On the first day of free agency, the Capitals addressed two significant needs by signing goalie Henrik Lundqvist and right defenseman Justin Schultz. The problem is, can they really afford it? While both moves were certainly needed, the issue is that both signings took up most of what little cap space the team had left and now general manager Brian MacLellan will most likely be forced to move salary via trade in order to make sure the team can fill out its roster and stay under the salary cap.
Let's break down the team's salary cap. All of these calculations are coming from CapFriendly's Armchair-GM tool.
Heading into Friday, the Capitals had 17 NHL players under contract. Taking into account player cap hits, the team's $419,749 overage penalty and $25,000 of Pheonix Copley's contract (only $1.075 million of a player's cap hit can be buried in the minors meaning the remaining hit still counts towards the team's salary cap), Washington had a little over $6 million in cap space coming into Friday. Lundqvist's deal has a cap hit of $1.5 million and Schultz's deal has a cap hit of $4 million, adding two players and $5.5 million.
Now let's take this one step further and look at the anticipated roster moves for next season. Michal Kempny is going to go on LTIR which will allow the team to go over the cap. Martin Fehervary and Daniel Sprong are also expected to be added to the NHL roster next season. So, if we take that into account, here is where the Caps' roster currently stands (broken up into lines as it is easier to digest than just a list of names):
Alex Ovechkin - Evgeny Kuznetsov - Tom Wilson Jakub Vrana - Nicklas Backstrom - T.J. Oshie Carl Hagelin - Lars Eller - Daniel Sprong Richard Panik - Nic Dowd - Garnet Hathaway
Brenden Dillon - John Carlson Dmitry Orlov - Justin Schultz Martin Fehervary - Nick Jensen
Ilya Samsonov Henrik Lundqvist
LTIR: Michal Kempny
That's 20 players on the active roster and leaves Washington with $1,558,456 worth of cap space. But this is not a complete roster. The team still needs to re-sign restricted free agent Jonas Siegenthaler and it still needs another depth forward.
The minimum number of players a team can carry on its active roster is 20 (18 skaters and two goalies). A lineup for a game is 20 players so 20 provides zero depth players in case of injury, illness or if a coach just wants to change the lineup. In most cases you see teams carry one extra forward and one extra defenseman for a total of 22 players. The Caps don't have enough money for both Siegenthaler and a forward.
Siegenthaler is coming off his entry-level deal and certainly won't break the bank, but he should come in somewhere in the $1.1 to 1.2 million range. That will give the team seven defensemen, but not enough cap space for a 13th forward even at a league minimum of contract of $700,000.
Granted, there's no rule that says the Caps have to have an extra forward. They don't, but it's risky and, to put it bluntly, foolish not to. For all of you saying "Hershey's not that far away from Washington, what's the big deal?" Two things. First, neither the Caps nor the Bears play only in Washington and Hershey. They both travel and you don't want for the Caps to be in Minnesota or for Hershey to be in Toronto when you realize you need to recall a player. Second, you have to account for players getting sick or injured the day of a game or situations in which a player is a game-time decision and may not know in the morning if they will be ready to go in time for the game. If that happens and the Caps have only 12 forwards on the roster, congratulations, you are playing down a man that night.
The bottom line is that the Caps still need to re-sign Siegenthaler and add another forward to fill out the roster, but there's not enough cap room to do both. The team will have to free up cap space and that most likely will mean a trade.
The thing to keep in mind when you start scrolling through players trying to pick out the most likely candidates is that whatever you lose, you also have to get back. What I mean by that is if you trade away a player like Richard Panik, for example, you then have to add a replacement for Panik and a 13th forward. If you trade a player like Dmitry Orlov, you have to replace Orlov and get a 13th forward. And if you believe a player like Siegenthaler or Fehervary can step into a second-pair role, OK, but you still then have to add another defenseman to give the team seven in addition to finding a 13th forward.
As free agency continues, Washington's top priority now is to free up salary because it's the only way for the team to fill out its roster.