It is not hard to project who the Capitals’ seven defensemen for next season will be...if money were not an issue.
John Carlson, Michal Kempny, Nick Jensen, Dmitry Orlov, Radko Gudas, Jonas Siegenthaler and Christian Djoos are all signed for next season. In addition to those seven, prospects Alex Alexeyev and Martin Fehervary will make the jump to the AHL and former first-round draft pick Lucas Johansen is also looking for his first taste of NHL hockey after two years with the Hershey Bears.
In terms of defenseman, there is no shortage of options for the Caps. But one defenseman who may not be getting talked about enough for his chances of making the NHL roster this year is Tyler Lewington.
Lewington, 24, was a seventh-round draft pick by the Caps in 2013. He has two NHL games to his name, both of which came last season. He endeared himself to Washington fans with his second game which came on Dec. 29, 2018. Not only did Lewington record his first NHL point in that game, he incredibly managed to pull off a Gordie Howe hat trick with a goal, an assist and a fight against the Ottawa Senators.
Obviously, it would be foolish to expect a player to replicate that kind of performance every night. So what type of player is Lewington, really?
Lewington is a hard-nosed, defensive defenseman who never hesitates to drop his gloves. He recorded seven fights in the AHL last season in addition to his fight with the Caps. Despite recording a goal and an assist in just his second NHL game, offense is not Lewington’s strong suit and he is a much more defensive player.
Lewington is a high-end AHL defenseman, but to me he projects to be a No. 7 in the NHL. He is not an everyday player and, in terms of talent, would not challenge any of the Caps’ seven defensemen for a roster spot.
So why is he someone worth remembering heading into training camp?
Because there is one big factor Lewington has going for him, more so than any player in the organization: He’s cheap.
You don’t need an expert to tell you Lewington is cheap and why that would be valuable to Washington, but it actually goes deeper than that.
With an NHL cap hit of only $675,000, that is lower than any player under contract with the Caps. In fact, there is only one player in the entire NHL whose contract carries a lower cap hit than Lewington's.
The Capitals are more than $1.3 million over the salary cap and they are going to have to find some way to get under the cap by Oct. 1 and to bank space throughout the season.
In terms of overall talent, the Caps have better options than Lewington. As the season approaches, there could even be unexpected players placed on waivers or maybe even another late buyout like we saw recently with Kevin Shattenkirk. Regardless of circumstances, however, there is no way to find an upgrade to Lewington in terms of price.
Not only is Lewington cheaper than anyone in the organization, there is no possible way for the team to bring in a cheaper defenseman. Lewington’s $675,000 is actually lower than the league-minimum salary for the 2019-20 season of $700,000. The team could sign a 95-year old man with no NHL experience who has never watched the sport of hockey before in his life and his cap hit would still be higher than Lewington’s.
Playing with a salary cap is not just about getting under the cap, it is about banking space throughout the season in order to gain more roster flexibility. Having Lewington on the roster would allow the team to bank more space than any other possible option.
If a defenseman gets injured and the Caps need someone to plug into the lineup for an extended amount of time, Lewington is not the answer. But do not dismiss his chances of making the roster out of camp or getting called up multiple times throughout the season. If the defense remains relatively healthy, having Lewington as the No. 7 makes a lot of cents. See what I did there?
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