Capitals entering free agency with question marks


The Capitals have, for a brief moment, taken some of the intrigues away about what will happen when free agency opens Wednesday at noon

The intrigue of who, however, has grown considerably.

Washington traded goaltender Vitek Vanecek to the Devils at last week’s draft, then Monday, chose not to extend a qualifying offer to Ilya Samsonov. That left the team without any NHL goalies on the roster and a clear need entering free agency that figures to be filled in short order.

The popular free agents are well-known at this point, as Darcy Kuemper and Jack Campbell headline a class in net that has less viable starters than clubs that need goaltenders. The Capitals, though, figure to be strong contenders for at least one of those names. 

Considering the need for not just one, but two, netminders, that appears to be the No. 1 priority for the Capitals come Wednesday. Whatever comes next for the organization in the ensuing hours, days and weeks will be based on what goalies come in, and how much they come in for.

Should the Capitals swing and miss on a free agent, they’ll likely quickly turn to the trade market for a future starter. In that market, they'll likely be dealing with names such as Cam Talbot and Sergei Bobrovsky.


But after the decisions in net, questions will persist about what the team will, and can, do at forward and on defense. 

The salary cap will be an issue to monitor, as the two new NHL goalies for the Capitals will dictate just how much they have left to spend at other positions. But that aside, there are injury questions to take into account as well. 

Forwards Tom Wilson (ACL), Nicklas Backstrom (hip) and Carl Hagelin (eye) are all facing long-term injury recoveries. Their cap hits are $5.16 million, $9.2 million and $2.75 million, respectively. 

With Wilson and Backstrom unavailable to start the season, and Hagelin potentially unavailable, the Capitals will have a forward spot in the lineup to fill, and they'll need an extra forward, too. If recently re-signed defender Lucas Johansen is called up to the NHL, the Capitals will need just one defenseman addition. 

They do have in-house options at both spots, though, as Aliaksei Protas and Brett Leason figure to contend for NHL minutes next season. If the Capitals want to go young, that could be the way to do so.

Last year’s seventh defenseman, Matt Irwin, is an unrestricted free agent as well, and he could offer a known presence as Alexander Alexeyev recovers from shoulder surgery. 

Simply, the Capitals have a handful of needs to fill before the start of the regular season — some of them clearly bigger than others. 

And for time being, the offseason will start and end with who the two new goalies are, how much they make and how much room is leftover for the rest of the lineup.