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Capitals lineup projection: Johansson trade shuffles up the offensive lines

Capitals lineup projection: Johansson trade shuffles up the offensive lines

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:

Forward lines

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

Extra: Chandler Stephenson

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.

Defensive pairs

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.


Braden Holtby
Philipp Grubauer

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.

MORE CAPITALS: Kuznetsov among highest paid centers

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Who will the Caps' backup goalie be next season?


Who will the Caps' backup goalie be next season?

Very few teams have the luxury of having a backup goalie they can rely on for an extended period of time while the starter goes through a massive slump. The Capitals had that luxury in 2017-2018 thanks to Philipp Grubauer.

Not every team in the NHL has a dependable starter, let alone backup, so when a backup goalie goes 15-10-3 in a season with a 2.35 GAA and .923 save percentage, that is likely to catch the attention of general managers around the league.

The 2018-19 season will likely be a season of transition for the Capitals behind Braden Holtby. General manager Brian MacLellan expressed his willingness Wednesday to possibly trade backup goalie Philipp Grubauer this offseason. With the season he just had, he could potentially yield the Caps a solid return.

But, if Grubauer is indeed moved, that leaves the question of who will play backup for the Capitals this season?

The initial plan appears to be to promote Pheonix Copley from the AHL.

“Yeah, I think he's capable of it,” MacLellan said when asked if he saw Copley as an NHL backup. “Obviously, he's unproven. I think he's done what he could do at the American League level. Got through probably a little bit of a tough patch this year recovering from an injury, but I think he has potential to be that guy, yes.”

Copley, 26, played last season with the Caps’ AHL affiliate Hershey Bears. He had a tough season with a 2.91 GAA and .896 save percentage in 41 games.

As MacLellan alluded, Copley suffered a serious injury at the end of the previous season and it clearly affected his season. The year prior, Copley managed a 2.15 GAA and .931 with Hershey in 16 games. He was considered Washington’s No. 3 goalie this season and was recalled for the playoffs as an emergency backup behind Grubauer.

Copley’s career includes only two NHL games.

There is another internal candidate who some fans may be hoping to see next season. That of course, is 2015 first-round draft pick Ilya Samsonov.

Samsonov, 21, signed an entry-level contract with Washington in May and will make the jump from the KHL to North America next season.

But don’t expect to see Samsonov backing up Holtby to start the NHL season.

Samsonov will be adjusting to the North American game and the smaller North American rink. Because of that, MacLellan believes he will benefit from time in the AHL before making the jump to the NHL.

"I think he needs time in Hershey,” MacLellan said. “We'll start him in Hershey I would anticipate and see how he grows, see how he gets accustomed to the small rink and hopefully get some good coaching, get our guys in that work with him. It'll be up to him. I think he'll adapt fairly quickly given his skill set.”


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Devante Smith-Pelly is hopeful he has found a home with the Capitals

Devante Smith-Pelly is hopeful he has found a home with the Capitals

“I didn't think I'd be here a year ago,” Devante Smith-Pelly told the media Wednesday. “That's for sure.”

In 2017, Devante Smith-Pelly was a member of the New Jersey Devils and thought that’s where he would play the 2017-18 season. Instead, Smith-Pelly was bought out of the final year of his contract, something that he was not prepared for as he only received word of the team’s decision on the same day they made the move.

New Jersey’s loss turned out to be Washington’s gain as the Caps signed Smith-Pelly for one year and he proceeded to score seven goals during the Capitals’ postseason run to the Stanley Cup.

“Obviously, at the start of the year, not knowing exactly where I would be to at the parade on Constitution, it's crazy," Smith-Pelly said. "I haven't really sat down and taken it all in, but I wouldn't trade it for the world. I had an amazing time this year. Obviously, it's the best year of my life.”

Now as a restricted free agent, Smith-Pelly is hoping he has found a home in Washington.

Despite being only 26-years-old, Smith-Pelly has already had somewhat of a journeyman’s career. The Caps are the fifth team in which he has played for.

The issue for much of Smith-Pelly's career has been consistency.

The 2018 playoffs was not his first breakout performance. He scored five goals in just 12 playoff games for the Anaheim Ducks in 2014, but he failed to live up to that level of production again until this year’s postseason with Washington.

“I don't think I needed to prove anything,” Smith-Pelly said. “I knew what I could do, it's just me getting a chance to do it and that's it. I got a chance here and I guess it worked out.”

Expecting him to score seven goals every 24 games in the regular season is likely unrealistic, but the Caps don’t need him to do that. Smith-Pelly developed a role with the Caps being a bottom-six player, a role that he thrived in throughout the season.

“He's become a big part of the team,” general manager Brian MacLellan said. “He brings good energy, he's a good teammate, he's well-liked. You could tell the teammates really migrate towards him, they like him and then the crowd also likes him. They're chanting 'DSP' all the time so it's been fun to watch how he's got everybody to embrace him and his personality.”

Given when Smith-Pelly was able to do in the postseason, it is no surprise that the Caps would be interested in keeping him around. But at what cost?

Smith-Pelly was a bargain for Washington last season with a cap hit of only $650,000. He will be due a raise, but with John Carlson expected to get a monster contract, how much will general manager Brian MacLellan be willing to spend on a bottom-six winger like Smith-Pelly?

Despite the phenomenal postseason, Smith-Pelly had only seven goals and 16 points in the entire regular season. When it comes to a new contract, MacLellan will likely want to pay for that player while Smith-Pelly will no doubt look to be paid like the player who scored seven times in 24 playoff games.

As of Wednesday when he spoke with reporters, Smith-Pelly said he had not yet had any talks with the team about a new contract, but also noted that, as a restricted free agent, “there’s no real rush.”

The Caps own Smith-Pelly’s rights which helps their bargaining position. Smith-Pelly, however, is arbitration eligible and his postseason stats will undoubtedly bump his value when viewed by a neutral arbitrator.

But there's a good chance it may not get anywhere close to that point.

“On the ice and off the ice I feel like this is the best situation I've been in,” Smith-Pelly said. “Obviously, never know what's going to happen but I found a place and I want to be back.”