- The Washington Capitals have named Dr. Aimee Kimball as the senior director of team and organizational development. Kimball has spent the last 15 years in the NHL, including the last four years with the New Jersey Devils as director of player development. The Capitals explain that in her role, Kimball will provide “skilled direction and support in the areas of player development falling outside the standard skills (strength, and on-ice training).” As a mental training consultant, Kimball spent a decade with the Pittsburgh Penguins, including during their championship seasons of 2009 and 2016. She also currently serves as a mental performance coach for the U.S. Women’s National Team as the prepare for the upcoming 2022 Olympics.
With NHL training camps opening up later this month, those unsigned players who aren’t willing to wait around for a PTO will have to start making tough decisions. That could mean settling for a contract in the minors, making the move overseas, or perhaps even retiring. Keep up with all of those moves for familiar names right here:
- Former NHL forward Jordan Caron has called it a career. The 30-year-old has retired “surprisingly”, reports the ICEHL’s Vienna Capitals, who only signed Caron in July. The team reports that he has decided to return home to Quebec for personal reasons. A first-round pick of the Boston Bruins in 2009, Caron was never more than a depth asset in the NHL with Boston, Colorado, and St. Louis, with highs of 48 games and 15 points set early in his career. However, he has been a much more dominant scorer over the past five years in Europe, playing Germany, Russia, Switzerland, and Austria.
- For the first time since leaving the NHL in 2018, Christoph Bertschy is on to a new team, though not making a return to North America (any time soon). The Swiss forward is staying at home, but moving on from the NLA’s Lausanne HC to HC Fribourg-Gotteron. This is not a small commitment, either. Gotteron has announced a whopping seven-year contract with Bertschy, who was considered one of the top names on the Swiss market. At 27 years old with three seasons of strong production in the NLA before missing most of last season, Bertschy has proven himself a valuable asset and Gotteron stated that he will play a “central role”. The former Minnesota Wild may have been a candidate to return to the NHL if he continued to excel in Switzerland, but seems content to likely play out his career in his native country.
- After playing on an AHL contract with the Iowa Wild last season but only seeing ECHL action with the Allen Americans, veteran journeyman forward Jesse Mychan has signed a one-year deal with the ECHL’s Kansas City Mavericks, the team announced. A former WHL standout power forward who has produced at a high level in the ECHL and proved himself valuable as an enforcer in the AHL, Mychan’s career has also taken him to the UK, Germany, Austria, Slovakia, and Denmark.
- A former OHLer and longtime ECHL player, Matt Carter has opted to continue his career with the Fife Flyers in the EIHL after taking the 2020-21 campaign off. Carter has been playing professionally since 2011-12 after the now 34-year-old forward finished his college career with the University of Prince Edward Island. Undrafted after scoring 30 goals in 2007-08 for the Owen Sound Attack, Carter was a true journeyman, playing ECHL contests for the Phoenix Roadrunners, Cincinnati Cyclones, San Francisco Bulls, Las Vegas Wrangles, Elmira Jackals, and Fort Wayne Komets. He’s spent the majority of his career in the EIHL and French Ligue Magnus since going overseas in 2014-15.
This post will be updated throughout the day.
- The left side of Washington’s back end has undergone some changes this summer with Brenden Dillon (trade) and Zdeno Chara (free agency) departing and no one from outside the organization being brought in. As a result, J.J. Regan of NBC Sports Washington highlights that spot as an area of concern for the Capitals heading into next season with veteran Michal Kempny (who missed all of last season due to injury) and prospect Martin Fehervary (who has just six career NHL games played) as the two lefties behind Dmitry Orlov with veteran Matt Irwin also in the mix. With minimal cap space and them needing to preserve what little they have for in-season recalls, it’s an area that the Caps may not be able to address before the start of the season.
Navigating the salary cap is one of the more important tasks for any GM. Teams that can avoid 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 2021-22 season. This will focus more on players who are regulars on the roster versus those who may find themselves shuttling between the AHL and NHL. All cap figures are courtesy of CapFriendly.
Current Cap Hit: $80,831,260 (under the $81.5MM Upper Limit)
F Connor McMichael ($863K through 2023-24)
McMichael was able to get his feet wet in the pros a year early with the OHL not playing and he made the most of it with a strong showing with AHL Hershey. He may have to wait until injuries strike to have a shot at playing but he has enough offensive upside to make an impact when he gets his opportunity next season.
One Year Remaining, Non-Entry-Level
Sprong has been inconsistent throughout his career but his AAV being below the cap ceiling creates some excess value for Washington to the point where he was protected in expansion. He has reached double digits in goals in two of the last three seasons and a repeat showing next season could push him towards doubling his AAV or more which could ultimately price him out of their plans. Dowd has done a nice job as their fourth line center but while he’s deserving of a raise, the Caps will need to keep that position at that price point to be able to afford their other contracts.
