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Capitals Mailbag Part 1: How does Washington get under the salary cap?

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Capitals Mailbag Part 1: How does Washington get under the salary cap?

It’s time for a new Capitals mailbag! Check out Part 1 below.

Have a Caps question you want to be answered in the next mailbag? Send it on Twitter using #CapsMailNBC or by email to CapitalsMailbag@gmail.com.

Please note, some questions have been edited for clarity.

Luka K. writes: It seems that because salary and a surplus of defensemen in the system that a Christian Djoos trade is near certain. Can you prepare the fanbase for what to expect in terms of prospects or draft picks? It probably won’t be an NHL player coming back because of the cap situation. Can we get a good forward prospect?

Trading Djoos is certainly on option, though I would not go so far as to say it was “near certain.” If we take Djoos’ cap hit off the books and assume the Caps will send Chandler Stephenson to the AHL (more on that later), that would leave Washington with less than $761,000 of cap space remaining. Tyler Lewington’s cap hit of $675,000 would fit so the team could recall him as a seventh in that scenario.

I ultimately do not think the Caps will go this route because the return for Djoos would be close to nothing.

Let’s consider. First, Djoos is coming off a bad year so that decreases his value. Second, Djoos has only two years of NHL experience, one of which he helped the team win the Stanley Cup and the other he struggled after returning from a significant injury. The bottom line is you do not know which Djoos is the real Djoos. That decreases his value.

Every general manager in the league knows Washington’s salary cap situation and that Brian MacLellan needs to shed salary. That decreases Djoos’ value. If the Caps do not get a deal done, they may be forced to put a player like Djoos on waivers in which case there is a chance an opposing general manager could claim him off waivers and get him for nothing instead of having to give up an asset in a trade. That decreases his value.

But...but...but...I like Djoos! He’s a good puck mover! Of course he’s better than last year! He had a bad injury!

Even if all that is true and an opposing general manager feels that way, it is not his job to go out and acquire Djoos. It is his job to acquire Djoos for as little as possible and he will use all those reasons above to drive the price down. We are probably talking about a late-round draft pick or maybe a middle-tier prospect, nothing more.

Phil M. writes: The Capitals need to find a way to get under the salary cap. It seems the new contracts for Chandler Stephenson and Christian Djoos pushed the Capitals over and they have only two solutions: Trade players or send players down. I think the Capitals elect the second and exchange Pheonix Copley’s salary for Vitek Vanecek’s salary as backup goalie and then send Stephenson to Hershey. That puts the Capitals just under the cap but can Vanecek handle the backup job and is Copley or Stephenson likely to be claimed on waivers?

First, let’s deal with Stephenson. The cap hit of Stephenson’s contract comes just under the maximum cap relief cutoff for players in the AHL. I explain this in more detail in a story I wrote for Monday. You can read it here. Basically, everything about Stephenson’s contract suggests he is going to start the season in Hershey barring a miraculous performance in training camp.

The idea of using Vanecek ($716,667 cap hit) instead of Copley ($1.1 million cap hit) is an idea that seems to be gaining steam.

For those wondering why Vanecek and not the future projected starter Ilya Samsonov, it is because Samsonov’s cap hit of $925,000 would still put Washington over the cap in this scenario.

Vanecek looked much closer to being a finished product last season than Samsonov and even earned an invite to the AHL All-Star Game. The one thing that gives me pause on this is that the past few years, Vanecek has looked horrible in training camp. He may just be the type of player who struggles in practice, but plays well in games as he looked fine in the preseason, but if you are a team with Stanley Cup aspirations, I could see a bad training camp make you think twice about going with Vanecek. The good news is that this would only have to be a temporary situation until the team banked enough cap space to get Copley back.

Vanecek’s ceiling to me looks like an NHL backup and he looked good enough last season that perhaps the team could give him that shot given the cap issues.

I have a hard time believing that Stephenson would be claimed off waivers. I just do not think he has shown enough for other teams to bother with a move like this. I am not so sure about Copley, however. There was a frenzy of backup goalie pick-ups off waivers before the season began last year that saw the Toronto Maple Leafs lose both Calvin Pickard and Curtis McElhinney. Not only did Copley win 16 games last season, he also is signed through the 2021-22 season meaning he fulfills a team’s requirement to expose one goalie with term in the expansion draft. That could be more attractive to teams than people anticipate.

The good news is that even if he is taken, Vanecek and Samsonov are both waiver exempt. If Vanecek struggles, he can be sent back down to the AHL once the team banks enough cap room to recall Samsonov. Vanecek’s contract also is through 2021-22 so it is not as if losing Copley would force Washington to go out and sign a random goalie just to expose to Seattle.

