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20 offseason Caps questions: Should the Caps look to the trade market for upgrades?

20 offseason Caps questions: Should the Caps look to the trade market for upgrades?

Another playoff disappointment—as well as a host of expiring player contracts—has left the Capitals with a ton of questions to answer this offseason. Over the next month, Jill Sorenson, JJ Regan and Tarik El-Bashir will take a close look at the 20 biggest issues facing the team as the business of hockey kicks into high gear.

The Caps have 17 players under contract for next season and are currently about $4.1 million under the $75 million salary cap ceiling, according to CapFriendly.com. Although that's enough room to flesh out the roster, it virtually assures an influx of rookies and other low-cost players in 2017-18, particularly on the blue line. Which brings us to today's question: With cap space tight and the first wave of free agency already over, should the Caps look to the trade market to find upgrades? 

Sorenson: At this point, I don’t want the Caps to go to the trade market to find a defenseman. I realize everyone will think I’m crazy for this thought because they have been left short on the blue line with Nate Schmidt being selected by Las Vegas, but I want to see some young blueliners get a chance before they look to fill what they think is a need right now. Teams don’t develop and grow without throwing young players into the fire. It’s been awhile since we’ve seen the Caps be forced to do that. John Carlson, Karl Alzner and Schmidt didn’t develop into the players they are because they were seasoned when they played their first NHL games. They worked their way into the lineup. Brooks Orpik was signed for his leadership and now he will be captain of the blueline along with Matt Niskanen. Taylor Chorney is perfectly capable of playing while the Caps find out which defensemen can make it in the NHL. I think it will be necessary for Caps fans to watch young players make mistakes, learn from them, and move on. The Capitals didn’t succeed in bringing a championship home in their two-year window and now it’s time to build and develop young talent. If they need to add a veteran during the season or at the deadline, do it then. But I want to see the Caps give their young guys a shot. And who knows what will happen, there’s another team in the  Metro who just won a Cup doing just that.

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El-Bashir: In a word, no. Completing a trade that would benefit this year's roster would likely involve moving another big piece, and I'm not sure filling one hole while potentially creating another is what this team needs right now. When I look at the roster as currently constructed, I see a forward lineup that's strong down the middle (Nicklas Backstrom, Evgeny Kuznetsov, Lars Eller and Jay Beagle) with a couple of high-end wings (Alex Ovechkin and T.J. Oshie) as well as a couple of youngsters that could blossom with more responsibility (Andre Burakovsky and Tom Wilson). The blue line is where my main concern lies. Matt Niskanen, Dmitry Orlov and John Carlson? No problem. But I suspect integrating a rookie (or perhaps two, depending on how things shake out) could put a lot of strain on a lineup that allowed the fewest goals per game (2.16) last season. In fact, it probably means the Caps will need both Braden Holtby and Philipp Grubauer to be as good, if not a tiny bit better, than they were last season to compensate for that increase in inexperience. I'm with Jill on this one. It's time to find out what Jakub Vrana, Christian Djoos, Madison Bowey, Nathan Walker and the other prospects who've been stuck in Hershey the past couple of years can do.

Regan: There are a few problems with the team looking to the trade market. First, everyone knows the Caps’ current cap situation and no one is going to do them any favors. That means they lose a bit of their leverage. Second, the Caps no longer are negotiating with the same depth they enjoyed last season. Washington doesn’t have forwards, defensemen, prospects or draft picks really to spare. If you dip into one of those assets, you are making the team weaker which defeats the purpose of the trade. The only real expendable piece the Caps have is Philipp Grubauer and the problem there, as we have seen, is that there is no market for goalies at this point. If there is a trade to be made in which the Caps can exchange Grubauer to upgrade the blue line then, by all means, pull the trigger. And for those of you pointing to the Pittsburgh Penguins as a reason why the Caps should keep both netminders for next season, that was true last year, but the Caps' are not in the same position of strength as they have been. They simply do not have enough depth on defense to scoff at the notion of trading Grubauer...if there was a market for him. Their best bet would be to wait for a team to suffer a goalie injury or somebody to underachieve. Once the phone calls start coming in, the Caps can name their price.

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Now the Islanders' coach, Barry Trotz explains why he left the Capitals

Now the Islanders' coach, Barry Trotz explains why he left the Capitals

DALLAS — Hours after being named head coach of the New York Islanders on Thursday, Barry Trotz made his first public comments since stepping down in Washington earlier in the week.

And, from the sounds of it, his departure was mostly a business decision.

“Yeah, obviously, I love the D.C. area,” he told reporters on a conference call. “But when it came to the business aspect, from my standpoint, I felt that it wasn’t really sincere [given] what we did together. So I decided that it was better to just move on.”

