As the NHL moves ahead with its Return to Play plan, Last Word on Hockey is taking a look towards the offseason. In terms of building a franchise, the offseason is the most crucial time of the year for front offices. However, due to COVID-19, the short-term future of how this operates has seen sweeping changes. How teams respond to a multitude of changes this fall remains to be seen. This series attempts to examine what choices teams may have to make.
The second batch of Offseason Primers will feature Metropolitan Division squads. Today’s edition delves into the possibilities surrounding the Washington Capitals offseason.
Washington Capitals Offseason Primer
Pending Free Agents
Washington Capitals has some big names up for grabs this offseason. General manager Brian MacLellan will need to think long and hard about who needs to stay and who needs to go. They have some big names on their pending unrestricted free agent list, including Braden Holtby, Radko Gudas, Brenden Dillon, and Ilya Kovalchuk. Liam O’Brien, Colby Williams, and Tyler Lewington are Group Six UFAs.
Salary Cap Outlook
Washington Capitals don’t have infinite amounts of cap space this offseason, but that’s fine considering the low amount of salary they will end up re-signing. According to the team’s CapFriendly page, Washington has $10.39 million in space for next season. That’s fine, considering some veterans will be let go this offseason anyway.
Holtby has been the Capitals’ starting goaltender for a better part of the decade. He was named to the All-Star Team twice and was a Vezina Trophy winner in 2016. Most importantly, however, he helped bring the Stanley Cup to Washington for the first time in franchise history.
While Holtby has brought a lot to D.C., he fell off the wagon completely this year. Holtby posted a .897 save percentage, the only sub-.900 save percentage of his entire career.
So while Holtby is primed for a big payday this offseason due to his past performance and reputation, there are some serious causes for concern. He’s now in his 30s, and his concerning numbers this year suggest that he may already be in decline. The Capitals simply won’t want to invest in a depreciating asset.
Considering Ilya Samsonov is ready to take over the reins as the starter in Washington as well, Holtby becomes an expensive expendable piece. He had a good run, but he’s done in Washington.
Kovalchuk’s return to the NHL after a long stint in Russia hasn’t gone exactly as plan. He’s played for three different teams this season after his contract was terminated early in the year by the Los Angeles Kings. He was able to regain some of his game after the Montreal Canadiens signed him, and he was traded to Washington at the deadline.
Kovalchuk’s done okay for the Capitals in a third-line role, posting four points in seven games. However, Kovalchuk is barely costing the Capitals anything against the cap. Due to retained salary transactions, he only costs the Caps $350,000. He’s a pure trade deadline rental. Kovalchuk is also likely to want to return to Montreal this offseason, where he made a real impact on the squad and enjoyed playing there.
Gudas performed well in his first Capitals season. He was acquired from the Philadelphia Flyers in a cap dump scenario and netted 15 points in 63 games. However, he wasn’t relied upon nearly as much in Washington, seeing the lowest usage of his career (16:44 time on ice per game).
Gudas will be rather expensive to retain given his role, and the Capitals can likely find cheaper depth either internally or on the free-agent market. While Gudas isn’t a bad player at all, he’ll be looking for a slightly bigger role elsewhere this summer.
Unlike Gudas, Dillon is a pending UFA defenceman that Washington will likely retain. Acquired at the trade deadline from the San Jose Sharks, Dillon went pointless in ten games with the Caps. However, that doesn’t tell the whole story. It was clear right away that the Caps’ system was brand new to Dillon, something the extended training camp should fix.
Dillon saw higher usage with Washington, playing over 20 minutes a night. That’s something he hasn’t done since very early in his career with the Dallas Stars. It shows he was playing an important role with the team, mostly serving as John Carlson‘s defence partner.
Washington will likely want to retain his services, and they’ll be able to do so affordably. Evolving-Hockey’s contract projection tool (subscription required) predicts Dillon would re-sign with the Caps for three years, making $2.9 million a season. It leaves the Capitals with $7.49 million in cap space.
A former second-round pick of the team, Siegenthaler was a revelation in Washington this year. He was quite possibly the Capitals’ best defensive player, playing in a third-pairing role. At just 23 years old, it’s a great sign of things to come for the Swiss-born defenceman.
Siegenthaler factors in as a long-term piece of the future for Washington, considering his defensive prowess at a young age. Evolving-Hockey projects his extension will come in at two years, receiving $1.26 million a season. It leaves Washington with a healthy $6.23 million in space.
Potential Free Agent Signings
Due to Washington’s projected departure from goalie Braden Holtby, the Capitals would actually have some room to add in free agency. They’ll likely turn to defensive help, considering their offensive firepower.
One name Washington could look at acquiring is T.J. Brodie. He’d be a huge boost to the team’s second pair. Despite a down season this year, he consistently hovers around 35 points and plays responsible hockey. He’d also bring additional veteran leadership to the team, bringing with him 10 years of NHL experience.
Check out the other Offseason Primers for the Metropolitan Division:
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