Capitals

How the Caps' offseason changed the team's outlook for the expansion draft

Capitals

The Capitals added some new faces to the roster for the 2020-21 season, but with an expansion draft looming, nothing the team does will not affect the outlook for who could be going to the Seattle Kraken in 2021.

Washington added four players of note in free agency: Justin Schultz, Trevor van Riemsdyk, Paul LaDue and Henrik Lundqvist. Only one of those players, Schultz, is signed beyond this season. The other three will all be unrestricted free agents meaning they have zero bearing on this discussion. Even if, for example, van Riemsdyk is amazing, Seattle won't take UFAs. A UFA can simply leave in free agency which will happen soon after the expansion draft making those picks useless for Seattle.

Theoretically, Seattle will be able to interview players before the expansion draft to gauge their interest before selecting (Vegas had this opportunity), but if you are a pending UFA why would Seattle waste a selection on you when they can select another player and then just sign you as a UFA during free agency? It makes no sense.

That means the only new player we really need to consider is Schultz.

In July, I wrote about the six most likely Caps players to be selected in the expansion draft. You should read the article, but here's the list:

6. Jonas Siegenthaler

5. Nick Jensen

4. Braden Holtby

3. Dmitry Orlov

2. Michal Kempny

1. T.J. Oshie

 

This list has changed drastically since the draft and free agency and you can take Holtby, Kempny and Jensen off. Holtby left in free agency, as expected. Meanwhile, Kempny suffered an Achilles injury that is very likely to keep him out the entire 2020-21 season. A player coming off his second major injury who did not play in 2020-21 is not exactly an enticing target.

As for Jensen, the Caps have eight defensemen on their roster, five of whom are right defensemen. One of those five is John Carlson while Schultz, van Riemsdyk and LaDue were all signed in the offseason. That leaves Jensen as the odd-man-out. If the Caps need to free cap space with a trade this offseason or early into the 2021 season, Jensen is the most likely candidate.

The Caps have two extra defensemen, no extra forwards, no cap room to sign an extra forward and five right defensemen with only one of whom it would make any sense to trade. It sure seems as if the roster is set up in anticipation of moving on from Jensen. I would take him off the expansion list just because I don't think he's with Washington by the time the 2020-21 season starts.

You may be asking yourself why Siegenthaler remains on the list as his current contract is only for one year and the reason is because he will be a restricted free agent. Even if he is not under contract, the Caps will retain his rights assuming he is issued a qualifying offer. This makes him a possible candidate.

So let's update our list:

5. Jonas Siegenthaler

Simple math tells me the Caps are going to leave a defenseman exposed that they don't want to. Each team will be able to protect eight total skaters and a goalie or seven forwards, three defensemen and a goalie. Most likely, Washington will choose the latter option in order to protect more players. Carlson will take one of those spots and I expect Brenden Dillon will take another after signing a four-year deal in October. I ultimately believe Siegenthaler will take the third spot, but I am not 100-percent which is why he is on this list.

Siegenthaler is only 23 and was the team's top penalty killer last season. He is a young player with top-four potential. He needs to show that this season, however, to avoid the Caps exposing him in order to keep him over a player like Dmitry Orlov who has already established himself.

4. Lars Eller

This is a longshot to me as I don't know how anyone could have watched the playoffs against the New York Islanders and how bad Washington was without Nicklas Backstrom and think this team can afford to get rid of a top-nine center. Having said that, the Caps have spent their first-round draft picks the past two years on centers with Connor McMichael and Hendrix Lapierre. Does that make Eller suddenly expendable?

3. Justin Schultz

Schultz is tricky. A top-four right defenseman is a valuable pick and, as we saw in the Vegas expansion draft, defensemen were a hot commodity. The better he plays this season, however, the more likely the Caps will consider protecting him. The worse he plays, the less likely Seattle will want him.

 

Considering how many quality defensemen the Caps have and with the ability to only protect three of them, Schultz could just end up getting exposed regardless of how he plays.

2. Dmitry Orlov

Heading into the offseason, it was my view that the Caps could keep either Orlov or Dillon, but not both. The Kempny injury changed that...for now, but not in the long-term. Orlov is a top-four defenseman who is 29 and will have an additional two years remaining on his contract when the expansion draft rolls around. He is a valuable asset that I would have thought could be traded this season before Kempny's injury. Now with Kempny out, the Caps will need Orlov this season, but what about beyond that? That depends on how well he plays this season. He is a valuable player who could get the team some value in a trade, but that may be overthinking in this situation.

The Caps are going to lose a quality player to Seattle. Does it make sense to willingly trade another just to avoid losing him for nothing? I'm not so sure which makes me think Orlov could be left exposed.

1. T.J. Oshie

As much as Washington's outlook may have changed overall, it actually hasn't changed the top candidate. Oshie will be 34 at the time of the expansion draft and will only be halfway through an eight-year contract that carries a cap hit of $5.75 million. A flat salary cap is going to hurt more and more as Oshie gets deeper into his 30s.

Oshie's cap hit would essentially be a non-factor for Seattle. He was also born in Washington state and lived there for several years before moving to Minnesota. And, for a franchise building a team from scratch, Oshie is exactly the kind of person Seattle will need; a natural leader and fan favorite.

Losing a player like Oshie who really is part of the heart and soul of the locker room would really sting, but Washington should take a long-term view of this. This is a free way to move a lot of cap dollars off the books before the contract really starts to hurt. The window is closing in Washington anyway and it won't do the team any good to have an aging veteran like Oshie with a contract that will grow increasingly harder to move.

Seattle would have to know that Oshie's production is not going to continue at its current pace (26 goals, 23 assists in 69 games), but unless that production completely falls off a cliff in 2020-21, Oshie makes a lot of sense for the Kraken.