Capitals general manager Brian MacLellan had a number in his head. It is the most important one for any NHL executive heading into the offseason: $83 million.
That was the expected salary cap for the 2019-20 season and – with some small margin for error – the amount MacLellan and his staff used to formulate their offseason plan. But it is June 20 and the number that was originally at $83 million could drop to as low as $81.5 million, according to Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman.
Given that Washington has some carryover for bonuses and overages from last season worth about $1.150 million, it could be working with a cap number as low as $80.35 million. That is not ideal for a team where every dollar could spell the difference between upgrading its middle-six forwards or adding a veteran fourth-line player.
The NHL is expected to come to an agreement with the NHL Players’ Association soon and let teams know the number by Saturday, the second day of the entry draft in Vancouver. That’s a few days later than normal, however, and forces GMs to make decisions during the draft regarding trades and picking prospects they otherwise might not.
"It's frustrating. We've been projecting using that 83 (million dollars) number for the last part of the year,” MacLellan told reporters in a conference call on Thursday. “At some point, we switched back to the 82.5 because there was some rumblings there, and now it seems to be going back a little further. I know it seems like it's not a large amount of dollars, but it does impact teams that are right at the number as far as salary.”
On an $82 million cap, the Capitals have about $9.7 million in room according to the great web site CapFriendly.com. But they need to sign restricted free agent Jakub Vrana and add four other bottom-six forwards and a depth defenseman. That is an extremely tight fit and might rule out some free agent options MacLellan had interest in.
The free-agent “interview” period begins Sunday when teams can talk to agents of pending free agents and gauge what their demands will be and if they are a fit when the market opens on July 1.
That, in turn, effects negotiations with Vrana and any other RFAs (Andre Burakovsky, Chandler Stephenson, Christian Djoos) that Washington might want to bring back. Burakovsky is likely to be traded at the draft this weekend, according to multiple NHL sources with knowledge of Washington’s thinking. A further budget crunch would seem to seal his fate.
MacLellan wouldn’t confirm that and even said “we like the player.” But Burakovsky is due a $3.25 million qualifying offer by Monday so the decision might have been made for them. If the cap is the worst-case scenario ($81.5 million) the Capitals are in a real bind. But they’d like to know for sure.
“When you see it go down to maybe 81.5, I think there's a pause on our part,” MacLellan said. “We want to see the number before we move forward because it's going to affect our roster decisions even on the bottom end - on fourth line and what we have to do going forward because the margins are that slim for us."
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