The Seattle expansion draft meant that every team in the NHL was going to lose a player for nothing (except Vegas), but it also provided an opportunity for teams to shed salary.
With a flat salary cap, many teams find themselves feeling the squeeze this offseason, including the Capitals. While no general manager likes to lose players for nothing, the expansion draft provided an opportunity to at least relieve some of that pressure.
It did not work out that way for Washington.
Seattle did the Caps no favors and selected goalie Vitek Vanecek, clearing a ground total of $716,667 off the books for next season.
This was essentially the worst-case scenario for general manager Brian MacLellan.
Looking at the Caps' roster, they now have 11 forwards and seven defensemen under contract for next season. I will add defenseman Martin Fehervary as an eighth which leaves Washington with $8.9 million worth of cap space and still having to sign Alex Ovechkin, an unrestricted free agent, and top goalie Ilya Samsonov, a restricted free agent.
That's not even enough cap space to fit Ovechkin's previous cap hit of $9.5 million, let alone the raise he is expected to get in his next contract or what Samsonov will need.
This is where losing Vanecek really hurts. The Caps did not have enough cap space to re-sign Ovechkin and Samsonov before the expansion draft. Now, the team has lost Vanecek and his minimal cap hit and will have to replace him for, most likely, a more expensive player. MacLellan could not even sign a player to a lower deal if he wanted to as the league's minimum salary rose this year to $750,000.
Somehow, the Caps lost a player in the expansion draft and will end up with less cap space as a result. Talk about cap gymnastics.
So what happens now?
On offense, the Caps have 11 forwards. Ovechkin will be No. 12 when he re-signs. The team will most likely then add a prospect such as Beck Malenstyn as a No. 13 to keep the price tag minimal.
In net, the Caps have to re-sign Samsonov and find a backup. That could mean promoting Pheonix Copley, re-signing Craig Anderson as a cheap option, or dipping into the free agent market.
Or they could find a goalie via trade. This is where things get interesting.
A trade to clear salary is inevitable at this point. The Caps have no choice and the position the team has a surplus is defense.
With the addition of Fehervary, a promising 2018 second-round draft who has been deemed ready for an NHL opportunity by MacLellan, the Caps have eight NHL defensemen under contract.
We should assume John Carlson is not going anywhere and neither are Fehervary or Trevor van Riemsdyk as both players have cap hits of less than $1 million. I would also assume Michal Kempny is untradeable for now after not playing at all in 2021 after a second major injury. That means the team is going to have to trade at least one of Dmitry Orlov ($5.1 million cap hit), Brenden Dillon ($3.9 million), Justin Schultz ($4 million) or Nick Jensen ($2.5 million) and, depending on what the final cap hits are for Ovechkin and Samsonov, that still may not even be enough.
That route makes the most sense for now. The situation could also warrant a bolder move. WIll MacLellan really trade Evgeny Kuznetsov and his $7.8 million cap hit? That has to be at least discussed at this point given the cap situation and Kuznetsov's uneven play the past two years. Is there another surprise player MacLellan could move to free up space?
It may be Seattle's day, but with Vanecek now gone it sure feels as if it's the Caps who are on the clock.