The Washington Capitals have been the Stanley Cup Champions for a few hours, which means it’s time for us to move on to next season (that’s just what we do). Anytime a team wins a championship, their roster goes through some changes because they can’t afford to keep everyone under the salary cap. It won’t be any different for the Caps.
Let’s begin by mentioning that this team already lost Marcus Johansson (trade), Justin Williams (free agency), Nate Schmidt (expansion draft) and Karl Alzner (free agency) last season. That’s a significant chunk of the roster that they simply couldn’t keep around heading into 2017-18.
This summer should be an interesting one for the Caps, as they have some key contracts to settle. We know that Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom and Evgeny Kuznetsov are all locked up, but number one defenseman John Carlson is the biggest name that might be on his way out the door on July 1st.
This was the final year of Carlson’s contract that paid him a shade under $4 million per season. To keep him in Washington, the Capitals will likely have to shell out close to double that amount. After all, the 28-year-old is coming off a season in which he scored 15 goals and an incredible 68 points in 82 contests. He picked up another 20 points in 24 games during the postseason. Carlson also ate up some big minutes throughout the year, as he averaged 24:47 in the regular season and 25:38 in the playoffs.
He’s also shown that he can take a solid defense partner like Karl Alzner or Michal Kempny and turn them into something more (Alzner struggled mightily without him this year). Clearly, Carlson has to be the top priority for Washington GM Brian MacLellan heading into the off-season.
The Caps have $63.78 million committed to the cap next season. If reports suggesting the cap will jump to anywhere between $78-82 million, they’ll have the money to get it done. The issue, is that they only have 10 forwards and four defensemen under contract, so they still have to fill out a roster.
If they can bring Carlson back, they’ll have to find someone to play alongside him on the top pairing. Kempny had a strong postseason there, but how much will it cost to bring him back into the fold, and is that the type player they want playing that role for 82 games? Kempny, 27, made $900,000 this year. He can probably expect a raise based on his performance in the playoffs. Fellow free agent Jakub Jerabek may or may not be back. He was a healthy scratch for the final 22 games of Washington’s postseason run, anyway. And RFA Madison Bowey will also factor into the mix at some point.
Things will also get interesting between the pipes. Braden Holtby struggled at times throughout the season, but he managed to find his game at the perfect moment. Holtby isn’t going anywhere. He has two years remaining on a contract that pays him $6.1 million per year and the Caps will likely look to extend him as soon as he’s eligible to sign a new contract on July 1st, 2019.
But backup netminder Philipp Grubauer is likely on his way out of Washington. Earlier this week, The Athletic’s Pierre LeBrun reported that the Islanders and Hurricanes were both interested in acquiring the 26-year-old. He’ll never be the full-time starter in Washington, so this could be his chance to become a number one goalie in the NHL. Also, re-signing a quality goaltender to be a backup will likely cost the Caps more than they’re willing to spend on that position.
The Caps could use Pheonix Copley as a backup until top prospect Ilya Samsonov is ready for the NHL, but what happens if Holtby struggles again? Grubauer stepped up in a big way when Holtby couldn’t find his game. They may not be able to survive another subpar season from their starter next year.
The shake up with the forwards will likely be a lot less eventful. As we mentioned before, Ovechkin, Backstrom, Kuznetsov, T.J. Oshie, Lars Eller and Andrei Burakovsky are all under contract. Some of the regulars that need new contracts are: Devante Smith-Pelly (RFA), Tom Wilson (RFA) and Jay Beagle (UFA).
Smith-Pelly, who emerged as a playoff hero, only made $650,000 last season. If they want to keep him, they’ll have to give him a slight raise (something in the 1.2 to 1.5 million range, maybe?).
Having Beagle as a fourth-line center is an incredible luxury, as he’s able to win faceoffs and kill penalties at a high level. But those are services that another NHL team might overpay for come July 1st, which means the Caps might have to look elsewhere for that type of player. Beagle is useful, but replacing him shouldn’t keep MacLellan up at night.
The interesting deal will be Wilson’s. There’s no doubt that they’re going to keep him because after all, he skated on a line with Ovechkin and Kuznetsov in the playoffs. The AAV on his next contract will be intriguing to say the least. The 24-year-old chipped in with a respectable 14 goals and 35 points 78 games, but he brings much more to the table than just points. His ability to bring a physical element to the game is also valuable. Wilson is coming off a two-year deal worth a total of $4 million. Don’t be surprised if his next cap number is in the $3.5-$4 million range.
And we can’t forget that head coach Barry Trotz is another key free agent. The Caps rolled the dice by not extending him during the season, so bringing him back will cost them more than it would have a few months ago, but that likely won’t matter to them now.
MacLellan has a ton of work to do if he wants to make sure the Caps are legitimate contenders again next season, but he can probably just enjoy his team’s Stanley Cup triumph for the next few days.