In 2019, the writing was on the wall for Matt Niskanen. The Capitals needed to shed salary, he was coming off a down year and still had a cap hit of $5.75 million for another two years. While it is fair to quibble with the return -- Niskanen was traded to the Philadelphia Flyers for Radko Gudas -- it was not a surprise to see general manager Brian MacLellan move Niskanen in the offseason and a similar move may be needed in 2020.
Because of the coronavirus, the NHL salary cap will remain flat at $81.5 million. Washington was right up against the cap already, but now will have to find a way to navigate a flat cap while also improving the roster after a first-round exit. It's going to be very tight.
If the team were to consider a move to free up salary, however, it is not hard to pinpoint from what position MacLellan may look to move someone.
Dmitry Orlov and Michal Kempny are both under contract next season while Jonas Siegenthaler is a restricted free agent and there is no reason to think he won't be back. In addition, Brenden Dillon could -- and I would argue should -- be re-signed. What do all four of those players have in common? They are all left shots. Add in the fact that the Caps' top two defensive prospects -- Martin Fehervary and Alex Alexeyev -- are lefties and this looks like a clear area in which the Caps could afford to move someone.
On the right, the team has John Carlson and Nick Jensen. Radko Gudas was a righty, but he will most likely be gone as a free agent. That leaves four open spots in the lineup, but, considering how much of a need a right defenseman who can play the second pair was all season in 2019-20, that would seem like an area of need in the offseason. If they pick up another righty, that gives the team three lineup spots. Eventually, you just run out of spots for all the players.
While I do not think the team plans on Alexeyev making the NHL roster for 2020-21, I do think Fehervary will. So how do you fit Orlov, Kempny, Dillon, Siegenthaler and Fehervary all on the roster? You don't. Maybe you keep all seven defensemen, but that leaves no room for any additions or improvements and, judging by how the blue line looked in 2019-20, improvements are certainly needed.
While it is good to have depth at a position, carrying that many quality left defensemen is a luxury the team may not be able to afford with the flat salary cap. If Dillon walks in free agency, then the math changes and suddenly the left side of the blue line does not seem so crowded. If he re-signs, however, that is going to make someone else expendable. You also have to consider that re-signing Dillon will mean Dillon, Kempny, Orlov and Siegenthaler will all be eligible to be selected by Seattle in the expansion draft. Each team can protect three defensemen and Carlson is absolutely going to take one of those spots. Keeping so many left defensemen leaves the team at risk of losing one to the Kraken instead of a player like T.J. Oshie which would seem far more beneficial in the long-run.
If Dillon walks, then the Caps will have to look elsewhere to free up cap space. If MacLellan is able to re-sign Dillon, however, that will make someone on the left side of the blue line expendable.