Through the 2021 season, the upcoming Seattle expansion draft loomed over every personnel decision every team in the NHL made. Now that the campaign is over for the Capitals, that Kraken shadow remains front and center for the team and one of its stars.
T.J. Oshie was born in Washington state. While he is a fan favorite and a key player here in the District and surrounding areas, he is also 34 and has four years remaining on a contract that carries a weighty salary-cap hit of $5.75 million. His popularity and skills could make him an attractive target for Seattle while his age and contract dictate the Caps should at least consider leaving him exposed in the expansion draft.
Oshie knows his name has been connected with Seattle, but he also made it clear there is only one Washington team he wants to play for and it's not in his home state out west.
"I signed an eight-year deal here because this is where I wanted to spend the rest of my career and retire here," Oshie said this week. "I know there's a business side of things and there's a reality when it comes to pro sports, team sports in particular that there's always a chance that you could go somewhere else or get traded or whatever. But I've approached every day since I've been here like this is going to be the last team that I ever play for and I think I've done a decent job of proving that to [head coach Peter Laviolette] and [general manager Brian MacLellan] that this is where I want to be and I feel like I can still be a big part of this team moving forward as I get older here."
Oshie is one of the emotional leaders of the Capitals. While Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom and John Carlson wear the C and the As on their jerseys as the team leaders, Oshie is the sparkplug that ignites the locker room. And he is also still producing at a high level despite being 34.
"I thought he had a great year, one of his best years," MacLellan said. "He continues to produce, he continues to be a big part of what's going on in the room and on the ice. He's a big part of our organization. It would hurt our team and our organization if we lost him in the expansion draft."
Oshie scored 22 goals and 21 assists in 53 games in 2021. That is the second-highest scoring rate and points rate Oshie has had since coming to Washington.
Objectively, moving Oshie to Seattle would make a lot of sense for both the team and the player. It would clear up much-needed cap space for Washington while also offering Oshie opportunities he may not get if he stays.
As beloved as he may be by Caps fans, Oshie would almost certainly become the face of the franchise in Seattle as a skilled, popular, personable player. He's an American with name recognition above most players given his 2014 Winter Olympics heroics for Team USA. He could easily be a captain for a first-year club looking for leadership.
If the Kraken are able to build a competitive team right away as the expansion Vegas Golden Knights did in 2017-18, there's a case to be made that Oshie could have a better chance at another Stanley Cup there than with the Caps considering the age of star players like Ovechkin and Backstrom.
Plus, the move would bring Oshie, still mourning the death of his dad, Tim, on May 4, closer to some of his family in Washington state. But Oshie has roots now here also after six years and he does not want to give that up.
"I've got family out there, that's great, but Washington's where I want to be," Oshie said. "This is where I've bled and cried and everything here. This is where I want to stay for long term. People can speculate and they can make assumptions about what I want to do or what I would like. People bring up the C, that stuff's not that important to me. This is where I want to be with my buddies, with my family, my kids are growing up in schools here, this is where I love to play hockey."
The Caps don't want to lose Oshie and Oshie doesn't want to go, but someone has to. It's the nature of the expansion draft. And while MacLellan made his feelings about losing Oshie to Seattle quite clear, he also did not exactly slam the door on the possibility of leaving him exposed.
"I don't know that we've fully made any decisions on [the expansion draft], but ideally we'd like to keep [Oshie] around."