Schultz’s contract with Washington was somewhat of a surprise last fall but he had a nice bounce-back season. A big raise next summer likely isn’t in the cards but if he can pick up the points at a similar level, he could land a similarly-priced deal. Kempny had a year to forget, tearing his Achilles’ tendon and just as he was working his way towards a return in the minors, he was struck by an ice shoveler during a break in play, ending his season in the process. He was providing pretty good value on his contract before that and will need to get back to a similar level and show he’s healthy in order to command interest next summer. Irwin appears to be a candidate to bounce around as the seventh defenseman and the minors (pending him clearing waivers) as a way to bank a bit of extra room as the season progresses.
Samsonov had a tough sophomore year and with their salary cap situation, Washington was forced to go with a one-year bridge contract. He will be eligible for arbitration next summer and a strong season could allow him to double his AAV or more. Vanecek was re-acquired from Seattle and returns as arguably the biggest value contract for goaltenders in the league as he established himself as their starter last season at a price that is the lowest in the league in terms of AAV. Also arbitration-eligible, he’s already heading for a significant raise and it’s quite unlikely that Washington will be able to keep both netminders beyond this coming season.
Two Years Remaining
F Lars Eller ($3.5MM, UFA)
F Carl Hagelin ($2.75MM, UFA)
F Garnet Hathaway ($1.5MM, UFA)
D Nick Jensen ($2.5MM, UFA)
D Dmitry Orlov ($5.1MM, UFA)
F Conor Sheary ($1.5MM, UFA)
D Trevor van Riemsdyk ($950K, UFA)
Eller has been a key part of Washington’s forward group for the past five seasons, splitting time between the second line and third line depending on their injury situation. He’s a bit pricey on the third line but it’s a justifiable premium to pay and with the way the UFA market has been for centers, he can land a similar amount two years from now. Hagelin has underwhelmed a little bit on this deal; he’s still an effective defensive player and a strong skater but his price tag is a bit much for someone in a limited role. Hathaway’s physicality makes him a quality fourth liner and while he’s a bit expensive for that role, he has provided good value so far. Sheary’s first season with Washington went well enough to land this two-year deal as a secondary scorer. If he scores at a 20-goal pace again, this will be a nice bargain for them.
Orlov had a bit of a tough season but is still a fixture in their top four. He’ll be 32 when his next deal kicks in and it wouldn’t be surprising if he is looking for a final contract at that time. With the big commitments they already have on the books (more on them shortly), that may be difficult for Washington to do unless Orlov will take a discount to make that happen. Jensen hasn’t been able to make the type of impact the Capitals hoped when they handed him this four-year deal and he’s someone they’d likely be willing to part with for cap flexibility purposes. As for van Riemsdyk, he spent a lot of last season in the press box but is a capable depth piece at a low price tag which helped him get protected from Seattle.
Three Years Remaining
Mantha was a bit of a surprising acquisition at the trade deadline with Washington paying a fairly high price to get him from Detroit (and clear out the rest of Richard Panik’s contract). He made a good first impression but has been inconsistent for most of his career. He will need to improve on that front if he wants a shot at a bigger contract in free agency. When it comes to Wilson, his price tag looked excessive early on but with the way the market for power forwards has been (in part because of this deal), it holds up better now, especially since he’s frequently deployed in the top six. But with his frequent near-misses with the Department of Player Safety, there will always be some risk when it comes to him potentially crossing the line and landing a hefty suspension that wouldn’t allow the Capitals to bring up a replacement with how tight they are to the Upper Limit.
While the awkward silence from the New York Islanders, who are presumed to have unannounced deals in place with a number of free agents, has drawn headlines this summer, it is the inactivity from the Washington Capitals that should perhaps be gaining more attention. It seems that the oddsmakers have taken notice, even if the national media have not. The current odds from BetMGM, adjusted following the Expansion Draft, NHL Draft, and free agency rush, have the Capitals at 25-1 to win the Stanley Cup in 2021-22. While this may not seem so bad, as Washington is tied with reigning Cup finalist Montreal, they are also tied with the New York Rangers – for the fourth-best mark in the Metropolitan Division. While the Capitals are just outside the top ten league-wide in terms of championship expectations, they first need to make the playoffs to get there. The Carolina Hurricanes (14-1), Pittsburgh Penguins (18-1), and New York Islanders (20-1) top the division’s best bets, which implies that MGM believes that they will receive the automatic bids from the Metropolitan Division.
