Big changes are expected this summer in D.C. after the Washington Capitals once again failed to advance beyond the second round of the postseason, despite boasting perhaps the most talented roster ever assembled in the organization’s 42-year history. Even if GM Brian MacLellan wanted to return the roster mostly intact, he would have a difficult time doing so given the team’s salary cap situation. It’s along this vein that Isabelle Khurshudyan of the Washington Post examines potential free agent and trade fits to replace the players the Capitals may lose off their President’s Trophy winning roster.
T.J. Oshie, coming off a career high 33-goal season, will be a UFA this summer and while the Capitals would like to re-sign the winger, doing so may prove hard to do, according to Khurshudyan. The scribe writes that Oshie is due for a significant raise on his $4.5MM 2016-17 cap charge, and suggests a long-term deal in the $6MM annual range is reasonable. Khurshudyan notes that both Kyle Okposo and David Backes, two players with similar profiles and historical production to Oshie, inked free agent deals with cap hits of $6MM last summer. If that should prove to be too rich for MacLellan’s blood, the team could pivot back to Justin Williams, who is coming off a two-year deal with the Capitals worth $3.25MM per year. Andre Burakovsky, a RFA, is expected to graduate to a full-time top-six role and the duo of Williams and Burakovsky could be good enough for Washington to get by. In terms of outside free agents Khurshudyan lists Drew Stafford and Patrick Eaves as potentially inexpensive fits, though at 31 and 33 respectively, each is on the back-half of their careers and would represent a risky proposition. As it is, Stafford netted just eight goals in 58 games in 2016-17. Eaves notched a career high 32 goals, besting his previous best by 12 and suggesting heavy regression is likely.
On the blue line, both Karl Alzner and trade deadline pickup Kevin Shattenkirk will head to free agency. Khurshudyan expects both to depart for greener pastures and speculates that Nate Schmidt will likely assume a role next to John Carlson on the team’s top pair next season. That leaves a hole on the third pairing with Brooks Orpik. Internal candidates, according to the scribe, include Taylor Chorney along with prospects Madison Bowey and Christian Djoos. The free agent market is thin at the position, though veteran defender Johnny Oduya could represent one option, according to the author.
On the trade front, Khurshudyan mentions recent reports that Minnesota would be willing to listen to offers for RW Nino Niederreiter, a pending RFA. Coming off a 25-goal season with the Wild, Niederreiter would certainly command a sizable return in any trade, but he would satisfy Washington’s need for a top-six forward and is young enough to fill that role for years to come. Additionally, given the restrictive nature of the expansion draft rules, both the Wild and Anaheim may have to leave a talented young blue liner exposed and could elect to make a trade to secure some value in return. While that may provide Washington with another means with which to add a needed defenseman, many teams in the league will be shopping in the same market and likely have more to offer in return than the Capitals.
Elsewhere in the Metro Division:
- Scott Darling’s move to Carolina, where it is expected he will be given every chance to be the team’s #1 goalie, is viewed as the 28-year-old netminder’s biggest opportunity at the professional level. For his part, however, Darling sees it as just the next step in a pro career chock full of opportunities, writes Luke DeCock of The News & Observer. As DeCock notes, Darling has already overcome a drinking problem which nearly sunk his career before it ever even got started, and has worked his way up the pro ranks all the way from the SPHL up to where he is today; the presumptive starter for a young Carolina team hoping to contend for a playoff spot next season. It’s been a lengthy process for Darling but his approach finally appears to be paying off. “It’s kind of been my thing to just saw the wood in front of you, and just keep working toward the next step.” The “wood” in front of him is the high expectations that he will have to shoulder as the new #1 goalie for a team whose recent chances to compete in the postseason have been derailed by poor to mediocre play between the pipes. But given his history, Darling appears well-suited for the challenges that await in Carolina.
- The New Jersey Devils have high expectations for their 2016 first round draft selection, center Michael McLeod, a skilled offensive talent who starred for Mississauga of the OHL. Chris Ryan of NJ Advance Media spoke with Paul Castron, the team’s Director of Amateur Scouting, about McLeod’s progress one year after the team made the 6-foot-2, 194-pound pivot the 12th overall pick in the draft. After impressing team brass at the Devils developmental and training camps last summer, McLeod struggled during the first couple of months of the OHL season, writes Ryan, though Castron is still high on the prospect: “He’s one of those players where he never lets you down with his work ethic and his speed game is always there, he’s always a factor. I think he was just frustrated early in the season for not producing at a higher rate. The team as a whole really struggled, and I think he felt a lot of pressure because he was captain, too, and he was their leader.” McLeod would get his game going in the second half of the season, notes Ryan, amassing 46 points over his final 31 contests and leading his team to the OHL Final, recording an impressive 27 points in 20 postseason games along the way. With New Jersey in the midst of an all out rebuild, one buoyed by winning the rights to the first overall choice in the 2017 draft in the NHL’s recent lottery, McLeod’s development will be important to the future success of the organization. It’s possible given the team’s dearth of offensive talent that McLeod could open the year in New Jersey with a strong training camp performance.