As a team that spends to the cap and is chasing another Stanley Cup, there are sure to be rumors linking the Capitals to most big-name free agents. On Tuesday, the Minnesota Wild announced they would be buying out the remaining four years on the contracts of both forward Zach Parise and defenseman Ryan Suter.
In Wednesday's 31 Thoughts Podcast, Sportsnet's Elliotte Friedman listed the Caps among the possibilities for Suter's next team.
“I think Vegas, a lot of people think Colorado, I’ve had a few people think Washington, that those would be the kind of places that [Suter] could potentially end up," Friedman said.
Suter shoots left and is 36 years old, but played a top-four role for a good Minnesota team last season with 19 points in 56 games. After getting bought out, he is still due a sizable amount from the Wild so it is possible a team like the Caps could get him on a cheap deal as he chases a Cup.
But there are very few scenarios in which a Suter addition would actually be realistic.
The Caps currently have seven defensemen under contract for the 2021-22 season, including Michal Kempny, who missed the entire 2021 season with an injury.
Three of those seven defensemen are left defensemen: Kempny, Dmitry Orlov and Brenden Dillon. In addition, the Caps also have Martin Fehervary and Alex Alexeyev who are also left defensemen. It is not believed that Alexeyev is ready for a full-time NHL role yet, but Fehervary is. General manager Brian MacLellan said it himself.
"Martin Fehervary, I think, is ready," MacLellan said. "Alexeyev should be able to play games, I don't know that he's a full-time player yet."
That gives the Caps Orlov, Dillon, Kempny and Fehervary on the left with John Carlson, Justin Schultz, Nick Jensen and Trevor van Riemsdyk on the right. According to CapFriendly, the Caps have about $9.5 million in cap space which won't be enough to re-sign both Alex Ovechkin and RFA goalie Ilya Samsonov. That number also does not include Fehervary's $791,667 cap hit.
So, as of now, Washington has eight NHL defensemen on a roster that cannot afford to re-sign its own free agents.
The Seattle expansion draft could provide some cap relief depending on who is taken. But let's go through the scenarios. If the Kraken takes goalie Vitek Vanecek, that still leaves the Caps with eight defensemen plus the team will have to sign another goalie who will most likely be more expensive than Vanecek's $716,667 cap hit.
If Seattle takes a forward, that again leaves the Caps with eight defensemen. If a right defenseman is taken, the Caps will be down to seven with four on the left. Still no room for Suter, unless Washington decides to trade a left defenseman at that point which ... they might have to.
With Carlson and Schultz likely to be protected from the draft, that means Jensen ($2.5 million cap hit) or van Riemsdyk ($950,000) could be Seattle's possible picks. I'm not sure either has a big enough cap hit to provide the Caps with the kind of cap relief they need. That would again precipitate a trade. The only position with a surplus is at left defenseman and the only defensemen with trade value and significant cap hits are Orlov and Dillon.
A trade then would leave the team with three left defensemen, one of whom is a rookie in Fehervary and the other is Kempny who is coming off his second major injury in as many years (torn hamstring, torn Achilles tendon).
In that scenario, an addition makes sense. The same is true if Seattle picks a player like Dillon in the expansion draft. Again, that leaves Washington with three left defensemen, two of whom are question marks in terms of what they can provide next season.
Suter would not solve all of the team's problems. In fact, signing him would still give the team eight defensemen which is a luxury they cannot afford. Normally in those situations, the prospect pulls the short straw, but Fehervary already spent last season in Hershey after the addition of the 44-year-old Zdeno Chara.
Pushing Fehervary to the minors again this time for the 36-year-old Suter would look like an indictment of Fehervary's abilities. He needs to play. Instead, Suter's addition would likely mean moving a right defenseman via trade.
Watching the Caps last year, no one could have come to the conclusion that the team needed more players in their mid-30s. Having said that, Suter could be a cheap insurance policy who could possibly play on a second or third-pair role while making sure the team does not have to lean on both Fehervary and Kempny as everyday players.
The biggest challenge, of course, will be making the money work.