Assuming the Capitals go with seven defensemen next season, they have some holes to fill.
As of now, they have only five defensemen under contract from last season: Matt Niskanen, Dmitry Orlov, John Carlson, Brooks Orpik and Taylor Chorney. That leaves two spots open for prospects, including a top-four role alongside Carlson.
The Caps have plenty of candidates in the system who will compete for those spots including Madison Bowey, Christian Djoos, Tyler Lewington, Lucas Johansen, Jonas Siegenthaler and Connor Hobbs, among others.
But what if they aren’t ready?
The team is banking on the hope that not one, but two players with little to no NHL experience will be able to step up and take an NHL spot. While teams groom their prospects to eventually step into the NHL roster, sometimes those players just don’t pan out or at least need more time to develop. Washington is not looking at this season as a complete rebuild. Re-signing T.J. Oshie and keeping the core intact is evidence of that. This is a team that still has its sights set on the playoffs. The Caps cannot afford, therefore, to have two spots on their blue line influx through the entire campaign.
One option, if there is some concern over the defensive depth, is to offer a veteran a professional tryout (PTO). PTOs are a way for teams to bring in players with no long-term commitment. You bring a player in for camp and, if he doesn’t work out, you simply release him.
If the Caps want more competition on defense or are worried about relying too much on unproven prospects, they could bring in a veteran on a PTO. There are a few options for Washington if they choose to go that route:
Roman Polak (31 years old), R
2016-17 season: 75 games, 4 goals, 7 assists with the Toronto Maple Leafs
Fedor Tyutin (34 years old), L
2016-17 season: 69 games, 1 goal, 12 assists with the Colorado Avalanche
Cody Franson (30 years old), R
2016-17 season: 68 games, 3 goals, 16 assists with the Buffalo Sabres
Mark Stuart (33 years old), L
2016-17 season: 42 games, 2 goals, 2 assists with the Winnipeg Jets
If your reaction to these options is to turn your nose in disgust, well, guess what? You’re not going to find a Brent Burns or a Shea Weber available in early September. There’s a reason why these players are still looking for contracts.
There are a few younger options such as Jyrki Jokipakka (26) and Cody Goloubef (27), but the Caps have plenty of untested youth. That’s what their prospects are. If Washington goes the PTO route, it will almost certainly be for a steady veteran.
Both Polak and Franson are physical, shutdown players with good size, but Polak may soon be off the market.
Allan Walsh, agent for Roman Polak, tells us he is recovering and expects to sign with an NHL team soon.— Lance Hornby (@sunhornby) August 22, 2017
Tyutin spent last season with the dreadful Colorado Avalanche on a one-year $2 million deal. The fact that he could not earn a second look from a team that bad for a price that low is a bad sign for what he may have left to offer. But, that’s why you give him a PTO.
Stuart is an intriguing option because of his leadership. He has never been a remarkable defenseman, but he did spend time as an alternate captain for the Winnipeg Jets. The Jets ultimately chose to buy him out of the last year of his contract which carried a cap hit of about $2.6 million.
But the biggest problem regarding any PTO defenseman the team brings in is figuring out just where that player would fit in the lineup. The Caps need someone to play alongside Carlson on the second pair and Orpik on the third. An Orpik-Polak pair, for example, is one that would struggle to transition out of its own zone. It’s not an ideal pairing. You could potentially bump one of those players up to the second pair with Carlson where they would be a better fit in terms on contrasting styles, but then the Caps are relying on a PTO defenseman to earn a top-four role. Not ideal.
But what do the Caps have to lose? A PTO offers a no-risk insurance policy in case the prospects just aren’t ready to step up. Considering how many questions there are surrounding the team’s defense this year, it won’t be surprising to see Washington go the PTO route just as a precaution.