With a flat salary cap, some expiring contracts and the Seattle expansion draft, this is going to be a busy offseason for the Capitals. To get you ready, Capitals writers Andrew Gillis and JJ Regan are breaking down the biggest offseason questions with their thoughts.
Today's question: What will the Caps do in free agency?
Andrew: I think the Capitals will be essentially forced to work around the edges, which makes this tough to say without knowing what they’ll need to do after the expansion draft.
I don’t believe a potential Evgeny Kuznetsov trade would impact too much of free agency. Any free agents the Capitals sign will have to be of the cheaper variety and likely take place after the initial wave of free agency happens.
This has worked to their benefit in the past, like last year when they got Connor Sheary and Zdeno Chara for cheap. They also added goaltender Craig Anderson, who earned the win in their only playoff victory. So if the Capitals don’t add anyone in the early stages of free agency, which they might not even have the salary cap space to do without a major move or two, then don’t fret.
Otherwise, I think they keep their goaltending the same with Ilya Samsonov and Vitek Vanecek and then use Martin Fehervary and Alex Alexeyev as defensive additions. If anything, I think they could use a player that could play a Michael Raffl role, in that he was a player that could play both wing and center in a pinch. But that role might be filled by Connor McMichael.
All of that is to say that not only do the Capitals not have roster space to do much in free agency, they might not have much money either. I expect it to be a very quiet free-agent period in Washington.
JJ: Looking at a Caps team that currently does not have enough cap space to re-sign Alex Ovechkin and Ilya Samsonov, my first instinct is to say the team won't do anything in free agency. There are, however, two things to keep in mind. First, we are answering this question based on incomplete information. The team must move salary this offseason and just who they move will determine how much space they have and what, if any, additional needs the roster will have at that point. Second, Brian MacLellan is an aggressive general manager who always seems to have some sort of unexpected trick up his sleeve. Because of that, yes, I do expect them to make some sort of addition in free agency. I don't expect them to be in on the big-name free agents like Taylor Hall and Dougie Hamilton, but I do expect at least some sort of minor move.
Again, just what they may look for will depend on what they lose in the offseason either through the expansion draft, free agency or additional trades. But if there is one area of need I think will be addressed, it will most likely be center depth.
Center depth was a question mark going into last season, it was one of the few areas in which MacLellan did not add in the offseason and, sure enough, that led to T.J. Oshie playing center a handful of games with no other viable options for the NHL roster. Depth center/forward would then be the most likely offseason target and I do not see Connor McMichael being able to step into that role just yet. The good news for Washington is that depth players are getting squeezed into taking smaller contracts due to the flat cap. That will benefit a Capitals team with little room under the cap ceiling with which to work.