Re-sign Or Decline? Assessing The Decisions Ahead For Washington Capitals Non-Roster Free Agents

We previously reported that Martin Fehervary has finally received a qualifying offer from the Washington Capitals and is currently negotiating a new deal with the team. He was the lone remaining restricted free agent (RFA) player on the Capitals roster to receive a new offer. But what about free agent non-roster players in the Capitals organization?

The Capitals have 12 non-roster players who are currently restricted or unrestricted free agents in the organization. Decisions regarding their future with the Capitals will need to be made by Brian MacLellan, Ross Mahoney and the Capitals development staff in the next few days (if not already). Here’s a look at how things could shake out.

Gabriel Carlsson (26) – Defenseman [RFA] Carlson was (quietly) the Bears best overall defenseman for the 2022-23 regular season, but was passed up by the play of Logan Day in the postseason. It would have been a no-brainer to re-sign Carlsson. However, with the recent addition of Hardy Hamen Aktell, also a lefty, the re-signing of Carlsson is anything but a given. The Capitals should re-sign him, regardless. [Re-sign]

Henrik Borgstrom (25) – Forward [RFA] – Borgstrom was hit or miss for the most of the regular season with the Bears. He would follow stretches of scoring droughts (and healthy scratches) with spurts of excellent play, leaving you wondering why he wasn’t on the Capitals roster. It’s already been reported that Borgstrom has signed a deal in Europe for next season. [Pass]

Garrett Pilon (25) – Forward [UFA – G6] Pilon has been nothing but a quality asset to the Capitals organization, which includes a perfect 100% shooting percentage in his three games played with the Capitals (one goal on one shot). His return is more up to Pilon than the Capitals, as he may want to see what other opportunities are out there (following the paths of friends Riley Barber and Liam O’Brien). Regardless, Capitals will try their best to keep him in the organization. [Re-sign]

Dylan McIlrath (31) – Defenseman – [UFA] The Captain of the Bears has been a quality leader in Hershey this season. At 31, his ability to support the Capitals is likely drawing to a close, but he would be a great addition in Hershey for next season. It’s hard to see the Bears naming a player to be captain for just one season, and then cutting him loose at the end of the season. Look for Bears to try and sign him to an AHL deal. [Decline]

Zach Fucale (28) – Goaltender – [UFA] Fucale was a quality backstop and a good leader for the Bears in recent seasons. However, considering the Capitals depth at the position and the likely elevation of Clay Stevenson, Fucale’s time with the organization has come to an end. There were recent reports in Russian media that Fucale has already signed a deal in the KHL next season. [Decline]

Damien Riat (26) – Forward [RFA] At 26, it’s highly unlikely that Riat ever returns to North America, at least to play professional hockey. He has been a decent forward in the Swiss league, but his ceiling with the Capitals organization was likely reached in the AHL before he decided to return home. [Decline]

Mike Vecchione (30) – Forward [UFA] Vecchione was a key ingredient to the Bears top line during the 2022-23 regular season. His scoring went silent for most of the postseason after Mike Sgarbossa went down with an injury, but I suspect he will return to the organization. He would be another solid mentor for the kids coming in next season (Miroshnichenko, Hofer, etc.). The Bears signed Vecchione to a two-year deal. [Re-sign].

Tobias Geisser (24) – Defenseman [RFA] Geisser decided to head home to Switzerland to get more playing time, which he has done. He told NoVa Caps when news broke he was returning to Europe that he planned to return to North America “when the rebuild begins”. Geisser has been solid and an everyday starter in the Swiss League, and even played for their national team. There appears to be a window of opportunity that still remains for the 6’4” blueliner. [Re-sign]

Kody Cark (23) – Forward [RFA] Clark has dealt with significant injuries since being drafted by the Capitals. He has shown signs of his game beginning to develop, only to be thwarted by an injury. At 23, he certainly hasn’t reached his maximum potential, so I wouldn’t be surprised if the Capitals keep him in the fold. [Re-sign].

Riley Sutter (23) – Forward [RFA] – Sutter arguably had his best season for 2022-23. He settled into his role centering the Bears fourth line and finally became a mainstay in the Bears nightly lineup. He’s dealt with injuries during his tenure in Hershey, and with this seasons sizable uptick, it’s very much worth re-signing Sutter. [Re-sign]

Bobby Nardella (27) – Defenseman [UFA] – Nardella has showed offensive upside in past seasons with the Bears and with Djurgarden in the Swedish Hockey League. Unfortunately he dealt with an injury this season, and as a result, has fallen down the organization’s depth chart. At 27, his window of opportunity has probably passed and with the addition of the younger Hardy Haman Aktell, also a lefty, he has likely dropped further down the depth chart. [Decline]

Hunter Shepard (27) – Goaltender [UFA] Shepard has been outstanding in his time with the organization. He’s definitely a “late bloomer” with regards to development, so he may not have reached his ceiling yet. He was called up to the Capitals last season and spent a decent amount of time with the team, but did not get a start. His return is up to him, as he may want to test the free agent waters to see if there is a number two spot open on an NHL team. If he wants to return, Capitals should sign him. [Re-sign].

