With the Capitals getting healthier, a new roster competition is starting in Washington. That was evident on Saturday in Toronto as Brett Connolly was scratched in favor of Tyler Graovac.
Graovac played his first NHL game since Oct. 17 after being sidelined with an upper-body injury. His return puts the Caps roster at 23, the maximum allowed by the NHL. Defenseman Christian Djoos, however, was a full participant in Monday’s practice and is nearing a return. When he is ready to return to the lineup, the Caps will be forced to make a roster move in order to fit him in.
And let’s not forget about Andre Burakovsky who is on pace for a mid-December return and whose $3 million cap hit will put the team over the $75 million maximum cap hit.
In short, general manager Brian MacLellan has some tough decisions to make over the course of the next few weeks.
But Barry Trotz has his own idea of how to figure out who should stay and who should go: competition.
“To me, it's all about competition,” Trotz said Monday after practice, “And I wanted to put [Graovac] back in the competition and sometimes someone has to come out playing well or not. You have to make that decision. You have to make the decision for the group, not the individual. When it comes to who you're putting in and out of the lineup, it's all about the group.”
MORE CAPITALS: DID YOU LOVE THE ALEX LUEY STORY? SO DID BRYCE HARPER
At the beginning of the season, the Caps could afford the 23-player maximum but only because they sent Madison Bowey to Hershey. With his spot in the lineup likely secure, the return of Djoos and eventually Burakovsky will likely mean moving three players to Hershey in order to fit under the cap. According to Trotz, those players who remain on the roster are going to have to earn their spot just like they did out of training camp.
As for Connolly, he said Monday that he had not had a discussion with Trotz about why he had been scratched Saturday, and while he says he hopes to have that conversation soon, based on Trotz’s comments it is fair to believe Connolly may have to earn his place in much the same way he did last season.