A tight salary cap is going to force changes to the Capitals this offseason and one position that appears slated for an overhaul is left defense.
Dmitry Orlov, Brenden Dillon and Zdeno Chara were the three primary players on the left side of the blue line this season. In addition to them, Michal Kempny spent the season on long-term injured reserve with an Achilles injury, but should be back next season and remains under contract. Prospects Martin Fehervary and Alex Alexeyev also continue to improve and look poised to compete for an NHL spot.
In short, there are just too many options at one position for a team so tight against the cap.
Chara added leadership and stability on the blue line and his presence seemed to benefit Nick Jensen who had his best season in Washington playing with Chara.
But with the cap an issue, can the Caps really afford to re-sign a 44-year-old player?
"I think [Chara's] uncertain on what he wants to do," general manager Brian MacLellan said at the team's end-of-year availability. "I thought he played great for us, he was a great addition, I thought our third pair was solid all year with him and Jensen. I think we'll wait to talk to him to see what his plan is before we decide that."
The Caps are one of the oldest teams in the NHL and re-signing Chara would not help the team get any younger which is something MacLellan said was a goal in the offseason.
One way the team could get younger would be to add one of its prospects in Fehervary or Alexeyev to the blue line.
"Martin Fehervary, I think, is ready," MacLellan said. "Alexeyev should be able to play games, I don't know that he's a full-time player yet."
On Fehervary, MacLellan added, "I think Marty is ready. I think he's ready to be a full-time player. How high he plays in the lineup, will be up to him. I think we're counting on him to play right away and we'll make adjustments after that. I don't think we have to make any decisions right now. We'll have to make a decision for the expansion draft on who we'll expose on the D parts so part of that will factor into that decision."
If the Caps want to get Fehervary into the lineup, it is hard to see where exactly Chara would fit.
The expansion draft is an interesting wrinkle to the offseason that could cost the team one of its top two left defensemen.
If the Caps take the option of protecting seven forwards and three defensemen, it seems likely that John Carlson and Justin Schultz would be two of the three defensemen protected. That means either Orlov or Dillon will be left exposed. If that happens, either would be an attractive target for the Kraken to select.
IF the Caps lose one of their top left defensemen to Seattle, that would leave a potential defensive lineup of:
Orlov/Dillon - Carlson
Kempny - Schultz
Fehervary - Jensen
Trevor van Riemsdyk
If Seattle takes a different player, then suddenly the Caps may be forced into a position where trading from their surplus becomes necessary.
Would the blue line be better with both Orlov and Dillon back next season? Or course, but how does a team with no cap space add Kempny's $2.5 million cap hit back from LTIR plus Fehervary and how does coach Peter Laviolette balance a blue line with eight players? That's probably a luxury the team can't afford.