One of the biggest items on the Capitals’ offseason to-do list is now finally done as the team signed winger Jakub Vrana to a two-year bridge deal worth $6.7 million. The deal carries with it a cap hit of $3.35 million per year.
Vrana enjoyed his best NHL season in 2018-19 with 24 goals, 23 assists and 47 points, all career-highs. He cemented himself as a top-six forward in the 2018 playoff run and did not relinquish that role in Todd Reirden’s first season as head coach.
Jakub Vrana set career highs last season in goals, assists and points. He became the sixth player in franchise history to record at least 23 goals at even strength in a single season before the age of 24 and the first since Alex Ovechkin (2008-09). pic.twitter.com/20lNaCpmG9— CapitalsPR (@CapitalsPR) July 16, 2019
With Vrana on the ice at five-on-five last season, the Capitals saw an increase in shot attempts around the left face off circle relative to the NHL average. Graphics provided by @IneffectiveMath at https://t.co/fxR3jUTvi5 pic.twitter.com/4Zf81QARuS— CapitalsPR (@CapitalsPR) July 16, 2019
“Jakub is a highly skilled player with a tremendous upside and is a big part of our future,” general manager Brian MacLellan in a statement released by the team. “We are pleased with his development the past two seasons and are looking forward for him to continue to develop and reach his full potential with our organization.”
The only disappointment for Vrana this season came in the playoffs when he was held to zero points in seven games. When asked at the team’s breakdown day if he was dealing with an injury, he said that he was, but would not confirm the nature or severity of the injury.
Though negotiations stretched into mid-July it was always a foregone conclusion that Vrana would return. He was a restricted free agent with no arbitration rights, meaning he had little bargaining power. Seeing Sebastian Aho receive a rare offer sheet raised the specter of a similar possibility for Vrana, but in the end, the deal got done and Washington will return what will likely be a key piece of its offense for years to come.
Though many would have liked to see the 23-year-old forward get locked up long-term given his skill and work ethic, a bridge deal was always likely. Signing an RFA long-term means buying UFA years which ups the value of the contract. Without much money under the cap, even if MacLellan wanted to get a long-term deal done the team simply did not have the cap room to do it.
Vrana will still be an RFA at the end of his new contract, but he will have arbitration rights at that point. His contract will also expire the same year as Alex Ovechkin’s and one year after Nicklas Backstrom and Braden Holtby’s. By then the future for all three within the organization should be determined, leaving MacLellan free to negotiate with Vrana without the possibility of major contracts for the team’s stars looming over him. When it comes time for Vrana to sign a new deal, MacLellan should have a better idea of how much money he has to work with for a future deal.
With Vrana now in the fold, the Caps currently have less than $1 million remaining in cap space with restricted free agents Christian Djoos and Chandler Stephenson still left to sign. Washington retained the rights of both players by issuing them qualifying offers and both have filed for arbitration.
Djoos would be the team’s seventh defenseman so it seems likely he will be on the roster at the start of the season. The future seems less clear for Stephenson. Teams are allowed to exceed the salary cap ceiling by a small amount until the start of the new season so it certainly seems as if we are headed for a fourth-line competition in training camp.
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