Capitals

Cap and roster implications of Caps' most likely Seattle targets

Capitals

The Capitals will know Wednesday officially what player they have lost to the Seattle Kraken. Here's one last breakdown of the most likely targets for Seattle, and what it will mean for Washington if they should lose that player.

Most likely targets

Brenden Dillon

Dillon has played in only 66 games with the Caps, but certainly seems to fit the physical style the team likes to play. Though he is only one year into a new four-year contract he signed with Washington, Dillon would be one of the more ideal draft candidates from the Caps' perspective.

Moving a cap hit of $3.9 million would certainly help the team's tight situation this offseason. The one issue with his move is it may necessitate bringing in another left defenseman. His departure would leave the team with Dmitry Orlov, Michal Kempny and, most likely, prospect Martin Fehervary as the team's top left D. Kempny did not play at all in the 2021 season and will be returning from the second major injury of his career. Fehervary, meanwhile, is 21 years old with six games of NHL experience making both players big question marks. And, as assistant coach Kevin McCarthy likes to stick with left shots playing the left side on the blue line, one of either Kempny or Fehervary would have to play in the top four.

So while losing a $3.9 million cap hit would be a benefit to Washington, having to replace Dillon in the lineup would negate some of that cap relief.

Nick Jensen

Though Jensen finally seems to have hit his stride in Washington, losing him would be one of the more minimal losses in terms of the roster. Trevor van Riemsdyk is the obvious replacement on the right side of the third defensive pair and he is already on the roster. I also think van Riemsdyk could step in with a relatively minimal drop-off from what Jensen provided. Assuming Fehervary makes the NHL team, losing Jensen would still leave the Caps with seven defensemen.

 

The one issue is would Jensen's $2.5 million cap be enough? I'm not so sure.

If the Caps would have to shed more salary to get below the salary cap after losing Jensen, then suddenly his loss does not seem quite as minimal.

Justin Schultz

Leaving Schultz exposed was the big surprise from the Caps' protected list and it reflects just how dire the team's cap situation is. Schultz played well in his first season in Washington, but the Caps would rather lose a genuine top-four right defenseman than van Riemsdyk who played in 20 games last season because van Riemsdyk's new cap hit is for only $950,000 as compared to Schultz's $4 million.

Presumably, if Schultz is taken, Jensen would move up to the second pair and van Riemsdyk to the third. The problem here is that would make the Caps' blue line weaker than last year's and leave the team with no cap room to really do anything about it.

Conor Sheary

After scoring 14 goals and 8 assists in his first season with the Caps, Sheary re-signed for two years and a cap hit of $1.5 million. His production as primarily a third-line forward and his low cap hit make him an attractive target for the Kraken.

This would be a bad loss. Sheary's cap hit is small enough that the Caps would get no real benefit out of losing him.

As of now, I would project a third line of Sheary, Lars Eller and Daniel Sprong. If you lose Sheary, I'm not sure who you plug in to replace him. Carl Hagelin, Nic Dowd and Garnet Hathaway all look set as fourth-line players  While it would almost certainly mean an everyday spot in the lineup for Sprong--which was overdue given his production--there is no obvious candidate to replace Sheary. Given the cap situation, it would probably have to be a prospect with a low cap hit.

Vitek Vanecek

This is the Caps' worst-case scenario. While the ceiling is higher for goalie Ilya Samsonov and I remain skeptical that Vanecek can be a No. 1 starter in the NHL, the key here is his cap hit of only $716,667. You are not going to get a goalie cheaper than that.

The team's cap situation is such that it currently cannot afford to re-sign both Alex Ovechkin and Samsonov, both of whom are in need of new contracts. If Seattle does take Vanecek, the Caps would have to replace him and there is practically zero chance his replacement would have a lower cap hit. Even if they promote Pheonix Copley, Copley's cap hit is $1.1 million.

 

So a team that already does not have enough cap room for its own pending free agents would have to spend even more cap room for a more expensive replacement for Vanecek. Unless the Caps could convince Craig Anderson to sign for another year at $700,000, this would make the team's cap situation go from bad to worse as the team searches the free agent market for a goalie.

Other notable names

Carl Hagelin, Nic Dowd and Garnet Hathaway

The Caps got good play out of their fourth line last season so why wouldn't Seattle take a look at these three? It might, but I don't see any of them being in any real danger.

Centers are valuable players and Dowd is coming off an 11-goal season. Hathaway, meanwhile, was one point behind Alex Ovechkin and T.J. Oshie for the team's points leader in the playoffs with three in five games. Still, given the players available to Seattle, I don't see the value in selecting fourth-line players either as roster players or trade chips.

Michal Kempny

Kempny was the savior of the defense in 2018 and the Caps do not win a Cup without his addition. Having said that, he is coming off his second major injury and did not play a single game in the 2021 season. There is a big question mark that will hang over Kempny's head for as long as it takes him to re-establish himself as a dominant player.

Even though Kempny was a top-pair player in Washington's Cup run, this seems like too big of a risk for the Kraken.