While the Capitals have managed to make a number of impressive moves in the offseason from hiring Peter Laviolette as head coach, drafting a potential first-round steal in Hendrix Lapierre, to snagging Hendrik Lundqvist for cheap in free agency and having enough cap room to sign defensemen Justin Schultz and Trevor van Riemsdyk, the team looks much improved. But the news has not been all good as Michal Kempny, the defenseman whose addition was key to Washington's Stanley Cup run in 2018, injured his Achilles tendon.
“Unfortunately Kempny had an injury when he was training," general manager Brian MacLellan said. "Hurt his Achilles, you know had it fixed. Will probably be six-plus months before he can come back and play."
The team Twitter account said Kempny was expected to miss 6 to 8 months.
That news came prior to the draft and, just like that, Washington's offseason changed dramatically.
If Kempny remained healthy, the team would have most likely had to move one of their several left defensemen, or perhaps not re-sign Brenden Dillon. With Dillon and Kempny there is also Dmitry Orlov and Jonas Siegenthaler, plus prospects Martin Fehervary and Alex Alexeyev. Kempny's injury changes this not just because it means one less player on the left, but also because of the salary cap implications. The news of Dillon's new four-year, $15.6 million contract came soon after the news on Kempny.
As MacLellan confirmed, Kempny will go on long-term injured reserve (LTIR). CapFriendly has a great explainer on what LTIR is. While Kempny's cap hit does not come off the books, it is typically explained this way because LTIR allows for teams to go over the cap ceiling. Basically, it allows teams to get cap relief for an injured player, but not to bank the cap space thus making sure teams don't actually benefit from a player's injury.
To put it simply, with Washington's tight cap situation, trading a player from the left side of the defense seemed like a foregone conclusion in order to free up cap room, but Kempny's injury means the defense may be set on the left side after all.
What does it mean for the season? Most likely, you will not see Kempny play in the 2020-21 campaign. A six-month recovery would bring him into April. Based on the team's timetable, that's the best-case scenario. That would bring us to April which will likely be at the end of the regular season or close to it. At that point, there won't be much of a rush to bring back a player who will be coming off a second major injury and who was a healthy scratch for the final three games of the 2019-20 postseason. Plus, while Washington's salary cap remains influx and I fully expect some kind of a trade to happen to free up room for a depth forward, the team likely just will not have enough cap space to reactivate Kempny during the regular season. Certainly MacLellan showed he does not anticipate Kempny returning by going out and brining both Schultz and van Riemsdyk onto the blue line unless he has some sort of massive trade in mind.
Kempny is under contract through the 2021-22 season so the team will have to evaluate its options beyond the upcoming season, but fans should not expect a return in 2020-21 as he heels up from yet another unfortunate injury.
"What we can do is move on," MacLellan said, "And hopefully Kemps gets as healthy as possible as quick as possible.”