This isn’t unreasonable; this past season the ’Canes won the Central Division, the Penguins won the East Division, and the Isles advanced to league semifinals. Meanwhile, the Capitals were easily dispatched in the first round by the Boston Bruins. The real surprise, though maybe it shouldn’t be, is that MGM feels the Rangers have drawn even with the Capitals. New York is a young, up-and-coming team while the Capitals are an older team that has lost Brenden Dillon and Michael Raffl and is listening to offers for Evgeny Kuznetsov. Yet, many would still say there is a gap between the two clubs. The oddsmakers feel differently. With three bids from the division and two wild card spots, with four Atlantic Division teams holding better odds than Washington and the Canadiens holding even, it will not be easy this season for the Capitals to even reach the postseason out of the Eastern Conference, nevertheless take home another Stanley Cup. It doesn’t help that they have made no improvements this summer.
- Capitals prospect goaltender Chase Clark has made his college commitment. The 2021 sixth-round pick out of the NCDC’s Jersey Hitmen has signed on with Quinnipiac University, the Hitmen announced. Clark will join the Bobcats for the 2022-23 season after suiting up in the USHL this year. Clark will return to the Tri-City Storm this season, where he played three games last year, before heading off to college. While the NCDC is usually more of a feeder league for the USHL, NAHL, and prep school level rather than a direct source of NHL talent, Clark did enough this season with a .935 save percentage and 1.92 GAA to earn a flier from the Capitals late in the draft. He will be a long-term project for Washington, but developing at a strong program like Quinnipiac, Clark could turn out to be a solid prospect.
- The New Jersey Devils re-located their AHL affiliate from Binghamton to Utica and now coach Sergei Brylin will make the move as well. The Utica Comets have announced that Brylin will join head coach Kevin Dineen’s staff as an assistant, transitioning from his role as associate coach with the Binghamton Devils. Brylin, who played exclusively with the Devils in his 13-year NHL career, has been with the organization as a minor league coach since 2012, joining the former Albany Devils immediately after retiring from playing, then in the KHL. The 47-year-old is likely in line for a promotion to AHL head coach or NHL assistant coach the next time a spot opens up.
The NHL free agent market may seem like it slowing down, but the list of unsigned UFA’s remains impressive and there are still plenty of RFA’s in need of new deals as well. With only so many roster spots to go around, there will continue to be frequent minor moves made as NHL hopefuls shift their sights to the AHL and Europe. Keep up with those transactions right here:
- Defenseman Ashton Sautner is back with the Vancouver Canucks, sort of. The 27-year-old is staying in the organization, signing one-year deal with Vancouver’s new AHL affiliate, the Abbotsford Canucks. Sautner has been with the organization his whole career, initially signing as an undrafted free agent in 2015. While he has played 23 NHL games in his career, Sautner has not done enough at either level to show that he has the upside to be a regular at the top level. That doesn’t mean that he won’t one day get back on an NHL contract, but for the coming season he will stick with Abbotsford as a veteran leader in their inaugural season.
- Another player heading from Vancouver to Abbotsford is forward Tristen Nielsen, except this signing comes from the WHL’s Vancouver Giants. The Giants’ leading goal scorer this past season, Neilsen has signed a two-year deal, Abbotsford announced. The junior product is just 21 and has shown recent signs of offensive growth. The Canucks hope that a short-term minor league investment will turn into an NHL prospect down the road.
- Completing the Abbotsford trifecta is forward Jarid Lukosevicius, who the team announced has signed a one-year contract. Lukosevicious joins the Canucks after spending the past two seasons with the Grand Rapids Griffins to begin his pro career. A college standout at the University of Denver, Lukosevicius is a hard-working, two-way forward who is still looking to establish a scoring touch in the pros.
- Once considered an up-and-coming NHL goalie prospect, Ryan Bednard will spend this season on an AHL deal as he tries to get his career back on track. The Hershey Bears have announced a one-year pact with the 24-year-old netminder. A seventh-round flier of the Florida Panthers in 2015, Bednard left college early after posting stunning numbers at Bowling Green State University. He entered the pros with high expectations in 2019, but immediately ran into trouble in the AHL. Two years later, Bednard has mostly played in the ECHL in his young pro career with good-not-great numbers. While he has shown improvement, it wasn’t enough for Florida to extend him a qualifying offer this summer. He joins the Washington Capitals organization looking for a fresh start.
- A highly-regard draft pick and the centerpiece of the Jeff Skinner trade return, much was expected of Cliff Pu’s pro career. After three abysmal seasons split between the AHL and ECHL, it doesn’t seem like that will come to fruition for Pu. After playing for five different teams over three years with results at any level, Pu will make the jump to Europe next season in search of a new opportunity. The Vienna Capitals of the IceHL have announced a one-year deal with Pu, who despite his struggles will be an exciting addition for the team. Perhaps the 23-year-old can rediscover his scoring touch as a centerpiece player in Austria and work his way back to North America in the future.
After just one season in North America, Damien Riat is headed back to Switzerland. The Washington Capitals have loaned the winger to Lausanne HC for the 2021-22 campaign after he spent this year with the Hershey Bears. The release does specify that he will be eligible to return to North America at the end of his National League season, though it’s unclear really where his future in the Capitals organization lies.
