We may not know yet who the Capitals are going to lose to the Seattle Kraken in Wednesday's expansion draft, but we do know who they are not going to lose. The protected list for every NHL team was released on Sunday including the Capitals:
Forwards: Nicklas Backstrom, Lars Eller, Evgeny Kuznetsov, Anthony Mantha, T.J. Oshie, Daniel Sprong, Tom Wilson
Defensemen: John Carlson, Dmitry Orlov, Trevor van Riemsdyk
Goalie: Ilya Samsonov
Here are the key takeaways from the Caps' protected list.
Trevor van Riemsdyk is the big surprise
Looking over the list, there really is only one big surprise and that is van Riemsdyk. He played in just 20 games as a depth defenseman last season so why was he protected over players like Brenden Dillon, Justin Schultz and Nick Jensen?
This could mean a lot of things and we ultimately don't know all the reasons for the move, but there is one reason that is undeniable: Money.
Van Riemsdyk was re-signed for two years at a cap hit of just $950,000. That's an attractive price tag for a decent right defenseman and clearly general manager Brian MacLellan thought that would appeal to Seattle.
The Capitals do not currently have enough cap space to re-sign both Alex Ovechkin, a unrestricted free agent, and goalie Ilya Samsonov, a restricted free agent. The team desperately needs to shed salary this offseason and the expansion draft is a key time for them to do that without having to give up any other assets. The salary of the player Seattle takes is wiped from the books. That means keeping a cheap right defenseman to backfill that potential roster opening suddenly became very important.
The Caps are fine with losing a big-name defenseman
Just as important as who the Caps chose to protect is who they didn't. With van Riemsdyk protected, that means that Dillon and Schultz are not.
Regardless of who MacLellan chose to protect, Washington was going to lose someone to Seattle. The fact that he chose a defenseman who played in 20 games last season over either Dillon and Schultz is a pretty clear sign that the Caps are OK with losing either player. That is purely a financial move.
Dillon's cap hit is $3.9 million while Schultz's is $4 million. Dropping either salary might hurt the roster, but it would also go a long way towards helping the team's cap situation. Losing the $950,000 van Riemsdyk, however, would not help at all in that area.
Ovechkin being exposed is not a surprise
Alex Ovechkin is not on the protected list and is now among the players available to Seattle in the expansion draft, but the Kraken won't take him. Ovechkin is a pending unrestricted free agent as 2021 was the final year of his contract. That means if Seattle takes him, he can leave as a free agent soon after. As a result, there was no reason to protect him.
Seattle now has exclusive negotiating rights with free agents up to the expansion draft. They should do their due diligence and give Ovechkin a call, but that's as far as it will go.
Here is the official list of Capitals players now available to Seattle:
Daniel Carr, Nic Dowd, Shane Gersich, Carl Hagelin, Garnet Hathaway, Axel Jonsson-Fjallby, Alex Ovechkin, Garrett Pilon, Brian Pinho, Michael Raffl, Mike Sgarbossa, Conor Sheary, Zdeno Chara, Brenden Dillon, Nick Jensen, Lucas Johansen, Michal Kempny, Paul LaDue, Cameron Schilling, Justin Schultz, Craig Anderson, Pheonix Copley, Zach Fucale, Vitek Vanecek
Sheary, Dillon, Jensen, Schultz and Vanecek are the five most likely candidates to be Seattle bound. It would be shocking if it is not one of those five players.
Oshie was one of the big question marks heading into this process. Considering Washington's cap situation and Oshie's contract with four years remaining and a $5.75 million cap hit, he seemed like a player the Caps may have chosen to leave exposed. Oshie was born in Washington state and Seattle's head coach, Dave Hakstol, was Oshie's college coach at North Dakota so there would most likely be interest.
But MacLellan chose to protect him so Oshie isn't going anywhere.
After scoring 22 goals and 21 assists in 53 games last season, perhaps it should not be a surprise that Oshie was protected. He is the heart and soul of the locker room and the Caps are still chasing one last Stanley Cup before the Ovechkin era truly comes to a close. Father Time, however, is undefeated and there will come a time in the near future when Oshie is no longer as effective a player.
Protecting Oshie will be a popular move among fans now and is a calculated move considering what he means to the team, but there is no denying it is still a gamble to hold onto a 34-year-old for another four years.
Why protect Kuznetsov?
There were a number of big-name players who were left exposed across the league with teams seemingly daring Seattle to take a big contract. Kuznetsov, however, was not among them. With all the rumors swirling about Kuznetsov's future with Washington, why not expose him and see if Seattle could take him off their hands?
There are two likely reasons. First, the Caps may have decided they are better off with Kuznetsov in the short-term considering they are still chasing a Cup. Kuznetsov, after all, had a Conn Smythe-worthy postseason in 2018 with 31 points in 24 games. Second, if the Caps actually are interested in trading Kuznetsov, then exposing him to Seattle would have completely torpedoed his trade value.
As good as Kuznetsov is, there is no guarantee Seattle would have been interested. You cannot expose a player in the expansion draft and declare to the league you are fine with losing that player for literally nothing and then turn around and expect teams to give you a decent return in a trade.
I don't think Kuznetsov being protected from Seattle necessarily means the Caps are going to keep him. It might. But it also might mean MacLellan still thinks he can get something for Kuznetsov in a trade.