Although the Washington Capitals have their affairs in order with most of their impact players after an early-round exit in the playoffs this year, the franchise still has a number of smaller contracts that it will have to deal with in the coming months. The contracts of restricted free agents Jakub Vrana and Andre Burakovsky and unrestricted free agents Carl Hagelin and Brett Connolly need to be dealt with, among others.
One contract the Capitals aren’t likely to deal with this summer is unrestricted free agent Devante Smith-Pelly, who likely will not be returning to Washington next season, according to NBC Sports J.J. Regan. While there was speculation that the team might consider bringing back one of the team’s key players in their Stanley Cup Championship run last season under the right conditions, Regan notes that changed after comments from general manager Brian MacLellan. “Internally we had a couple of issues we had to work through,” MacLellan said of Smith-Pelly, which was not exactly a vote of confidence.
Many have claimed that those “issues” stemmed from conditioning issues and they are likely the reason that the Capitals intend to move on from Smith-Pelly. The big winger struggled this season after scoring seven playoff goals last spring, including several timely ones. Even though Smith-Pelly had more lucrative offers last summer, he opted to sign a one-year, $1MM deal to remain with the Capitals. However, the season didn’t go as planned as he tallied just eight points in 54 games before the team placed him on waivers, sending him to the AHL. He was recalled after T.J. Oshie was injured in the playoffs, but played sparingly. Regan asked Smith-Pelly about his conditioning, which he flatly denied, but did admit he was forced to change his off-season workout plans due to the shortened break:
The summer was different for a lot of guys. I mean, very short. Guys are hurt going into the summer so obviously you don’t have the same routine as you’ve had in years past to get ready. I guess that just affected me more than some other guys. You try to get your footing and stuff happens.
With the team right up against the salary cap and key decisions to make about Burakovsky, Vrana, Hagelin, and Connolly, as well as defensive veteran Brooks Orpik, the team does need several cheap contracts on the book, but it looks like they might be ready to look elsewhere for that talent.