Capitals

Capitals

The Capitals went over the NHL’s $81.5 million salary cap earlier this week. Friday night they just kept spending.


Washington signed forward Chandler Stephenson to a one-year contract worth $1.05 million. That avoids an arbitration hearing that was scheduled for on Aug. 1. That’s good because those can become contentious.


But Stephenson’s salary means the Capitals are now, according to the website CapFriendly.com, which broke the news Friday night, about $1.364 million over the cap. That’s fine for now. Teams can exceed the salary cap by 10 percent up until the end of training camp. But they will have to get below it by Oct. 2. There’s no other choice.  
 
The roster is full now. Washington has 14 forwards, seven defensemen and two goalies. It’s still unclear if Stephenson will be part of that mix. Maybe a trade is coming – though it’s hard to find an identifiable candidate who isn’t a key player or a free agent the Capitals just signed (Richard Panik, Garnet Hathaway, Brendan Leipsic). 
 
Stephenson has primarily been a fourth-line winger during his career. He was used heavily on the penalty kill the past two seasons. He has some skill, and definitely some speed, but 11 points in 64 games (five goals, six assists) and frustrating inconsistency often left the coaching staff turning to other options. The Hathaway and Leipsic signings clearly showed Washington’s front office wanted to upgrade the fourth line. 
 
That doesn’t mean Stephenson or fellow fourth liner Travis Boyd can’t compete for a job. But the cap constraints mean someone is going to be left out barring a trade. Just a few days earlier, Djoos went through with his arbitration hearing and earned a one-year contract worth $1.25 million. 
 
Remember, Stephenson was a nice contributor during the Stanley Cup title run in 2018 as a rookie. He had two goals and five assists in 24 playoff games. But it’s fair to say he didn’t build on that in his second season. 
 
The Capitals can go in several different directions before the Oct. 2 roster deadline. But now just cutting Stephenson or Boyd ($800,000) won’t be enough. They could save $175,000 million by having top goalie prospect Ilya Samsonov take over for backup goalie Phoenix Copley ($1.1 million). But ideally you’d want Samsonov developing his game at AHL Hershey. It’s not clear if he’s even ready for NHL duty.    
 
Given that Washington’s scoring depth took a hit by trading Andre Burakovsky and simply replacing free agent Brett Connolly with Panik, it’s hard to imagine a trade of any top-nine forward. Moving any of the top five defensemen seems unlikely, too, especially on the left side where depth is in shorter supply. 
 
There are going to be promising recent high draft picks on defense at AHL Hershey (Lucas Johansen, 21, Alexander Alexeyev, 19, Martin Fehervary, 19), but none has played in an NHL game yet. They, too, need to prove themselves. 
 
Trading Djoos for non-roster assets and employing Tyler Lewington, 24, in that No. 7 depth defenseman role would save $575,000. Lewington would make $675,000 with the Capitals and at least played in two NHL games last season. Combine that move with keeping just 13 forwards would slide Washington under the cap. 
 
But for now, the best bet is let all of these players, and a few more, compete for the final roster spots in what should be a competitive training camp. If someone is injured enough to go on long-term injured reserve, that could solve the problem. If a cheaper player steals a job that would ease the crunch, too. The Capitals have decisions to make, but time to make them. Now, at least, Stephenson will apparently be in that mix again.

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