difference.

                  I have a better idea. Why not sign a few players to PTOs? If you had wanted just an insurance policy, a couple three guys on PTOs would cost nothing.

                  You’re just reaching. Waiving Mojo is just wishful thinking.

                  • Anonymous says:

                    Becuase those PTO players aren’t known quantities, don’t know the system.

                    • KimRB says:

                      Another thing you’re not thinking of. Johansson has a 6 year old daughter. So he signs with the Caps, moves his family back to DC, puts his little girl in school….just when the team waives him? What kind of dirt bags does the team look like then? Will agents trust the team again? Will they steer their free agents to a team that does THAT to their players?
                      OK, again you’re contradicting yourself. They want MOJO because he’s a known quantity, and they pay him $350K extra because of that, but at the same time they don’t want him, and intend on waiving him. YIKES!

    • steven says:

      Totally agree as that serves the team and its development of younger players best.

  6. steven says:

    I like the 14-7; on D keep Gustafsson as Lucas Johansen just has not shown that he is ready to play 15-18 minutes a night at this level and I dont see anyone picking up Irwin so he can slide to Hershey and get called up if needed; as for the forwards yeah a few tough decisions have to be made so here goes:
    Alex Ovechkin – Evgeny Kuznetsov – Connor Brown
    Anthony Mantha – Dylan Strome – Conor Sheary
    Aliaksei Protas – Lars Eller – Joe Snively
    Axel Jonsson-Fjallby – Nick Dowd – Garnet Hathaway
    Bench: Brett Leason, Henrik Borgstrom with CMM going to the minors and playing heavy minutes until Eller is traded. When Eller is traded CMM comes back and slides in to the 3rd line C. The problem arises when TJ is ready however there is no need to rush him back from his upper body injure especially after coming off core surgery this summer. As TJ only played in 44 games last year I feel that it is better to let him heal and stay on the IR for a time to ensure that come late winter and spring he is playing at top of his game. I would rather err on the side of caution with TJ than rush him back especially as he is 35 and injuries take longer to heal and we have some players who can cover his position, maybe not play like TJ, but can cover it for now. Ready for 10/12 and the Bruins!!

    • DWGie26 says:

      I like those lines Steven. I think McMike will stay and Protas to Hershey. I think they will do:

      CMM-Eller-Oshie (mojo if IR)
      Mojo-Leason (AJF if IR)

  7. Dan+Hornbaker says:

    If my choice, CMM to Hershey, Protas takes Oshie spot if needed, but makes it either way. That type of training camp should be rewarded. Axel on 4th line and Snively your extra forward. If Oshie is healthy then Protas and Snively extra forwards.

    With regard to defensemen, I’d keep Gustafsson and Johansen. I think Irwin clears waivers easier than Johansen.

    Mainly because next year having 2 young cheap defensemen will allow us to spend all that money in other areas (Orlov, Jensen – if not them some other high-end defenseman or two. I also think they’ll lock up Jensen and TVR this season about 1/2 way through if they are playing well. Jensen will get a raise but will be fairly affordable (4m??) and TVR gets a little raise too. Orlov I think will take longer as I think he’ll want serious term, but he may cave to stay with Ovi…Next year is going to be so fun to see how the roster shakes out,

  8. Jonathan says:

    I’m willing to risk losing AJF and LJ. I think both are replaceable.

  9. Jon Sorensen says:

    Also pertinent:

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