Navigating the Salary Cap is probably one of the more important tasks for any general manager to have. Teams that can avert total cap chaos by walking the tightrope of inking players to deals that match their value (or compensate for future value without breaking the bank) remain successful. Those that don’t see struggles and front office changes.
PHR will look at every NHL team and give a thorough look at their cap situation heading into the 2017-18 season. This will focus more on those players who are integral parts of the roster versus those who may find themselves shuttling between the AHL and NHL. All cap figures are courtesy of CapFriendly.
Current Cap Hit: $70,910,107 (under the $75MM Upper Limit)
F Jakub Vrana ($863K, two years remaining)
This is where the Capitals have gotten themselves into trouble. Playing to win it all for the last couple of years has taken a toll on the depth of the team’s roster as they have chosen to go with veterans rather than allow youngsters to work their way into the lineup. Now that those contracts have become too much and the team has had to purge a number of free agents to stay under the cap, suddenly there is no depth to look to when they really need it.
Vrana, a former 2014 first-rounder returned to his team in Sweden after being drafted, but signed at the end of the 2015 season and joined the AHL Hershey Bears for three games, tallying five assists. He then added six points in 10 playoff games to establish himself as a top prospect. He scored 35 goals over the next two seasons in Hershey before being promoted to Washington last year. In 21 games, he tallied three goals and three assists and appears ready to step in to a bottom line role this year.
There are a number of minor leaguers that may be ready to step into the lineup such as defenders Madison Bowey and Christian Djoos, but none have seen any NHL action so far in their careers and there is no guarantee they will make the team out of training camp.
One Year Remaining, Non-Entry-Level
D John Carlson ($3.96MM, UFA)
F Lars Eller ($3.5MM, UFA)
F Tom Wilson ($2.0MM, RFA)
F Jay Beagle ($1.75MM, UFA)
G Philipp Grubauer ($1.5MM, RFA)
D Taylor Chorney ($800K, UFA)
F Devante Smith-Pelly ($650K, RFA)
The team has already lost several key defenseman in the past few months, including Kevin Shattenkirk, Nate Schmidt and Karl Alzner. Could Carlson be next? While the team still has several veteran remaining on their roster, the team might be hard-pressed to avoid losing another veteran defenseman. Currently penciled in to play next to Orlov, at 27 years old, he would be a big loss if the team is unable to bring him back. However, the team will be paying Orpik, Niskanen and Orlov, more than $16MM combined next year. Will Washington find the money for Carlson?
Wilson is a player who the Capitals have high hopes for. The 23-year-old wing is a former 2012 first-rounder and has played four years with the team already, usually among the bottom-tier lines. However, with smoe of the team’s losses on offense, including Marcus Johanson and Justin Williams, this might be the year that Wilson breaks out. He is currently penciled in on the team’s second line and while he managed just seven goals a year ago, he did put up three playoff goals, showing he might be ready for an enhanced role. As a restricted free agent in 2018, the team will have some control on managing his salary.
Perhaps one of the more interesting decisions the team must make is what they plan to do with their backup goalie. Grubauer is considered to be one of the top-young goaltending prospects and while he was not chosen by the Vegas Golden Knights in the expansion draft, many feel that he could be a solid starting goaltender. However, with Holtby in front of him and locked up for three more years, that role would not likely be given to Grubauer in Washington. With minor leaguer Pheonix Copley looking ready to become the team’s backup and the presence of 2014 second-round prospect Vitek Vanacek and 2015 first-round prospect Ilya Samsonov, the team is loaded with goaltending talent. It seems far more likely the team will move Grubauer at some point, maybe at the trade deadline next season to add much needed depth.
Eller is at best a third line center, who averages between 10 and 15 goals per season. Barring a breakout year and he’s already 28 years old so that seems unlikely, Eller at $3.5MM might be too expensive to bring back in a year, but it’s too early to tell. Beagle did have a career year last year and should challenge Eller for that third-line center job with the loser likely to man the fourth line. Beagle, a faceoff specialist, scored 13 goals last year. If the team can bring them back on relatively cheap deals, they might be able to retain them.
Chorney was used primarily as an extra defenseman last year and only managed 18 games last season. With the team’s lack of depth after their top four, Washington may have no choice but to give Chorney a chance to win one of the last spots. The 30-year-old did manage to get into 55 games a year ago. Smith-Pelly, a quiet free agent acquisition this offseason, scored four goals in 55 games for New Jersey last year. Their futures will be decided by whether they make the team and how they perform.