The deadline for extending qualifying offers for current restricted free agents is June 30th at 5pm ET. Free agency will open at,noon,on Saturday, July 1.

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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21 Responses to Re-sign Or Decline? Assessing The Decisions Ahead For Washington Capitals Non-Roster Free Agents

  1. Anonymous says:

    Please re-sign Shepard!

    • Jon Sorensen says:

      It’s up to him. He may want to test the free agency waters. He didn’t get a game with the Capitals this season, and that may be enough cause for him to look elsewhere. Caps will definitely try.

  2. Anonymous says:

    I’ve been impressed with Sutter this season.

  3. Brian Beakes (@Puckstop31_) says:

    IIRC, Vecchione already signed a 2 year AHL deal with the Bears. If McIilrath does not return, he is odds on favorite for the C in Hershey next season. He is a good leader and will help the kids develop.

  4. GRin430 says:

    I’d sign Shepard in a nanosecond, and give him a one-way deal. I’d then be dangling Lindgren or even Kuemper at the draft to see what return either could bring (Kuemper has a M-NTC, which limits the ability to move him). Somebody might take Kuznetsov or Mantha if they were just the sweetener in a deal for an NHL goalie. As Jon noted, the Caps have goalie depth. They need to use it to help the rest of the roster.

    Sutter deserves a contract and a legit shot at making the team. If the Caps are going to play a heavy game, he and Malenstyn are better choices than Milano and Aube-Kubel, but if the Caps can just move a couple of bad contracts at the top of their roster, there’s room for all 4 of those guys. None of them are flashy, but they all contribute shift-by-shift, which again is not true of several guys to whom the Caps pay millions each year.

    Pilon also deserves a generous offer, but I’d certainly understand if he wanted to find a better opportunity elsewhere. To me he’s a bargain-basement T.J Oshie. Plays hard despite size limitations, has good hands and a decent shot. I think he could make a lot of NHL rosters and contribute.

    I don’t think Carlsson has the foot-speed to be successful in the NHL. He’s responsible defensively, but seems to struggle with faster forwards. If he’s content to stay in Hershey then make him an offer, otherwise, he’s replaceable by any number of AHL defensemen.

    I don’t mind McIlrath on an AHL contract, but the Caps shouldn’t waste an NHL contract on him. He’s slow at the AHL level, a pylon in the NHL.

    Geisser is a big body. What I don’t know since I haven’t seen him play at any level in years, is if he is a big body who plays like a big body, and can skate besides. If so, sign him, give him a shot on the left side. If not… Next…

    Clark should get a “last shot” minimum offer since they spent a 2nd-round pick on him and he’s never really had a chance to show what he can do when healthy. I’ve seen him in a couple of dev camps and/or preseason games over the years and he didn’t stand out as a “wow, who’s that guy” type of player. At best he appears to be a bottom-6 prospect, but as I keep saying, every team needs some of those guys, and the Caps have enough contract slots available, so no harm signing him to a minimum contract.

    The rest of the guys on the list are never going to make the Capitals, so I wouldn’t waste an NHL contract on them. If they want to sign in Hershey, fine. Otherwise, thanks for the memories (or lack thereof, at my age…)

  5. Dave says:

    “He would follow stretches of scoring droughts (and healthy scratches) with spurts of excellent play, leaving you wondering why he wasn’t on the Capitals roster.”

    I had to reread that sentence a couple of times to get what you meant, as what it actually says is that what we’ve come to expect is a Caps roster made up of guys who have scoring droughts and healthy scratches with spurts of excellent play. 🤣

    Alas, that wouldn’t necessarily be inaccurate…

  6. Prevent Defense says:

    I read this list of EXCELLENT hockey players on the Hershey roster. It brings me to full RAGE at their non-deployment by the departed Pi$tol Pete LAVI Coach. There should be a Prison Sentence (like 30 days at the NHL office working directly for Bald Bill Daly and Gory Bottmann) for the criminal offense of torturing Caps fans, having to watch “You know what you’re getting with Matty.” Gawd, a full SIX defensemen on the Hershey Bears were better than this guy.

    I would add another 30 days to Pete’s Pri$on term for ignoring a whole ROSTER full of forwards who were vastly more inspired than the should-be-bought-out Number 39.

    This has turned into a Pi$tol Pete bashing expedition — sorry bout that, but I can’t help it. The Washington Capitals were absolutely GAWD AWFUL the past two seasons, grotesque underachievers. All the while a bunch of Hershey Bears were languishing in the AHL, who could and should have been given a shot with Parent Club.

    Go gettem’ Spencer Carbery! GMBM, do the Right Thing! Sign those talented Hershey Bears! Integrate them into the Caps lineup! Forge a winning team with homegrown talent! Let’s beat the Living Jehosaphat out of the New York Rangers next season – all four games! (or is it six?)

