- Lucas Johansen was once Washington’s top defensive prospect but he has been passed on the depth chart over the last couple of seasons. Accordingly, NBC Sports Washington’s J.J. Regan posits that the blueliner could ultimately find himself on the trade block before too long as a result. The Capitals have some quality depth on the back end in their system and his first-round pedigree could still be of interest to some teams; with only a small group of plausible trade chips, it’s possible that Johansen could be made available at some point next season.
As July marches on and we get closer to arbitration hearings and contract holdouts, teams continue to fill our their organizational depth charts. Here are some minor moves from around the league:
- The Toronto Marlies continue to add more depth, signing Ryan Johnston and Michael Kapla to AHL contracts. Kapla spent last season with the Binghamton Devils and Iowa Wild, recording 24 points in 66 games. The defenseman is a former Umass-Lowell captain that played five games in the NHL during the 2016-17 season. Johnston meanwhile spent the last two seasons in the SHL, but also has ten games of NHL experience under his belt.
- The Hershey Bears have signed Tariq Hammond to an AHL deal, bringing in another former Binghamton defenseman. The 25-year old played 43 games for the AHL Devils last season, recording three points. Hammond was part of the 2017 NCAA champion University of Denver squad alongside other NHL players like Troy Terry, Henrik Borgstrom, Dylan Gambrell and Will Butcher, and took over as captain the following season.
- The Hartford Wolf Pack have signed Ryan Dmowski to another AHL deal, keeping him in the organization after he joined them earlier this spring out of college. The 22-year old left winger had four points in ten games down the stretch for the Wolf Pack, and will likely be asked to play a bigger role in his first full professional season.
- Carolina has brought in some AHL depth, announcing the signings of wingers Hunter Shinkaruk and Colin Markison plus defenseman Derek Sheppard to AHL deals. Shinkaruk, a first-round pick of Vancouver back in 2013, had a disastrous season with Montreal’s farm team and was non-tendered last month. Meanwhile, Markison has posted back-to-back 27-point seasons with Texas of the AHL while Sheppard was quite productive at the ECHL last season with 40 points in 57 games.
In the NHL, the salary arbitration process is more often used as a negotiating tool – an incentive to get a deal done before the uncomfortable setting of a hearing and the unknown of an arbitrator’s decision – than it is for its actual purpose. A vast majority of players who file for arbitration end up settling before their hearing or even at the last moment before an award is handed down. Last year, 44 players filed for arbitration and 40 settled prior to their hearing. The year before, all 30 cases were resolved before an arbitration award could be made.
So what about this year? There were initially 40 cases of player-elected arbitration and one case of team-elected arbitration (the St. Louis Blues and goalie Ville Husso), but that number is now down to 25 open cases. That’s a substantial drop-off, but time is running out for some RFA’s and their teams to come to terms, as the first scheduled hearing is set to take place on Saturday, July 20th. Listed below are all of the remaining cases:
July 20: Brock McGinn, Carolina Hurricanes
July 21: Andrew Copp, Winnipeg Jets
July 22: MacKenzie Weegar, Florida Panthers; Zach Aston-Reese, Pittsburgh Penguins; Ville Husso, St. Louis Blues; Christian Djoos, Washington Capitals
July 23: Evan Rodrigues, Buffalo Sabres
July 24: Oskar Sundqvist, St. Louis Blues; Neal Pionk, Winnipeg Jets
July 25: Jacob Trouba, New York Rangers
July 26: Colton Sissons, Nashville Predators
July 27: Sam Bennett, Calgary Flames
July 28: Mirco Mueller, New Jersey Devils
July 29: David Rittich, Calgary Flames; Pavel Buchnevich, New York Rangers
August 1: Remi Elie, Buffalo Sabres; Chandler Stephenson, Washington Capitals
August 2: Linus Ullmark, Buffalo Sabres; Charles Hudon, Montreal Canadiens; Will Butcher, New Jersey Devils
August 4: Jake McCabe, Buffalo Sabres; Anton Forsberg, Carolina Hurricanes; Sheldon Dries, Colorado Avalanche; Rocco Grimaldi, Nashville Predators; Joel Edmundson, St. Louis Blues
Given the time constraints and the complexity of each of these cases, how many will feel forced to go to hearing? Will Trouba be one of that select group, as he was last year? Will the Sabres struggle to settle four cases before their scheduled hearing dates? Will the Blues see through their team-elected case with Husso? Will other goalies prove to be difficult negotiations? And will polarizing players like Bennett and Buchnevich fail to find common ground with their teams? Or will it be under-the-radar players like Gemel Smith and Brett Kulak last year who go through the full process?
There are many questions left about this group of restricted free agents and time is running out before we know the answers. So the choice is yours: will we see an unprecedented class of arbitration awards or will all or most cases reach a resolution in the coming weeks?