Brian writes: Given the depth we have at defenseman is there any chance that they would move say Dmitry Orlov for a forward prospect to help get under the salary cap so they wouldn’t have to do all the flim-flam waiver stuff instead?

All of the decisions the Caps are making right now are being done with the feeling that this team is a Stanley Cup contender. If you believe you are a Cup contender, you do not move a top-four defenseman just get under the cap.

MacLellan managed to trade Matt Niskanen away and arguably get better by trading for Radko Gudas. To dump Orlov’s contract before the season for a prospect and cap relief does not make the team any better in the present.

Yep, Alex Alexeyev and Martin Fehervary look great, but we have no idea what they will like in the NHL. Alexeyev has never stayed healthy for a full season in the WHL and is coming off a leg injury, Fehervary has never played a North American game. You don’t get rid of an established top-four player like Orlov if you think you can win the Cup for a gamble like that.

Thanks for all your questions! Part 2 of the mailbag will be coming on Thursday. If you have a question you want to be answered in the next mailbag, send it to CapitalsMailbag@gmail.com or use #CapsMailNBC on Twitter.

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The Capitals are not happy about Anders Lee's hit on Nicklas Backstrom

The Capitals are not happy about Anders Lee's hit on Nicklas Backstrom

John Carlson did not play at all in the round robin and finally returned to action on Wednesday in Game 1 against the New York Islanders. But just on his second shift Carlson, not someone known for fighting, dropped the gloves with Islanders captain Anders Lee. Why? Because Lee had just delivered a late hit to the chest to the unsuspecting Nicklas Backstrom and Carlson was not happy about it. Not one bit.

"It looked real dirty to me," Carlson said. "I think when a guy is kind of coming up and kind of looking back at the pass, I've heard it a lot over the years that they're trying to take that out of the game. More than anything, as a player that's been around, you kind of sense the impact. Nicky doesn't get hit very often, so that should tell you all you need to know. He's probably one of the most aware players in the league. That was my reaction to what happened."

The hit appeared to be to the chest of Backstrom, but the puck was long gone by that point so it was very clearly late. It also seemed to be made worse by the fact that Backstrom did not appear ready for the hit, perhaps because the puck was not close. An unprepared Backstrom was then dropped to the ice by the hit.

Backstrom played only 7:21 for the game and did not appear in the second or third period.

RELATED: BACKSTROM EXITS GAME 1

Carlson was not the only one who was upset following the game.

"It looked extremely late," T.J. Oshie said of the hit. "In the frame I saw, there wasn't even a puck, and it still looked late. It's hard seeing a leader and a player like Backy is not only for our team, but pretty good role model as far as in the NHL, go down like that on a late, cheap play. It's out of our hands."

Head coach Todd Reirden did not have an update after the game saying Backstrom was continued to be evaluated. But even if he did not have much to say on Backstrom's health, he had plenty to say about the hit itself.

“[Backstrom’s] continuing to get looked at," Reirden said. "Obviously, he couldn’t finish the game. It was a late hit on an unexpected player that was in a spot [where] he was extremely vulnerable. So those are some things we saw there. It’s as simple as that. Like I said, late hit, the player wasn’t expecting it and it’s predatory.”

Not surprisingly, the Islanders saw the hit differently.

"I tried to throw the breaks on a little bit there, but I caught him, the end result after that a penalty, a couple of fights."

"It was one of those plays if you come laterally, especially with congestion at the blue line and Anders was making a hockey play. Anders is a strong guy."

Perhaps the biggest difference of opinion between the two teams is what this means going forward. Clearly the Caps thought the hit was dirty and warrants supplementary discipline. The Islanders, however, think the matter is settled.

"It was settled and then the game continued on," Lee said.

"I think the hit was made, they responded, Wilson went after Lee, they fought and that's probably the end of it," Trotz said. "We'll see."

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Todd Reirden expects Lars Eller to be back for Capitals in Game 2 vs. Islanders

Todd Reirden expects Lars Eller to be back for Capitals in Game 2 vs. Islanders

Washington Capitals center Lars Eller is expected to be back in action for Game 2 against the New York Islanders, head coach Todd Reirden said following the Game 1 loss on Wednesday.

Eller did not play in the first game of Washington's Stanley Cup Playoffs run as he awaited clearance by the league after he re-entered the bubble on Sunday. Eller departed Toronto on August 5 for the birth of his second child, Alexander.

Before Eller can rejoin the team, he must test negative for the coronavirus four times over a four-day period

RELATED: HOLTBY'S ROUGH NIGHT AND MORE FROM GAME 1

Eller's return is something Washington will be happy to see, as the team is in desperate need of some help at the center position. Nicklas Backstrom left Wednesday's game with an injury and his status for Game 2 is still unknown. 

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