Change was coming to the Capitals this offseason, it was inevitable given the team's salary cap situation. Brenden Dillon ended up being the cap casualty as he was traded to the Winnipeg Jets and that leaves the Caps in a tough position. With few options on the left side of the defense, rookie Martin Fehervary may be the key to the Caps' entire blue line in the 2020-21 season.
Once Alex Ovechkin's cap hit was settled, general manager Brian MacLellan knew he needed to shed about $4 million of salary. Soon after, Dillon and his $3.9 million were shipped out.
It's a big blow.
You may not think so, as some fans have expressed after the trade. Dillon ranked third on the team in PIMs last season and fourth in minor penalties. His relative Corsi-for percentage has been negative his entire career. But Dillon was a top-four defenseman for Washington, generally given tough assignments and he was a great locker room guy.
With Dillon gone, the Caps' left defense options are limited. Dmitry Orlov was the team's best defenseman in the playoffs and has the top pair locked down. Behind him, however, it looks like Michal Kempny and Fehervary will be the team's other left defensemen.
Fehervary has only six games of NHL experience and has never been a full-time NHL player, but at the team's final media availability of the season, MacLellan specifically named Fehervary as a player ready to the roster next season. It's a good thing too because he looks like the best option behind Orlov to play on the second pair.
In 2018, Kempny was brought in at the trade deadline and eventually was plugged into the top pair alongside John Carlson. He was great and the Caps do not win the Stanley Cup that year without the Kempny trade. Kempny, however, missed the entire 2021 season and we just do not know what to expect from him going forward.
Kempny tore his hamstring in 2019 and ended up missing the postseason and the start of the 2019-20 season. When he did return, he hardly looked like the top-pair player the Caps had come to rely on him to be. He was honest about his struggles if you spoke with him and it soon became clear that he had returned too soon from what was a serious injury. When COVID forced the NHL to pause the season, Kempny had several more months to recover and train. Expectations were high for him when the Caps returned for the 2021 postseason and, again, he struggled.
Kempny is not why the Caps lost to the New York Islanders in just five games in 2021, but he still did not look close to being the player he had been prior to the injury.
An Achilles injury forced Kempny to miss the entire 2021 season and he will now be returning from a second major injury. There is just no way to know what to expect from him this season.
The problem is that, with Dillon's departure, not only do Kempny and Fehervary look poised for everyday roles but one of them will have to play in the top four. Both players are a question mark, but Fehervary ultimately looks like the player the Caps need to step up and take command of that role, if not right away then at least by the postseason.
Fehervary is a prospect the Caps think very highly of. His style is more defensive which would pair well with a puck-moving offensive defenseman like Justin Schultz.
"Really smooth skater, good first pass and sound defensively," Zack Fisch, voice of the Hershey Bears, said of Fehervary. "Can kill penalties, he's a good shot-blocker, can clear the net-front."
Also worth noting, with Dillon and presumably Zdeno Chara both gone, the Caps have lost their two most physical defensemen. At 6-foot-2, 200 pounds, Fehervary also provides a big body that the Caps are now lacking on the blue line.
Barring any offseason trades or additional signings, the Caps are going to have to choose between Kempny or Fehervary to plug into a top-four role next season. It's not ideal to expect a 21-year-old rookie to be able to take on that role and it may take time for Fehervary to adjust to the NHL. But if the Caps do hope to make a run at the Cup this season, they will need Fehervary to entrench himself on the second pair in time for the playoffs or this could prove to be a major hole on the blue line.