The Washington Capitals have been busy the offseason so far, bringing in eight players in the first two days of free agency.
To recap: Capitals 2022-23 roster now sporting Dylan Strom (2C), Connor Brown (first six wings), Marcus Johansson (last six), and Henrik Borgstrom (depth centre/winger) up front; Erik Gustafsson (lower pairing) and matt irvin (depth) in defenders; and two new guardians, Darcy Kuemper and Charlie Lindgren.
The team is now $6.3 million over the salary cap, per Cap Friendly. Teams are allowed to exceed the cap by up to 10% during the offseason.
Brian MacLellan’s signings suggest several big contests are going on during training camp, none bigger than the third center spot, where if Connor McMichael loses to Lars Eller, he could spend the season in AHL Hershey.
Capitals projected opening night roster
Capitals general manager Brian MacLellan says the Caps will fill Nicklas Backstrom’s spot internally, but the addition of Strome during free agency pushes McMichael, the team’s best young player, down from alignment and potentially completely off the list. Despite a 2021-22 season that saw him finish second on the team in CF/60, first in xGF/60, second in SCF/60 and second in HDCF/60, McMichael hasn’t had more opportunities and one of the first players. stapled to the bench by head coach Peter Laviolette, who seemed concerned about the Canadian’s two-way game. Of the players who played 20 games with the Caps last season, only Brett Leason (8:57) had less average ice time than McMichael (10:28). McMichael could join Hendrix Lapierre and Aliaksei Protas at Hershey next season, but an opportunity could present itself a year later. Several veteran forwards will be unrestricted free agents next summer.
Other battles in the camp will include the last two left wing positions. Based on evidence from last season, Marcus Johansson and Axel Jonsson-Fjallby have the inside lane, but Snively, Borgstrom, Leason, Protas and maybe even McMichael will all push for one of those spots. It will either be the 13th forward in the NHL or the Hershey Bears for those who lose positions. Is it possible that Eller is even fit on the wing as tried a few times last season?
In defense, things are a little tighter. It looks like Gustafsson was purposely signed to play with TVR, but the Caps brass were also thrilled with how Lucas Johansen played in the AHL last season. Matt Irwin is also back and is a Laviolette favorite, plays both sides and has played 17 games in 2021-22. It’s a competition that will likely last all season, as the Caps have typically carried eight defensemen under Laviolette.
The bizarre Capitals salary cap situation
Capitals salary cap specialist Don Fishman has likely worked long hours this summer. The team is currently well over the maximum cap ($6.3m), but there is an obvious immediate solution: placing Nicklas Backstrom ($9.2m), Tom Wilson ($5.17m ) and Carl Hagelin ($2.75 million) all on long-term injuries. reserve to start the year. The cap savings would be $17.12 million and that would give the team just over $10.7 million of space. But what happens when these guys come back like the team expects them to do this season? It’s a bit more complicated.
The #ALL CAPS are projected $6.3 million above the upper limit after signing Strome at $3.5 million with a 22-man roster.
Wilson, Hagelin and Backstrom are LTIR candidates, allowing the team to surpass the $17 million cap to start the season.https://t.co/A5BdOVOLvc
— CapFriendly (@CapFriendly) July 14, 2022
The latest update we received on Hagelin was that he had an appointment in August to determine the finalities of his successful eye surgery and whether he had recovered enough to play hockey in 2022-23. He has been skating again since the beginning of May and if this appointment goes positively, could we see him fighting to play as soon as October? Hagelin’s $2.75 million salary will still be covered by the long-term absences of Wilson and Backstrom ($8.05 million in space), but that also likely forces a young forward who won the one of the last places in Hershey or in the case of someone like AJF. on waivers first. This striker won’t have a cap which will change a lot for the team going forward.
Now, Wilson is expected to return to the holiday season after knee surgery in the offseason. The frontline forward’s $5.17 million salary will also go under the cap with Backstrom still on LTIR, but that creates yet another scenario where without a trade, another forward must return to Hershey. Wilson is a right winger and it’s unlikely that any of those guys currently on the depth chart on the right side are the ones to move on. One possible scenario includes Sheary moving to the left, where we already expect there to be the most competition for roster spots without adding another established NHL veteran to the mix. As you can see, things get really tough for someone like McMichael mentioned above.
The final piece is Backstrom. The Capitals have handled this entire offseason like they expect they can’t just fire a Nikita Kucherov and hide the Swedish center until the playoffs. If that were the case, someone who would be paid significantly more than Dylan Strome would currently be on the roster. In our hypothetical scenario so far, Backstrom’s $9.2 million salary would put the team about $6 million over the cap upon his return. So something major has to give there and one possibility could be the Eller and Hagelin trades whose salaries total $6.25 million together. It would also free up opportunities for the cheaper, younger alternatives already in the organization.
One thing is certain, the team’s front office will earn their checks for the rest of the summer until the regular season.
What do you think of the work done by the Caps on day one? What do you think they will look like on opening night?