The Capitals are in Vancouver and focused on tonight’s NHL Draft, but there is plenty more left to do this summer.
On Thursday, general manager Brian MacLellan gave an update on his restricted and unrestricted free agents. We already gave an update on Andre Burakovsky’s uncertain status heading into tonight.
But that still leaves Jakub Vrana, who had a career-high 24 goals last year and should command a nice bridge deal to unrestricted free agency to say the least. At age 23 he has some time to go to get there. But with an expected spot on the top-six again next year there’s no reason to expect a drop off from Vrana.
Somewhere in the $4 million range would make sense. MacLellan has already had a few conversations with Vrana’s agent, J.P. Barry. Reading the tea leaves, that negotiation could carry on well into July.
“We're going to play it out here,” MacLellan said. “We're going to see where the cap is and see what our roster decisions are and make a decision with Jakub and his agent."
MacLellan was a little hesitant on Thursday in part because he won’t know until Saturday exactly what salary-cap number he’s working with. General managers expected it would be $83 million and instead it will land at $82 million or less, according to Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman.
For now, the Capitals have about $9.74 million in cap space to re-sign Vrana and add five other bottom-six forwards and a depth defenseman, according to the web site CapFriendly.com. That's a pretty tight squeeze.
Brett Connolly is not expected back with the Capitals, according to an NHL source. But MacLellan still publically left the door slightly open. Connolly has been a good player for Washington for three years after it took a chance on him in 2016 and then re-signed him to a two-year deal that is now expiring.
The shrinking cap doesn’t help matters and even the $83 million number likely forced Connolly’s departure anyway given interest around the league in his services.
"It could be. We're in conversations with his agent also,” MacLellan said. “It depends on how the league views him and what kind of contract offers and what kind of role he's going to be presented with. I think he's earned the right to listen to all the teams and to see where they fit with opportunity and financially. We're going to talk to him and see where that ends up for him and try and make a decision based on that."
That applies to defenseman Brooks Orpik and forward Devante Smith-Pelly, too. MacLellan again left the door open. He said he’s spoken to the agents for both players. It’s unlikely either player returns, however, and Orpik still has to decide if he wants to play another season at all at age 39.
“We’re going to wait until the interview period here and continue to converse with them going forward, see what our other opportunities are and then try to make a good decision based on that,” MacLellan said.
Washington’s three other restricted free agents are forwards Chandler Stephenson and Dmitrij Jaskin and defenseman Christian Djoos. MacLellan would not 100 percent commit to making those players qualifying offers by the June 25 deadline. He again wanted to see the cap space available.
Trades this weekend could upend all of this as well. If any of those players are not tendered qualifying offers they become unrestricted free agents.
“We're in the same mode that we've been in for the last five years - try and have the best team we can put on the ice,” MacLellan said. “I think [Alex Ovechkin] and [Nicklas Backstrom] are still high-end quality players and we're trying to surround them with the best guys we can every year.”
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