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Capitals' 'two-year plan' now reduced to just one

Capitals' 'two-year plan' now reduced to just one

Back in late February, in an informal sit-down with reporters, Capitals general manager Brian MacLellan said he believed the Caps had a “two-year window” to win the first Stanley Cup in franchise history.

“We’re going for it this year, we’re going for it next year and then after that we’re evaluating where we’re at,” MacLellan said. “We’re going to have some decisions to make as far as veteran players, and our young guys are going to be due for some pay raises.”

Year One, it is safe to assume, just blew through the curtains and onto the sidewalk below.

Which leads us to Year Two.

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For those of you who think sweeping changes are in store for the Capitals this offseason after failing to get past the second round of the playoffs, think again.

As MacLellan pointed out in February – and as he will reiterate when he meets with reporters on Monday – the Capitals are committed to this coach and this team, at least financially, for another season.

FORWARDS 

Nine of the forwards on the Caps’ current roster are signed through next season for roughly $32 million. That does not include restricted free agents Marcus Johansson ($3.75 million), Tom Wilson ($894,166) and Michael Latta ($575,000) or unrestricted free agents Jason Chimera ($2 million) and Mike Richards ($1 million).

DEFENSE

On the back end, the Caps have roughly $19.6 million committed to six defensemen, excluding restricted free agent Dmitry Orlov ($2 million) and unrestricted free agent Mike Weber ($833,333).

GOALTENDING

And between the pipes the Caps have $6.85 million committed to Braden Holtby ($6.1 million) and Philipp Grubauer ($750,000).

Assuming the NHL salary cap rises to its projected $74 million next season, that would leave the Caps with roughly $18.5 million of cap space to sign (or re-sign) three forwards and one defenseman.     

As for Year Three, that’s when things get interesting.

As of today, the Caps have just three forwards from their current roster – Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom and Jay Beagle – under contract for the 2017-18 season. They also have four defensemen – Brooks Orpik, Matt Niskanen, John Carlson and Taylor Chorney – and one goalie, Holtby.

With a 2017 NHL expansion draft likely next year, Orpik could find himself taken by an expansion team looking to get close to the salary floor. Stan Galiev or Beagle might also be left exposed.

It’s safe to assume that by 2017 Kuznetsov will be playing under a long-term deal and players like Andre Burakovsky, Tom Wilson, Jakub Vrana, Jonas Siegenthaler and Christian Djoos will be having bigger roles on the Caps.

By then, the Capitals’ window of opportunity may be closer to the sill than it is to the ceiling. Which is why the Capitals’ time to win it all is … next year.

Or bust.

RELATED: Ovechkin's heartbreaking reaction to Game 6 loss

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Capitals re-sign forward Carl Hagelin to a four-year, $11 million contract

Capitals re-sign forward Carl Hagelin to a four-year, $11 million contract

WASHINGTON — The Capitals bolstered their forward depth and its penalty kill by re-signing two-time Stanley Cup champion Carl Hagelin before he hit unrestricted free agency next month. 

Washington has officially re-signed forward Carl Hagelin to a four-year, $11 million contract extension, a move that goes a long way toward re-establishing a third line that had some openings entering the offseason. 

Hagelin, 30, was a pending unrestricted free agent. Washington acquired him from the Los Angeles Kings on Feb. 21 just four days before the NHL trade deadline. Hagelin played primarily on the third line – although injuries in the Stanley Cup playoffs pushed him onto the second line. 

https://twitter.com/Capitals/status/1140355394856017926

Hagelin had three goals and 11 assists in 20 regular-season games with the Capitals and became an instant staple on the penalty kill. His 47 minutes, six seconds on the PK in those 20 games were enough to rank sixth among all forwards on the team.

Traded twice last season, Hagelin had a total of five goals and 14 assists with the Capitals, Kings and Pittsburgh Penguins in 58 games. He had a sprained knee (medial collateral ligament) with Los Angeles that kept him out for 20 games.  

"[Hagelin] was a good fit,” Washington general manager Brian MacLellan said on April 26. “I thought he fit seamlessly from day one. Really liked him on the third line, the way we used him, we bumped him up obviously with the [T.J.] Oshie injury. Our PK got a lot better. Fits in well with his teammates. It's a really good fit for us, yes." 

The Penguins traded Hagelin to the Kings on Nov. 14. He was a key part of Pittsburgh’s back-to-back Stanley Cup winners in 2016 and 2017, which came at the expense of Washington in the playoffs each time. 

