How will the Capitals manage the tight salary cap?

Brian MacLellan

With a flat salary cap, some expiring contracts and the Seattle expansion draft, this is going to be a busy offseason for the Capitals. To get you ready, Capitals writers Andrew Gillis and JJ Regan are breaking down the biggest offseason questions with their thoughts.

Today's question: How will the Capitals manage the tight salary cap?

Andrew: I think the Capitals work around the edges, and that starts with the expansion draft. 

The best-case scenario for the Capitals is that a defenseman with a significant salary is taken (like Brenden Dillon) and then you work from there. I don’t think any significant changes are coming to the Capitals like an Evgeny Kuznetsov trade or T.J. Oshie expansion draft exposure. I think they’re going to do their best to see what they can do with the nucleus they’ve got and move from there. 

If the Capitals spend ~$13 million on Alex Ovechkin and Ilya Samsonov, they’ll be ~$5.1 million over the cap heading into next season. I think it’s possible a “big move” could be the departure of Dillon or Justin Schultz, clearing about $4 million in cap space. 

Then, another guy I look at that could be in trouble as well is Carl Hagelin. While he was mighty useful on the fourth line, $2.75 million is a hefty cost for a left winger that’s fourth on the depth chart. 

Whomever the Kraken select I think plays a big part in the Capitals’ offseason, which could present serious issues if a player like Connor Sheary ($1.5 million) is selected.


JJ: General manager Brian MacLellan is going to have to do his homework here and find out what the market is. I agree with Andrew that a guy like Carl Hagelin would make a normal year, but I disagree with him that it makes sense this year. I just don't think there are going to be many teams lining up for a 32-year-old player with two years left and a $2.75 million cap hit given the flat salary cap. We saw how much it cost the Caps to dump Richard Panik's contract off the books and he's two years younger than Hagelin with the same cap hit. The asking price to get rid of bottom-six players with high cap hits is going to be astronomical.

The first place the Caps should look is left defense. With Dmitry Orlov and Brenden Dillon under contract with Michal Kempny returning from LTIR and Martin Fehervary and Alex Alexeyev vying for a spot, there's an obvious surplus at the position.

But moving a guy like Orlov or Dillon still won't be enough and that's one reason why I see the team at least considering moving on from Evgeny Kuznetsov or allowing T.J. Oshie to go in the expansion draft.

You have to clear salary and you have to shake up a team that has lost in the first round of the playoffs for three straight seasons. Seeing Dillon go to Seattle and trading away Hagelin for an arm and a leg just does not get it done.

MacLellan will have to figure out the trade market and what Seattle's interest is and go from there. Which defensemen could net the team a strong return in a trade? Is there a market for Kuznetsov? Who is Seattle really interested in?

The two things the Caps must do to manage the cap is move a left defensemen, either by the expansion draft or via trade, and make sure Seattle takes a player with a significant cap hit.