  7. hockeydruid says:

    I have no problem letting Borgstrom, Fucale (heard he signed to play in the KHL and not sure he would get a fair shot in DC) and Riat (not ever coming back to play). As for McLlarth, he would help in Hershey with his experience and also could be next years Irwin but at 4 years younger. Nardella, McLlarth and Pilon are all UFA so they will get offers and then have their pick not only of where to play but salary and possible advancement to the NHL. I see Pilon the hardest of the 3 to get back.

    I think that both the GM and HC need to sit with Hunter and tell him their plans are for him next season and beyond. A much as I like Hunter one has to remember that he will be 28 in November and with the goalie depth that this team has, even with losing Fucale he just may walk. Yes he could be involved in a trade if they sign him but wondering what his worth is on the market at his age and only 2 years of pro hockey all in the minors. If you talk about trading either of the goalies on the roster I would imagine that Lindgren would be the easiest to trade being 29 and less salary than Kuemper However I agree that both should be available! One thing that the GM has to do is explain to any and all players in the minors the philosophy of the old HC in only wanting to play veteran players if he hopes to keep any of these guys.

    Wonder if the GM is looking forward and thinking about next summer when Snively becomes a UFA. He will also be 28 then and wonder if he might not get tossed in on a trade to move of Mantha and or Kuzy.

    One thing that the GM has to do is explain to any and all players in the minors the philosophy of the old HC in only wanting to play veteran players if he hopes to keep any of these guys. He has to not only explain but show that the team is heading in a new direction and have Carbery there to explain his plans for both the team and players the next several years.

    • Mark Eiben says:

      Your right about the new message the Caps send but I would think that if he won’t or isn’t going to speak to the HB players directly, that he would expect that they would ‘get the message’ or see the significance of signing their old young coach as the head guy for the Caps. The HB players should see this hire as a change of direction and get ready for camp because Carbery is going to have spots available for some if they can take it.

      • novafyre says:

        Hiring Carbs was a good start, but to me the real message will be in the trades that GMBM makes this summer — what positions does he fill with non-Bears players.

        Bolts and Pens can say that they want to get younger, but they have gutted their pipelines. So I won’t be surprised if they bring players in via trades. But the Caps do have a very good pipeline. Will they use it?

        • Prevent Defense says:

          All over it! The Caps have a VERY good pipeline
          And yes, GMBM should be strategic with home-grown players, tactical with non-Bears

        • Jon Sorensen says:

          Agree, Fyre. And the draft to some extent. There are players that conceivably help caps in next season or two. For example, if there were to get Michkov, who can’t come for 3 years, aftermOvi retires, that would signal we are in a full rebuild right now.

          • hockeydruid says:

            Is there anyone that would be in the 8th slot that could step into the NHL this fall? IF not then thy are drafting for the future not the present. There are so many players who either have obligations to other teams or college or need more time that almost any pick could be looked at as we are in a full rebuild now. The only way that doesn’t happen would be if the #8 pick was traded for an older player to fill a slot now. And honestly if that were to happen i would expect some of the players who are UFA or RFA in Hershey to either not sign or request a trade. Not to rebuild not for the purpose of getting a record and pleasing the owner and one player is not fair to the guys in Hershey especially after how they were treated last year. Wonder if the Gm is working on a trade with Kuzy, Mantha, Snively and the #8 pick going somewhere for a higher #1 and another pick or several older players (by older I mean 27 and up). Somehow I have the feeling that just as PL didn’t like younger players I wonder if GMBM isn’t of the same mind.

  8. horn73 says:

    Trade all of the energy line guys to Arizona. Have most fans here move there and then they’ll be happy rooting for the AHL players playing NHL hockey. Not for me please. Three 4th liners are plenty for me. I love that I am not sentimental when it comes to average professional athletes.

    What was the woman’s name that posted a ton in the spring?? Maybe she already moved to AZ to root for them! Seems to be up here ally.

    • hockeydruid says:

      Somehow I like what you said. I look at our roster and think that of the 10 forwards that are currently signed 4 of them are 4th liners. I look at Hershey and see 8 players on that roster that are either 3rd or 4th line players and only 1, Lapierre, who might be a 2nd line player. So I have no idea where they are going to get replacements for the 1st and 2nd line players unless they draft them which probably means drafting in the same slot or higher for the next several years. And in 3 years where is the scoring going to come from especially on the PP? You can not put a playoff team and Cup contender on the ice and get the picks necessary to do that in the future now. Honestly I would rather miss the playoffs and receive a high pick in the draft than make the playoffs only to go out in the first round right now and probably for the next 4 or 5 years.

  9. Anonymous says:

    Gotta re-sign Carlsson. Agree, Stephenson moves up, Fucale moves on. I’m sure caps notified his m their intentions back in March or April, thus he went and found other work already.

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