It was a busy weekend for the Capitals. On Saturday, the team watched free agents Kevin Shattenkirk, Karl Alzner and Justin Williams all sign with new teams. Then on Sunday, Evgeny Kuznetsov was re-signed to a monster eight-year deal and Marcus Johansson was traded to New Jersey soon after.
The free agent departures were all anticipated moves, but the Johansson trade will definitely shake things up from the last lineup projection.
Here’s the latest update as to what the Caps’ lines for next season may look like after a tumultuous weekend:
Alex Ovechkin – Evgeny Kuznetsov – T.J. Oshie
Andre Burakovsky – Nicklas Backstrom – Tom Wilson
Brett Connolly – Lars Eller – Jakub Vrana
Nathan Walker – Jay Beagle – Riley Barber
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Kuznetsov’s cap hit for the next eight years will be $7.8 million. As much as the team values Backstrom, that’s not a deal you give to a top center in waiting, especially as a restricted free agent. This is a signal the Caps see Kuznetsov as a top-line center now. If the team tries to spread out its talent more across the lines, that will namely mean moving Ovechkin from Backstrom. If Backstrom moves down to the second, then I see Ovechkin on the first to play with Kuznetsov.
Before the Johansson trade, it looked like the Caps had one too many top-nine forwards. Now after the trade, Washington could be in a position where they have to plug in not one, but two prospects onto their fourth line. That’s not ideal. There are other players who you could plug into the fourth line such as Connolly or Wilson, but it is hard to believe that either a Walker or Barber type player will walk into the NHL and take a top-nine role from anyone else on the roster.
The good news is that this allows the team to give an increased role to Wilson which is warranted after his performance in the postseason. The bad news is that a fourth line with two rookies is going to get victimized early and often. The Caps cannot hope to roll four lines as they like to do with this lineup. While re-signing restricted free agents Burakovsky and Philipp Grubauer has to be the priority for the little money this team has left to spend under the salary cap, don’t be surprised if general manager Brian MacLellan kicks the tires on a few bottom-six forwards as possibilities for the fourth line.
Dmitry Orlov – Matt Niskanen
Christian Djoos/Taylor Chorney – John Carlson
Brooks Orpik – Madison Bowey
The idea of a big trade to land a top-four defenseman seems to be fading with every passing day. Grubauer remains Washington’s biggest trade asset, but there is seemingly no market for goalies and the team is tight up against the salary cap. Plus, with players leaving for free agency and the Johansson trade, any more trades off the roster would seriously dip into the team’s depth. Washington may be forced to have both Bowey and Djoos on the roster for next season. This will lead to a healthy dose of playing time for Chorney in relief as the two prospects may not yet be ready for the grind of an 82-game NHL season.
The expansion draft showed there is no market for goalies right now and that market got even worse after free agency. A team like Winnipeg is not going to break the bank to pursue Grubauer after signing Steve Mason as a free agent. The best thing for the Caps to do now is to wait and hope someone gets desperate. That wait seems likely to extend into the season at this point.
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