Riat, 24, was a fourth-round pick of the Capitals back in 2016, but didn’t sign until 2020 when his draft rights were about to expire. The two-year entry-level contract he signed then covers the 2021-22 season, but Riat will be a restricted free agent next summer. The team can retain his rights with a qualifying offer, but one has to wonder if a permanent return to Switzerland is coming.
The young forward scored just three goals and nine points in 33 games for Hershey this year, joining them once the AHL got started. In the early part of the season he was playing for Geneve Servette in Switzerland, where he found much more success, tallying 18 points in 20 games. That National League success is nothing new for Riat, who has six seasons under his belt at the highest level back home.
We’ll have to wait and see if there is a path to the NHL for Riat and whether he returns at all after his overseas season is concluded, but he won’t be helping Hershey in the early part of the year.
The Washington Capitals have decided to go with a one-year deal for young goaltender Ilya Samsonov, signing him to a $2MM contract for 2021-22. The young goaltender had decided not to file for arbitration earlier this offseason, despite being eligible.
Samsonov, 24, has just 45 regular season games under his belt at the NHL level and is coming off a campaign that saw several interruptions. He ended up on the COVID list twice and was even benched along with teammate Evgeny Kuznetsov for disciplinary reasons. In 19 games, he posted a .902 save percentage, far from what was expected from him after his strong rookie season.
There’s still plenty of reason to believe in Samsonov’s upside, but the fact that Vitek Vanecek is back after an odd select-and-trade situation played out with the Seattle Kraken means that he may not be in line for the starting role. In fact, Vanecek outplayed Samsonov for most of this season, posting a .908 save percentage in 37 appearances. He was also the game 1 starter for the Capitals when the playoffs began, despite Samsonov technically coming off the COVID list in time.
After a Vanecek injury in game one and a heroic effort from veteran Craig Anderson in game two, Samsonov would take the net and lose three straight against the Boston Bruins to see the Capitals eliminated. There’s no doubt he has the talent to compete at the NHL level, but a short-term deal seemed prudent in this case to give him a chance to prove he can be a valuable (and reliable) piece for the Capitals.
There’s also the fact that Washington is operating on a tight budget, given how close they were to the cap before this signing. Buying out any additional years likely would have forced the cap hit higher, something they couldn’t really accommodate right now without making a different move. For $2MM, he can combine with Vanecek once again as one of the cheapest tandems in the league. He’ll also still be a restricted free agent at the deal’s expiry.
The Washington Capitals have added some minor league depth, signing free agent forward Michael Vecchione to a one-year, two-way contract. The deal will carry an NHL salary of $750K and an AHL salary of $195K.
In the spring of 2017, Vecchione was being chased by more than half the NHL following his 63-point senior season for Union College. He ended up signing with the Philadelphia Flyers and played two games for the team down the stretch, but has still not seen even a minute of NHL ice time since. Over the last four seasons, he’s been stuck in the minor leagues, posting strong—but not outstanding—numbers for the Lehigh Valley Phantoms, San Antonio Rampage and Colorado Eagles.
Now 28, it’s unlikely that Vecchione will ever be an impact player at the NHL level, but he’s certainly a nice minor league piece for the Hershey Bears. Washington has always tried to provide their AHL affiliate with veteran talent, and this year is no different. Vecchione should step directly into a leading role with the team, while also serving as some injury insurance for the Capitals.
Now that the Seattle Kraken have signed Philipp Grubauer in free agency, they are sending Vitek Vanecek back to the Washington Capitals. It was just a week-long vacation for the young netminder, who was claimed in the expansion draft and now sent back to Washington in exchange for a 2023 second-round pick.
This move will raise quite a few eyebrows, given the Kraken passed up the opportunity to select Brenden Dillon from Washington, only to see him flipped for two-second round picks on Monday. In fact, it’s one of those picks that Washington is using to reclaim Vanecek, sending Winnipeg’s 2023 selection.
At any rate, the Capitals have their tandem of Vanecek and Ilya Samsonov back intact and basically only lost a second-round pick in the expansion draft. The 25-year-old goaltender actually carries a cap hit of just $716K this season, less than the league minimum of $750K. That’s because of the three-year deal they signed him to back in 2019 before he’d ever even played at the NHL level. In 37 appearances this season, Vanecek posted a .908 save percentage, a 21-10-4 record and a 2.69 goals-against average. The Capitals would have been forced to look outside the organization if he hadn’t become available again, but they’ll now be able to go about an offseason as if nothing happened.
For Seattle, adding a second-round pick is important, even if it comes with some regrets. The big win here was signing Grubauer, who can anchor the franchise even if they go through a few growing pains in the early years. He and Chris Driedger will form the NHL tandem, while Joey Daccord is also still in the system.