“I thank the fans,” he added. “I’m glad we could get it done. I said we could get it done in four years, and we did.”

Although the value of his contract with the Islanders has not been publicly disclosed, Hockey Night in Canada’s Elliotte Friedman reported that Trotz is set to earn “at least $4 million” per year—or more than twice what he was earning in Washington.

A source told NBC Sports Washington earlier this week that Trotz, who directed the Caps to their first Stanley Cup two weeks ago, sought $5 million per season for five seasons. The five-year term, that source said, was a non-starter as far as the Caps were concerned, given the relatively short shelf life of NHL coaches and the fact that Trotz had already been in Washington for four seasons.

When it became clear that the sides weren’t going to close the considerable gap between their positions, Trotz offered to step down and the resignation was accepted, making the 55-year-old a free agent.

When “I got the [counteroffer], I guess I knew it was time to go in a different direction,” he said.

In New York, Trotz replaces Doug Weight, who was fired earlier this month along with GM Garth Snow. Lou Lamoriello, a longtime NHL executive, took over for Snow and immediately started a search for a new head coach.

Once Trotz became available, it didn’t take Lamoriello to zero in on the NHL's fifth all-time winningest coach. The two met, exchanged ideas and quickly realized that they had found a good fit in one another. Trotz said he's already reached out to the Islanders' star captain, John Tavares, who could become the biggest prize on the free agent market on July 1. 

And, like that, Trotz now is the coach of a Metropolitan Division foe. The Caps and Isles will face off four times next season, beginning with a Nov. 26meeting in New York.

It’ll be weird, for sure. But professional sports is a business. And all sides involved in the Trotz saga were served a painful reminder of that this week.

Asked if he felt wanted in Washington, Trotz said: “Well, I’ll leave that up to the Caps to answer that. I think, absolutely. We just won a cup together and so I don't think that was an issue. I think it was more principle.”

In the end, Trotz wanted to be compensated like one of the top coaches in the game. And now he will, settling in behind big market coaches such as Toronto’s Mike Babcock ($6.25 million per year), Chicago’s Joel Quenneville ($6 million) and Montreal’s Claude Julien ($5 million).

“It’s good to be wanted,” he said. “It happened really quickly because you go from one emotion of winning the cup to the next emotion of leaving the team that you just won the Cup with, and you have to make some quick decisions. I know the timing of it—end of the season, the draft coming up, free agency [and] all that—there was some urgency on that. Both parties knew that, so we went to work at it and got it done.”

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The NHL salary cap numbers are in, what does it mean for the Caps?

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The NHL salary cap numbers are in, what does it mean for the Caps?

The NHL released the salary cap range for the 2018-19 season on Thursday. That sound you hear is the general managers frantically typing numbers into adding machines to figure out which of their players they can afford and which they are going to have to let walk.

The cap ceiling will rise from last year's $75 million all the way up to $79.5 million with the cap floor set at $58.8 million.

So what does this mean for the Capitals?

Here's a look at the team's pending free agents:

Unrestricted free agents: Jay Beagle, John Carlson, Alex Chiasson, Tyler Graovac, Jakub Jerabek, Michal Kempny, Anthony Peluso, Zach Sill, Wayne Simpson

Restricted free agents: Riley Barber, Madison Bowey, Travis Boyd, Adam Carlson, Philipp Grubauer, Tim McGauley, Liam O'Brien, Devante Smith-Pelly, Tom Wilson

We will not know exactly who will make the roster, so to project how much money the Caps will have to work with, let's assume Nathan Walker makes the team and Shane Gersich goes to the AHL. That will give the Caps a little less than $14.8 million with which to work.

Considering the team will need to use about half of that number if not more to re-sign Carlson, that's not a whole lot to work with.

Is $7 million enough to re-sign Beagle, Kempny, Bowey, Smith-Pelly and Wilson? Probably not and that does not even account for prospects who will try to compete for the NHL roster such as Barber and Boyd.

Here's what the cap ceiling tells us:

  • The team's entire offseason will depend on if the team can re-sign Carlson and for how much.
  • Carlson's cap hit last season was just under $4 million. A $4.5 million increase in the salary cap ceiling doesn't mean much when Carlson is going to get a raise of $3 million or more.
  • Grubauer will almost certainly be traded because he is an asset and because there won't be enough money for the team to commit $1.5 million or more to the backup goalie like they did last season.
  • If Carlson returns, fan favorite Beagle has almost certainly played his last game as a Cap. Everyone wants him back, but he would have to take a severe discount for the Caps to fit him and even then, he would be taking away a roster spot from a young prospect ready to make the jump to the NHL.

Free agency opens July 1.

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