Stanley Cup celebrations will continue throughout the offseason for members of the Washington Capitals, but for the team’s general manager Brian MacLellan, he’ll get back to work almost immediately.
The first order of business for MacLellan is quite obvious: get on the phone with John Carlson‘s agent and try to work out a contract extension.
Carlson is coming off a career year in which he led all NHL defensemen with 68 points, and added 20 more in 24 postseason games. Behind John Tavares, he’s the best pending free agent set to hit the open market on July 1.
As a premier right-handed shooting defenseman who’s still only 28 years old, there will undoubtedly be a long list of teams willing to pay Carlson handsomely into his mid-30s. A seven-year contract with an annual cap hit of $8 million seems realistic.
It may seem unfathomable that MacLellan could actually re-sign Carlson, given the team’s cap crunch, but if the following steps are taken, it could be done with just enough money leftover to ice a roster capable of winning another Stanley Cup in 2019.
Buy out Brooks Orpik
Orpik was a rock on the Caps’ blue line during the postseason, but he needs to go in order to keep Carlson in Washington. He’ll be 38 years old next season and is entering the final year of a contract with a $5.5-million cap hit. Trading him isn’t a real option, as it’s unlikely any team would be willing to take on that salary. Here’s how the buyout would work, according to Cap Friendly.
|Season||Buyout cap hit|
As you can see, a buyout would save the Capitals $3 million in cap room for the coming season.
Bridge deal Tom Wilson
Wilson is the team’s second-biggest pending free agent behind Carlson. Luckily for the Caps, he’s a restricted free agent, so barring any unforeseen circumstances, they won’t be battling with other teams to sign him.
Locking Wilson up to a long-term extension would be ideal, but that usually means overpaying in the short term for security and a bargain down the line. Unfortunately for MacLellan, this is a luxury he cannot afford.
The Caps need to sign Wilson to a bridge deal. At least three years would be ideal for the team, but two years would be better for the player since he can become a UFA afterward.
Wilson made $2 million per year on his last deal, and after setting career highs with 14 goals and 35 points, he’ll be in for a nice raise. A realistic result is a two- or three-year contract at around $4 million per.
Choose one: Kempny, Beagle, Smith-Pelly
Acquired at the deadline from the Chicago Blackhawks, Kempny played admirably alongside Carlson in Washington’s top four despite being used sparingly in the Windy City. He only made $900,000 last year, but as a 27-year-old UFA coming off the best stretch of hockey of his career, it may take close to $3 million to retain him.
A premier face-off man and penalty killer, Beagle is one of the game’s best fourth-line centers. He earned $1.75 million last year, and with the cap going up, he could also make $3 million in free agency.
Smith-Pelly scored as many goals in the postseason (seven) as he did in the regular season. He earned $1.3 million last season, so if his camp and the Caps can’t agree on a 2018-19 salary, an arbitrator would step in, and he could potentially earn up to $2 million.
Given that Chandler Stephenson is capable of playing center, letting the 32-year-old Beagle walk is the most logical decision to make. Choosing between Smith-Pelly and Kempny is tough, but top-four D-men are more difficult to find than fourth-liners, making the former expendable. And since he’s an RFA, the Caps could trade his rights.
Fill remaining spots with cheap contracts
With the aforementioned moves, here’s a look at a projected 2018-19 lineup (bolded cap hits are projections):
|Alex Ovechkin ($9.5M)||Evgeny Kuznetsov ($7.8M)||Tom Wilson ($3.5M)|
|Jakub Vrana ($863K)||Nicklas Backstrom ($6.7M)||T.J. Oshie ($5.75M)|
|Andre Burakovsky ($3M)||Lars Eller ($3.5M)||Brett Connolly ($1.5M)|
|Travis Boyd ($750K)||Chandler Stephenson ($650K)||Nathan Walker ($650K)|
|Mathias Bau-Hansen ($700K)|
With Beagle and Smith-Pelly out the door, Boyd and Walker will have to flank Stephenson on the fourth line. Bau-Hansen, or another player in the Caps’ system, will be in line to be the club’s 13th forward.
Forward contracts: $44.863 million
|Dmitry Orlov ($5.1M)||Matt Niskanen ($5.75M)|
|Michal Kempny ($2.5M)||John Carlson ($8M)|
|Christian Djoos ($650K)||Madison Bowey ($800K)|
|Aaron Ness ($650K)|
Bowey played in 51 games this past season but rarely got in the lineup after Kempny was acquired at the deadline. The 23-year-old former second-round pick should be ready to play a full 82 games this year.
Defense contracts: $25.95 million (including Orpik’s buyout hit)
|Braden Holtby ($6.1M)|
|Ilya Samsonov ($925K)|
Goaltender Philipp Grubauer is an RFA and having a backup goalie of his caliber is a luxury the Caps can’t afford. Trading him for draft picks or prospects seems like the most logical solution.
With Grubauer traded, Samsonov, who just signed his entry-level deal in May, will fill the backup goaltending duties. He’s a 2015 first-rounder with loads of potential.
Goalie contracts: $7.025 million
With nearly the same team coming back, the Capitals are able to ice a roster at a total salary of $77.8 million. Last season’s maximum salary cap was $75 million, but next season’s is expected to be between $78-$82 million. If it is on the low end of that projection, they would just fit under it. The number will be decided later this month.
Losing tough, gritty players in Beagle, Smith-Pelly, and Orpik is hard, but this is still a team that could compete for another Stanley Cup.
(Photos courtesy: Getty Images)