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Juuso Ikonen’s time in North America did not last very long. Ikonen signed a three-year entry-level contract with the Washington Capitals last year after establishing himself as a budding young star at the pro level in Finland and Sweden. Yet, he was placed on unconditional waivers and had his contract terminated in May, only twelve months after the deal was signed. Ikonen had struggled in the AHL, posting only 14 points in 54 games, but it was his first season in the league and some setbacks were expected. His release from the Capitals prompted some speculation that perhaps there was more to it than just poor results in year one. However, it appears that either no other NHL team was willing to give Ikonen a second chance or he simply didn’t look for one. The Swedish Hockey League’s HV71 announced that they have signed Ikonen to a two-year deal, bringing him back across the Atlantic. Ikonen recorded 26 points in 49 games when last he played in the SHL, so it’s clearly a more comfortable fit for a player who seemingly wasn’t enamored with the pursuit of an NHL career.
- Brandon Bochenski has called it a career at 37 years old. Although many may not remember Bochenski’s efforts in North America, he has been one of the more decorated foreign players in the KHL over the last decade and has been the face of hockey in Kazakhstan. After a dominant stint in the NCAA at the University of North Dakota, Bochenski entered the pro ranks with high expectations in 2004. However, while he showed flashes of brilliance at times, Bochenski failed to stick with any team for more than two seasons, making stops in Ottawa, Chicago, Boston, Anaheim, Nashville, and Tampa Bay. Only when he moved to the KHL, signing with Barys Astana in 2010, did Bochenski find some consistency in his scoring ability. The winger proceeded to record seven straight seasons of at least 40 points, including a career high 61 points just a few short years ago in 2015-16. Bochenski was a multi-time KHL All-Star, the captain of Barys Astana for several seasons, and eventually earned his Kazakhstan citizenship and was a force on the international stage as well. In what proved to be his final season this year, Bochenski recorded 34 points in 44 games for Barys Astana and four points in four games for Kazakhstan at the Division 1A World Championships. Brad E. Schlossman of the Grand Forks Herland now reports that Bochenski will hang up his skates and has plans to return to where it all began in Grand Forks, home of the University of North Dakota.
- Maxim Lapierre is not quite ready to end his playing career just yet. The 34-year-old has not played in the NHL since 2015, spending much of the last few years with HC Lugano of the Swiss NLA. However, with his production slipping slightly last season, Lapierre was sent searching for a new opportunity and has found it with Eisbaren Berlin of the German DEL. The Polar Bears announced a two-year deal with Lapierre and are excited to add the veteran leader who still has a scoring touch. The long time Montreal Canadien is not done yet.
The Washington Capitals have signed Jakub Vrana to a bridge deal, inking the young forward for two years. The deal will carry an average annual value of $3.35MM. GM Brian MacLellan released a short statement:
Jakub is a highly skilled player with a tremendous upside and is a big part of our future. We are pleased with his development the past two seasons and are looking forward for him to continue to develop and reach his full potential with our organization.
Vrana, 23, was the most important RFA the Capitals had this summer, and one that should be a key part of their team for years to come. After giving them just a taste of his offensive ability in 2017-18 by scoring 13 goals and 27 points in the regular season, the following year came as a breakout for the Czech forward. Scoring 24 goals Vrana finished third on the team behind only Alex Ovechkin (51 goals) and T.J. Oshie (25) and locked himself into the second-line left wing spot. Picked 13th overall in the 2014 draft, it’s obvious he has an even higher ceiling than what he has shown and should only get better throughout this two-year bridge deal.
A short-term contract like this was necessary for the Capitals as they try to navigate a tricky salary cap situation. After signing Vrana they sit just $935K under the cap ceiling with two restricted free agents left to sign in Chandler Stephenson and Christian Djoos, meaning they simply couldn’t have gone longer with his bridge deal. Buying out any of his unrestricted free agent years for instance would have meant a huge cap increase, something that Vrana likely wasn’t too keen on either.
Though he’ll still be a restricted free agent at the end of this contract, Vrana will be under team control for just two more seasons meaning his next contract will be quite the raise if he continues on this development path. With Braden Holtby and Nicklas Backstrom both unrestricted free agents next summer, the Capitals needed this two-year term to give them some cost certainty. It’s going to be tight if the team wants to re-sign both veteran players, but with another cap increase (however small) coming next summer the possibility still exists.
Today is about Vrana though, and securing a solid contract that at worst puts him in a great spot for arbitration hearings in 2021. An increased role in 2019-20 isn’t out of the question, and more powerplay time could easily result in a career-high in points.
- While some teams have shied away from handing out extra years on contracts in an effort to lower the cap hit in recent years, Capitals GM Brian MacLellan acknowledged to J.J. Regan of NBC Sports Washington that he was comfortable offering extra term to his class of free agent signings to get them at a cheaper price tag. Wingers Richard Panik, Carl Hagelin, and Garnet Hathaway all received four-year deals from Washington, a term that not many expected. However, the trio has a combined $7MM cap hit, a reasonable price tag for three upgrades to their depth.