This was the last year of a four-year, $16 million deal that Hagelin signed with the Anaheim Ducks in 2015. He was always viewed as a likely trade chip for Los Angeles, which finished in last place in the Pacific Division and eventually flipped him to the Capitals. 

Even after the disappointing first-round Stanley Cup playoff loss to the Carolina Hurricanes, Hagelin said he was open to re-signing with the Capitals before he hit unrestricted free agency on July 1. His signing follows the trade of defenseman Matt Niskanen on Friday. The NHL Draft is this coming weekend in Vancouver with more moves expected.   

“I liked the fact that I got a good look from the coaches,” Hagelin said on April 26 of his time with the Capitals. “I got to play with good players, I got to play in key situations. I felt comfortable here.”

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Why the trade for Radko Gudas could signal the end of Brooks Orpik’s tenure with the Caps

Why the trade for Radko Gudas could signal the end of Brooks Orpik’s tenure with the Caps

The Carolina Hurricanes ended the Capitals’ season in the first round of the playoffs and quite possibly Brooks Orpik’s career with it. The 38-year-old defenseman said at the team’s breakdown day that the decision for what comes next, whether retirement or playing another season in the NHL, would have to wait.

“I'm in no rush in terms of deciding on my future in terms of hockey,” Orpik said. “That'll be a more health-related decision down the road."

Whether Orpik wants to come back for one more year in the NHL will be up to him, but the decision on whether to re-sign with the Caps may have just been decided for him.

On Friday, the Caps traded defenseman Matt Niskanen to the Philadelphia Flyers in exchange for Radko Gudas. Most people hear the name Gudas and think of him as a dirty player who can’t play the position, but he is actually a decent defenseman. The media in Philadelphia selected Gudas as the most outstanding defenseman for the Flyers in 2018-19. Plus, his penalty minutes have decreased in each of the past four seasons from 116 all the way down to 63 last season. For reference, Tom Wilson had 128 and Michal Kempny had 60. It’s still high, but it signals a player making a conscious effort to stay out of the penalty box.

Gudas has been suspended four times in his career and he certainly will be watched very closely by the NHL’s Department of Player Safety. One big hit could mean a lengthy suspension. That is a definite concern, but in terms of just his play, there is value there as a third-pair defenseman.

With Gudas in, that will almost certainly push Orpik out.

The move gives Washington six defenseman under contract for next season. Teams will usually keep seven for the regular season, enough for three pairs and one extra. Christian Djoos is a restricted free agent and will presumably be back as well, giving Washington seven blue liners.

Djoos had a down year last season, but he did play a third-pair role on the team’s Cup run and he is only 24. It does not make sense to give up on Djoos after one bad year just for one more year with Orpik who will be 39 at the start of next season.

Given Washington’s salary cap situation, the Caps do not have room for an eighth defenseman. If Orpik were to return, it would mean pushing someone else out. The only of those seven defensemen that would make sense to even consider moving for Orpik would be Gudas.

Gudas would not be the first player in the world to be traded and then flipped or bought out soon after. Ironically, the same thing happened to Orpik last season when he was traded to and then quickly bought out by the Colorado Avalanche.

A buyout here, however, would make no sense. According to CapFriendly’s buyout calculator, a buyout would only give Washington $1,166,667 of cap relief and most of that would go to a new Orpik deal making it pointless. Yes, you still have the $3.405 million of cap space the team would have opened up in the trade, but if the plan all along was to re-sign Orpik and ship out Niskanen, then why not just trade Niskanen for draft picks? Then you get his full cap off the books instead of having to go through the trouble of buying out Gudas and having him count against the cap for the next two seasons. That would make no sense.

As for flipping him and trading him to another team, what would the team get for him that would make it worthwhile? You cannot bring on salary or it defeats the purpose so the Caps’ options for a return would likely be limited to players of the same caliber and cap hit. What would be the point of that?

Prior to this deal, Djoos and Jonas Siegenthaler were the most likely candidates to play on the third pair next season. Both are left shots. Gudas is a right-shot defenseman which now gives Washington three with John Carlson and Nick Jensen. Gudas also plays with a physical edge. Sometimes he goes too far with it, but so long as he can control himself, he would add the physical presence to the blue line that the team stands to lose with Orpik gone.

There is no reason to trade for Gudas unless the team intended for Gudas to play a role next season. General manager Brian MacLellan chose to trade for a player who is a right-shot, physical, third-pair defenseman which is pretty much exactly the hole they needed to fill on their blue line and essentially the spot Orpik will be vacating. That did not just happen by accident.

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