Entering the draft and free agency, the Capitals had a pretty good idea of how much it would cost to sign restricted free agents Marcus Johansson, Tom Wilson and Dmitry Orlov – roughly $9.5 million – and with about $14.5 million in salary cap space, they budgeted themselves accordingly.
Instead of rolling the dice and overpaying for unrestricted free agents Jamie McGinn (3 years, $10 million with Arizona), Frans Nielsen (6 years, $31.5 million with Detroit) or Darren Helm (5 years, $19.25 million with Detroit), the Capitals traded a pair of second-round picks for third-line center Lars Eller, who has two years and $9 million remaining on his backloaded contract, which carries a cap hit of $3.5 million.
Wilson ate up another $2 million of cap space when he signed a two-year, $4 million deal on Friday and the Caps stayed relatively quiet in free agency, making winger Brett Connolly their only NHL signing with a one-way contract worth $850,000.
That leaves them with roughly $8 million in cap space to re-sign Johansson and Orlov, each of whom have arbitration rights.
“There's always progress, discussions going on,” Capitals general manager Brian MacLellan said on Saturday, the final day of Caps development camp. “It never seems to go as quick as you'd like it, but yeah, we're working towards it.”
Johansson, 25, was awarded a one-year, $3.75 million contract in arbitration last summer and produced offensive numbers last season (17 goals, 29 assists) comparable to Toronto center Nazim Kadri (17 goals, 28 assists). Last summer Kadri signed a six-year, $27 million contract that carries a $4.5 million cap hit. If Johansson is given a similar deal – if not in length then value – he would become the Capitals’ third-highest paid forward behind Alex Ovechkin ($9.5 million) and Nicklas Backstrom ($6.7 million).
“He has some decent stats that would favor a certain number and we have a value that we put on him,” MacLellan said. “It's just coming together on that number.”
If Johansson gets an average annual salary of $4.5 million, that would leave the Caps with $3.5 million in cap space.
Orlov, 24, is coming off a two-year, $4 million contract, on in which he made $1.75 million without playing a single NHL game and $2.25 million for playing in all 82 games last season and finishing tied for first among Caps defensemen in goals (8) and third in points (29). Since MacLellan said he should have enough left-over money to sign a player at the NHL minimum of $575,000, the Caps are likely budgeting no more than between $2.9 million to re-sign Orlov.
Why no DiPauli: The Capitals would like to give forward prospect Thomas DiPauli (fourth round, 100th overall, in 2012) his first pro contract but his agent apparently thinks he would have a quicker route to the NHL with another organization and held him out of the Caps’ development camp.
DiPauli, 22, completed his four-year commitment at Notre Dame last season, leading the Irish with 14 goals and finishing third on the team with 32 points in 37 games. The Caps have until Aug. 15 to sign him.
“We're working on trying to sign him,” MacLellan said. “It's been ongoing and we'd like to have him turn pro and play in Hershey next year.”
Apparently, DiPauli believes he’s ready for the NHL and wants a clearer path than he believes the Caps can give him.