With the NHL draft on Oct. 6 and 7 and free agency starting Oct. 9, many of the biggest offseason questions surrounding the Capitals will soon be answered. For those who can't wait, however, let's project what the roster could look like for next season.
For the past week, I have identified the biggest holes in the Caps' lineup and analyzed how the team could look to plug each of those holes:
There are bound to be surprises, there always are, but let's put everything together and map out what the Caps lineup could look like for the 2020-21 season.
Alex Ovechkin - Evgeny Kuznetsov - Tom Wilson Jakub Vrana - Nicklas Backstrom - T.J. Oshie Carl Hagelin - Lars Eller - Daniel Sprong Richard Panik - Nic Dowd/Free agent center - Garnet Hathaway
Possible free agent targets: Erik Haula, Alex Galchenyuk, Trevor Lewis
There are no surprises in the top-six. In the third line, I inserted Sprong. A new contract with a cap hit of $725,000 will be very enticing given the team's cap situation. They really won't be able to splurge in the offseason and this is one area where I think they will go for the cheap option in Sprong as opposed to chasing goals in free agency.
There are a few reasons why I think the Caps will dip their toe into free agency for more center depth. First, that is an area general manager Brian MacLellan emphasizes. Second, the team's center depth was exposed in the playoffs when Backstrom was injured and the team had no options they trusted to plug into the lineup. Speaking of which, that is why I believe Travis Boyd's time in Washington is done. When Backstrom went down, that was Boyd's time to cement his spot on the roster and he could barely get on the ice, exposing the level of trust the coaches had in him. Add in the fact that he is a restricted free agent with arbitration rights and that may mean the final nail in the coffin for his tenure with the Caps. The salary cap constraints this year means that general managers will not want to deal with the uncertainty that comes with arbitration. As Boyd is not re-signed already, there's a good chance he could be moving on.
I don't think signing someone to be a 13th forward who will play only a handful of games makes a lot of sense for this team, nor does replacing Dowd. I think the team just needs options, more than it had last season and if they are going to add someone, I find it most likely MacLellan will add someone who can play center.
Brenden Dillon - John Carlson Dmitry Orlov OR Michal Kempny - Nick Jensen Jonas Siegenthaler - Free agent or trade Martin Fehervary
Possible free agent targets: Sami Vatanen, Dylan DeMelo, Chris Tanev, Travis Hamonic
The blue line is really hard to figure out.
Elliotte Friedman reported Wednesday that the team was trying to move money to re-sign Dillon. I have faith that MacLellan will get a deal done there and the top pair will be Dillon and Carlson.
If you re-sign Dillon, the team has to move one of its left defensemen. Since they also need to free up cap space, Orlov and Kempny are the most likely trade candidates. I went into the offseason assuming that Orlov would be traded if Dillon was re-signed, but I have seen two interviews with MacLellan this offseason in which he has, unprompted, specifically brought up and praised Orlov for his play so I don't know. The team would be selling really low on Kempny and would only clear up $2.5 million of cap space if they deal him. Orlov has a cap hit of $5.1 million, but MacLellan clearly likes what he brings to the table.
I fully expect Siegenthaler to re-sign and Fehervary to make the roster and cycle in and out of the lineup. The question is what to do on the right? Does MacLellan think Jensen can be a top-four defenseman? He played like it towards the end of the season, but that's still a big gamble considering how long it took him to get there and how little we have seen him do it. Was the end of the season a sign that he has finally settled in or will he regress to the means?
There is very little chatter about the Caps kicking the tires on any right defensemen so maybe I am overthinking this one, but right defense was a glaring hole for the entire 2019-20 season. I have to think they are going to do something to address it, something more than hoping the European lefties (Siegenthaler and Fehervary) can play there on the bottom-pair. MacLellan could look to add a right defenseman in free agency or via trade in much the same way he did last season, trading Matt Niskanen for Radko Gudas.
Right defensemen are not cheap so a trade would be a way to control the cost of making an addition on that side of the blue line. You already know a player's cap hit, plus teams can retain salary.
Ilya Samsonov Free agent
Possible free agent targets: Craig Anderson, Jimmy Howard, Thomas Greiss, Cam Talbot, Brian Elliott, Mike Smith, Ryan Miller, Braden Holtby
Samsonov is the easy part as the No. 1, The hard part is figuring out who the second goalie will be. I don't buy that the team will promote Vitek Vanecek to be the backup. That tandem is just too inexperienced.
I included Holtby in the list of possible targets just because MacLellan did not shut the door completely and said that he would circle back with his agent in free agency, but it really does not make sense for him or the team for Holtby to come back.
The goalie market in free agency is loaded and that should help the Caps find a cheap, veteran option without having to resort to the unproven Vanecek as the backup.