Alex Ovechkin officially re-signed with the Capitals on Tuesday providing clarity for the team and its offseason goals. Though Ovechkin's return was never in doubt, knowing the exact salary-cap hit was critical for the team in order to determine how to approach the remainder of the offseason.
The Caps were very tight against the cap and did not even have enough cap space to fit Ovechkin's new $9.5 million cap hit until the team traded defenseman Brenden Dillon on Monday. With that trade and the Ovechkin deal now done, it allows general manager Brian MacLellan to look at the team's remaining cap room and determine what moves he needs to make.
WIth Ovechkin signed, the Caps now have 12 forwards and seven defensemen under contract including prospect Martin Fehervary who looks poised to make the roster this season. That leaves the team with a little over $3.34 million in cap space with which to work.
Ilya Samsonov is a restricted free agent and in need of a new contract. The team also needs a backup goalie to go with him and a 13th forward.
Will $3.43 million be enough? It is possible, but it will still be very tight.
If, for example, a prospect like Garrett Pilon or Beck Malenstyn, both of whom have a $750,000 cap hit, are promoted to the NHL as the 13th forward, that leaves just under $2.6 million left for two goalies. The team could also stick with the minimum of 12 forwards and go with 11 forwards and seven defensemen if needed as they did last year, but considering coach Peter Laviolette would not actually use the seventh defensemen in those situations having a spare forward would seem like a good idea.
The priority now needs to be the Samsonov deal. Not only is he the clear No. 1 going forward, but he is also arbitration-eligible. If he goes to arbitration, a neutral arbitrators' award has the potential to knock down the team's entire salary-cap house of cards. The sooner both sides can reach a deal, the better.
Another move to shed salary is also a distinct possibility. The Caps have their sights set on another Stanley Cup run, but have not improved on a roster that only led them to a first-round playoff exit last season. As it stands, the team has essentially the same forward roster, a defense that replaces Zdeno Chara and Dillon with Fehervary and Michal Kempny, and a goalie tandem missing Vitek Vanecek. If the Caps want to make any additional moves to improve the roster, they will need more cap space to do it.
After acquiring two second-round draft picks for Dillon, however, MacLellan has more assets with which to package a player to precipitate a potential salary-dump trade if that's the route he decides to go.
The Ovechkin contract is certainly not the final piece of the offseason puzzle, but it provides a lot more clarity as to where the team stands on the eve of free agency.