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How a flat cap could affect the Capitals' approach to the Seattle expansion draft

How a flat cap could affect the Capitals' approach to the Seattle expansion draft

The NHL salary cap is going to remain at $81.5 million for next two years at least. That is going to make life difficult for Capitals general manager Brian MacLellan. With the team already tight against the cap ceiling, he won't even get the annual relief of the cap rising. One way in which the team could find a modicum of relief, however, is through the 2021 expansion draft. Every team in the NHL will lose a player to Seattle which means taking a contract off the books. Given the team's cap situation, there is one player specifically to keep in mind when it comes to the expansion draft: T.J. Oshie.

For the expansion, each team will be able to protect eight skaters and a goalie or seven forwards, three defensemen and one goalie. It seems safe to assume Washington will choose the latter. Here are the forwards that will still be under contract after the 2020-21 season: Nicklas Backstrom, Nic Dowd, Lars Eller, Carl Hagelin, Garnet Hathaway, Evgeny Kuznetsov, Oshie, Richard Panik and Tom Wilson. The contracts for both Alex Ovechkin and Jakub Vrana expire at the end of the 2020-21 season, but both will almost certainly be re-signed so we can add them to the list.

Of the forwards the team would want to protect, the most obvious choices are Backstrom, Eller, Kuznetsov, Ovechkin, Vrana and Wilson. Most would assume that the seventh spot should go to Oshie, but should it?

As I wrote yesterday, one of the issues for Washington is that the team has several long-term deals on the books. For a team with little room under the cap, MacLellan had to offer longer-term deals instead of big money ones to remain competitive in the gree agent market. The risk is that it ties you to a player for longer, but even if a player is not living up to his contract, the percentage of his cap hit would decrease every year with a steadily rising salary cap. Well, now the cap is no longer rising and that means players on long deals, like Oshie, are not getting better as the players age.

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Here are a few things to keep in mind when it comes to Oshie. First, he 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. Obviously, the chances that Oshie would be living up to that cap hit when he was 37 or 38 were low when Oshie first signed the deal, but that's OK because with a steadily rising cap, the percentage would probably be low enough at that point that it would not be a significant issue. But now the salary cap is flat which means MacLellan is going to have to take a hard look at all of the team's long-term deals and project out what the team can expect from those players towards the end of their contracts.

Oshie is having a great season with 26 goals and 23 assists. He was on pace for 58 points which would have been his best in Washington. He is a leader on the team and a real boost to the locker room. No one could question his value to Washington now, but the question is what will his value be in the second half of his contract?

RELATED: WHY A FLAT SALARY CAP IS BAD NEWS FOR THE CAPS

Granted, Seattle knows all of this, but there are three reasons why Oshie would still be an attractive acquisition. First, Oshie's cap hit is essentially a non-factor for a team starting from scratch. The Caps have very little room to work with under the cap while Seattle has all of the room to work with. A cap hit of $5.75 million would hardly be a deterrent. Second, Oshie is actually from Washington state. While most fans remember Oshie taking the Cup to his hometown of Warroad, Minn., Oshie was born in Washington and lived there until moving to Minnesota in 2002. Third, when building a team, you need players like Oshie who are personable and charismatic. He is the life of the locker room and a natural leader. He would be Washington's native son, returning to lead the team in its inaugural season.

To me, it is not a stretch to think that if Oshie is indeed selected, he would be in the running to be Seattle's first captain. His departure would also provide some cap relief to a Washington team in need of the extra room. Losing Oshie would mean losing that spark in the locker room, however, and MacLellan will have to decide whether that is a fair trade-off.

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T.J. Oshie shows you don't always have to have a letter on your chest to be a leader

T.J. Oshie shows you don't always have to have a letter on your chest to be a leader

When T.J. Oshie took to the ice on Monday for the round robin game against the Tampa Bay Lightning, he did so with an "A" on his chest. With John Carlson out, his A went to Oshie. It was not a major talking point before the game and was mentioned only briefly afterward by head coach Todd Reirden. Oshie taking the A wasn't a major storyline not because no one cared, it was because no one needed Oshie to wear a letter to know he was a leader.

In the second period against the Tampa Bay, Oshie dropped the gloves with Tampa Bay forward Yanni Gourde in the second period while the Caps were down 2-0 and struggling to find any intensity in their game. Less than five minutes later, the game was tied at 2. It was the clear turning point of the game and helped the Caps earn a point in a game that looked like it was getting away from them.

"He has an A on his jersey without Carlson and clearly a leadership move right there and the results speak for themselves," head coach Todd Reirden said. "He does a tremendous job with our leadership group and that was another signal of the type of person he is, the character he has.”

The energy Oshie brings to a team is evident. You can watch his interviews, see his interactions with his family or even check out the butt tap. That type of energy is contagious and goes a long way towards loosening a team up and giving them confidence in key moments.

"He is a great teammate and everything he does inside the locker room on a daily basis that everyone doesn’t get to see," Nicklas Backstrom said, "He is always positive, comes in with a lot of energy."

He added, "[Oshie] brings everything to the table."

But it's not just about what he does off the ice that makes him a leader.

Oshie has fought before, but no one would label him a "fighter." It's not something he does not do often -- his last fight came back in May of 2018 against Pittsburgh Penguins defenseman Kris Letang -- but he did it when the team needed it on Monday and that's what makes Oshie a leader.

If the team needs a goal, Oshie scores. If the team is in a shootout, Oshie always goes. If the team needs a fight, he drops the gloves.

That fight against Letang? It came in the final minute of Game 4 in the second-round series against the Penguins. After that game, Washington would not lose to Pittsburgh again.

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When it comes to talking about the Caps as a contender, we can talk about the skill they have, the size, the speed, etc., but there's something else to consider: The leaders. The fact that the Caps can turn to someone like Oshie to wear the A when needed is a sign of the amount of leadership on the roster. And that's not even including guys like Braden Holtby, Lars Eller or Tom Wilson, a player many believe will be the next C after Ovechkin.

In terms of leaders, Washington is full of them.

And that's evident when a player like Oshie steps onto the ice wearing an A and no one notices. That's because he's always been a leader and it doesn't take wearing a letter for his teammates to recognize it.

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Lars Eller departs the bubble for birth of his second child

Lars Eller departs the bubble for birth of his second child

Capitals forward Lars Eller has left the NHL bubble in Toronto to be with his family for the birth of his second child, the team announced Wednesday. Eller had made it known he intended to do so before even arriving in Toronto so the news of his departure is no surprise.

Eller is actually not the first player to voluntarily leave the bubble for the birth of a child. That honor goes to Ivan Barbashev of the St. Louis Blues who departed on Tuesday.

Eller’s departure means he will miss Thursday’s game, Travis Boyd is expected to step into Eller’s position at third line center. Boyd has largely been an extra for much of the season in Washington and played in only 24 games, but still managed 10 points. Boyd also has experience playing the third-line center role in the playoffs as he did it in 2018 during the team’s Cup run. An injury to Nicklas Backstrom pushed Eller into the second line, which allowed Boyd to get into the lineup.

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Eller’s return will be complicated. It is not just a matter of rejoining the team, but also being able to re-enter the NHL’s bubble which will mean a period of quarantine and testing. That means that even upon returning to Toronto, he will not be available to join the team right away. Eller will almost certainly miss the team’s final round robin game as well against the Boston Bruins on Sunday.

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