With the future of Mike Green very much in question, Capitals general manager Brian MacLellan made another statement on Wednesday when he announced the signing of pending restricted free agent defenseman Nate Schmidt to a two-year, $1.625 million contract. Schmidt will earn a cap friendly $750,000 next season and $875,000 in 2016-17.
On Tuesday, MacLellan signed goaltender Philipp Grubauer, also a pending RFA, to a one-way, two-year contract worth $1.5 million. Just as Grubauer’s signing could signal the departure or demotion of veteran goaltender Justin Peters, Wednesday’s signing of Schmidt to a one-way contract – he will be paid an NHL salary whether he plays for the Capitals or the AHL Bears – could mean Green’s days as a Capital are numbered.
Green, who made $6.083 million last season in the final year of a three-year contract, is scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent on July 1 and the Caps will be hard-pressed to fit him under the salary cap.
Following the season MacLellan said the Caps could go into next season with Schmidt and Dmitry Orlov as their third defense pairing.
With the signings of Grubauer and Schmidt, the Caps’ payroll is at roughly $50 million, which means they will have about $21 million of cap space to sign restricted free agents Braden Holtby, Evgeny Kuznetsov and Marcus Johansson. Once Holtby, Kuznetsov and Johansson are signed the Capitals will have a better idea how much cap space will be available for unrestricted free agents such as Jay Beagle, Joel Ward, Eric Fehr and Green.
As of now, the Caps have just seven forwards, six defensemen and two goaltenders under NHL contracts. Among the other RFAs the Caps would like to re-sign are forwards Stanislav Galiev and Chris Brown and defenseman Cameron Schilling.
Schmidt, 23, recorded one goal and three assists in a career-high 39 games with the Capitals last season. In 68 career NHL games, Schmidt has registered 10 points (three goals, seven assists) and 16 penalty minutes.
Schmidt appeared in 19 games with Hershey (AHL) during the 2014-15 season, recording nine points (three goals, six assists). Schmidt has recorded 26 points (six goals, 20 assists) in 65 career games with the Bears.
Prior to turning pro, Schmidt spent the 2012-13 season with the University of Minnesota, registering 32 points (nine goals, 23 assists) in 40 games.