Not only have the Washington Capitals signed their top three draft picks, they can also now cross one of their minor league restricted free agents off the to-do list. Colby Williams has signed a one-year, two-way contract with the team that will carry a $700K salary at the NHL level. Williams was eligible for salary arbitration but chose not to file.
Williams, 24, has played for the Hershey Bears for the last three seasons, suiting up 171 times for the Capitals’ AHL affiliate and recording 44 points. The physical defenseman was originally a sixth-round pick in 2015, but has quickly established himself as an asset at the professional level. He will actually be eligible for Group VI unrestricted free agency next summer unless he plays in 80 games with the Capitals this season.
Washington still has work to do over the next few weeks if they want to avoid any arbitration hearings, as both Chandler Stephenson and Christian Djoos filed. Jakub Vrana, the team’s most important RFA was not eligible but is also in line for a substantial raise after an excellent season.
The Washington Capitals have signed another recent draft pick, inking Connor McMichael to a three-year entry-level contract. McMichael was selected 25th overall in last month’s draft, and will likely head back to the London Knights of the OHL for the 2019-20 season. The deal will have an average annual value of $925K.
McMichael is a very interesting draft story, as his first year of junior hockey was a disaster. Despite being a high pick into the OHL and previously dominating in midget, McMichael struggled mightily with the Hamilton Bulldogs and was almost invisible after a trade to the legendary London Knights organization in 2017-18. Notably though, London had traded away St. Louis Blues forward Robert Thomas for the young McMichael, obviously seeing his potential being wasted. Though it didn’t work right away, McMichael came back in 2018-19 and blew the doors off the OHL for London, scoring 36 goals and 72 points to lead a loaded club that also had top picks like Liam Foudy, Adam Boqvist, Evan Bouchard and Alex Formenton among others.
That kind of performance shot McMichael into the first-round discussion once again, and the Capitals decided to take a chance on a player that might still need a bit of seasoning—unlike their next pick Brett Leason who was draft eligible for the third time. McMichael has an excellent feel for the game at both ends of the rink and regularly finds himself in the perfect position to create a chance or prevent one.
Interestingly, McMichael was not included in the initial roster for Team Canada at the Summer Showcase, though he has since been added after Dylan Cozens was forced out due to injury. He’ll try to work his way onto the World Junior team and show exactly why the Capitals used their first-round pick to select him.
Another top draft pick has inked his entry-level contract, as Brett Leason has signed with the Washington Capitals. Leason’s three-year entry-level deal will carry an average annual value of $842,500. Unlike many other draft picks, Leason’s deal does not have the opportunity to slide forward as he is already 20 years old after being passed over in the past two drafts. He will be a restricted free agent following the 2021-22 season.
Being selected 56th overall by the Capitals last month was the result of years of hard work by Leason, who wasn’t even a high pick in the 2014 WHL bantam draft and only played a single CHL game before the 2016-17 season. He would score just 18 point for the Tri-City Americans that year and went undrafted as an 18-year old who wasn’t even an offensive contributor in junior. The next season things started out poorly again for Leason with the Americans, scoring just a single goal in the first 12 games before a trade to the Prince Albert Raiders changed everything.
Leason would find success in Prince Albert scoring 32 points down the stretch but was still overlooked entirely at draft time. After all, 19-year old NHL prospects are expected to dominate the CHL at that point. Well, dominate he did in his third WHL season and first full year with the Raiders. Leason scored 36 goals and 89 points in 55 regular season games and added an appearance at the World Juniors for Team Canada. In the playoffs he would continue to be a force, adding 25 points in 22 games while taking home a WHL championship with the powerhouse Prince Albert squad.
The question now will be whether or not Leason can take that kind of production into the professional ranks, but betting against him at this point is probably a bad idea. Armed with an NHL-ready shot—in strength, accuracy and release—the 6’4″ forward will try to establish himself as a goal scorer and powerplay option in the minor leagues and force his way onto the Capitals roster before long. With so much money tied up in their top players, Washington will need some entry-level contributions over the next few seasons and Leason might be the right prospect to give them that on a hastened timeline.
Protas, 18, came over from Belarus to play for the Prince Albert Raiders of the WHL last season but took a while to get acclimated to the North American game. Scoring just 11 goals and 40 points in 61 regular season games, he also helped his country to a silver medal at the D1A World Juniors (those countries that do not qualify for the top tournament) before taking off in the WHL playoffs. The 6’5″ forward recorded 12 goals and 22 points in 23 games to help the Raiders to a WHL title and Memorial Cup berth.
His low point totals in the regular season can be somewhat explained by the tremendous depth that Prince Albert had as one of the very best teams in the CHL. The fact that by the time the playoffs rolled around Protas was a key part of that team—along with fellow Washington draft pick Brett Leason—can only be seen as a positive, and something that should have Capitals fans excited for his future. Even with his new NHL contract it is much more likely that Protas returns to the WHL next season and continues his development, meaning the deal will slide forward at least one year.