A Capitals team hoping to win the Stanley Cup in 2019-20, had a glaring hole on the roster at right defense. While John Carlson is one of the top defensemen in the NHL, Washington struggled to find a right defenseman to play behind him on the second pair. A top-four defenseman is a serious hole for a team with championship aspirations.
Let's look at what exactly the Caps need in a right defenseman and figure out how the team may try to address the position in the offseason.
What they need
The Caps had two right defensemen behind Carlson with Nick Jensen and Radko Gudas. Jensen struggled on the second pair to start the season, Gudas was promoted and struggled and the position was a hole in the lineup for pretty much the entire season. With Gudas as good as gone to free agency, the Caps need a right defenseman. Whether he needs to be a top-four or not depends on what the team feels about Jensen moving forward.
The Caps acquired Jensen in 2019 as a future replacement for Matt Niskanen in the top four. He struggled to adjust to the Caps' system and struggled in a top-four role to start 2019-20. Jensen finally started to play well by the end of the season, but was it good enough to earn the job going forward?
Free agent options
It certainly looks as if Alex Pietrangelo is headed to free agency, though his asking price is going to be far too high for Washington unless the team moves out a sizable amount of salary, too much to make this realistic. In addition, there are other right defensemen such as Tyson Barrie, Sami Vatanen, Justin Braun, Travis Hamonic and Dylan DeMelo who look poised for free agency.
As always, the issue with free agency is cost. Right defensemen are tough to come by and they will command high cap hits even with a flat salary cap.
The Minnesota Wild have three defensemen with no-movement clauses meaning they will be forced to protect all three in the expansion draft. Because of that, they can't protect Matt Dumba and he is now believed to be on the trading block. What the Wild really need, however, is a center and I would be stunned if there asking price was not either Evgeny Kuznetsov or Connor McMichael. That kind of trade would be a mistake.
Kris Letang, Tony DeAngelo, Brandon Montour and Adam Larsson are also on TSN's trade bait list. There is no chance Pittsburgh wants to see Letang in Washington, but the other players look like intriguing possibilities if the price is right.
The most likely scenario
With Gudas headed towards free agency, the Caps are going to bring in someone. The question is whether the team pursues someone to play on the second pair or the third.
The Caps just went through an entire season hoping Jensen would be a top-four defenseman and it proved to be a hole for the entire season. I have a hard time believing MacLellan is going to gamble on Jensen again because of a handful of decent games at the end of the season. The only reason why he would is if salary cap constraints force him to.
The big names like Pietrangelo and Dumba are not realistic, but players like Vatanen and DeMelo I think are very intriguing possibilities. Since this is an important position, I wonder if MacLellan will look to make a trade during the draft to address the position just to avoid the gamble of free agency.
The wild card
Not every team in the league has three left-shot defensemen and three right-shots. Sometimes they need left defensemen to play on the offside and European players tend to be better than that. Washington has several left defensemen and not enough on the right. If the team cannot address the need of right defense via trade or free agency, then I could see players like Jonas Siegenthaler or Martin Fehervary considered to play on the right.