Where the Capitals' roster stands amid offseason changes

Forwards Washington has its top six all but locked in with Alex Ovechkin, Evgeny Kuznetsov, Tom Wilson, Jakub Vrana, Nicklas Backstrom...



Forwards

Washington has its top six all but locked in with Alex Ovechkin, Evgeny Kuznetsov, Tom Wilson, Jakub Vrana, Nicklas Backstrom and T.J. Oshie. It’s the same top six that led the team to a Stanley Cup in 2018. The bottom six has a couple moving pieces, but not a lot — for now.

Lars Eller will still center the third line, with Carl Hagelin and Richard Panik expected to flank him. Ilya Kovalchuk, acquired at the trade deadline, skated on the third line during the playoffs but became an unrestricted free agent at season’s end. He has yet to sign with an NHL team.

On the fourth line, Nic Dowd looks to center Garnet Hathaway and Daniel Sprong, whom the Capitals signed to a two-year, $725,000 deal.

Those 12 players are all the forwards the Capitals have room for under their current salary cap with eight projected defensemen on the roster. If the Capitals decide to run with seven defensemen on the active roster, the organization only has enough cap space to sign one forward at the league-minimum $700,000.

Another forward option could be Daniel Carr, who signed a one-year, two-way contract with Washington last month. Carr comes from Nashville’s organization and spent most of his time in the American Hockey League last season.

In late September, Capitals assistant general manager Ross Mahoney also said he was intrigued to see prospect Connor McMichael during training camp. McMichael, who was the Capitals’ first-round draft pick in 2019, seems to be a longshot. Brian Pinho, who made his NHL debut in the Toronto bubble, and Beck Malenstyn are also depth pieces in the Capitals organization, but don’t look to be pushing for a permanent role in the lineup.

“Connor had an excellent year last year … curious to see the gains he made strength-wise. The biggest thing for him is to get stronger. I’m curious to see how Connor does,” Mahoney said.

Defensemen

Norris Trophy finalist John Carlson still spearheads the blue line next season and is expected to be on the top pairing with Brenden Dillon. Carlson played the majority of the last two seasons alongside Michal Kempny, who underwent surgery for a torn Achilles’ in early October. Kempny is expected to miss the next four to six months and will be placed on long-term injured reserve to start the season.

With Kempny and his $2.5 million salary cap off the Capitals’ books, the team was able to re-sign Dillon to a four-year $15.6 million contract and sign right-shot defenseman Justin Schultz to a two-year, $8 million deal. Schultz is expected to pair with Dmitry Orlov on the second pairing. On the third pair, Jonas Siegenthaler and Nick Jensen look to be the likely duo, with Trevor van Riemdyk in the mix as well.

Siegenthaler re-signed with the team a cheap one-year, $800,000 deal. He was a restricted free agent with no arbitration rights. van Riemsdyk, a right-shot, is on a one-year, $800,000 deal and has a Stanley Cup on his résumé. Paul LaDue, another right shot defenseman, is also signed to a one-year, one-way $700,000 deal.

Adding LaDue with the other seven projected Capitals defensemen on the active roster, Washington only has $50,000 in cap space and 12 projected forwards on a possible 22-man roster.

With the blue line looking a bit crowded on the right side, the Capitals could opt to move a player to get another forward on its roster and clear up more cap space. With the top four set, it’s unclear if Jensen — and his $2.5 million AAV for the next three seasons — would likely be the odd man out, but he will certainly have competition on the third pair.

Capitals new assistant coach Kevin McCarthy, who will be in charge of the defensemen, has previously indicated that he wants eight capable defensemen once the season starts. McCarthy also made a point to note his preference in having lefty-righty combinations when it comes to d-pairings.

Goaltenders

Ilya Samsonov is expected to be the Capitals’ starter in net once the season begins, with Henrik Lundqvist, who signed a one-year, $1.5 million contract on the first day of NHL free agency, his veteran backup.

However, the experienced Lundqvist has made it clear that he believes he can contribute. Although Samsonov is expected to be the team’s No. 1, general manager Brian MacLellan didn’t commit to anything after signing Lundqvist.

“I see it as we’ve got a good young goalie and we’ve got a great experienced goalie,” MacLellan said at the time. “… I would expect [Lundqvist] to come in and compete as hard as he can, and the coaches will make the decision based on how guys are playing and us winning games and what’s been best for our team.”

Samsonov is coming off a solid rookie season, posting a 16-6-2 record with a 2.55 goals against average. He looked to be pushing former Capitals starter Braden Holtby, who is now signed with the Vancouver Canucks, at points in the season. Now, it appears Lundqvist will be pushing Samsonov in hopes that both will be able to lead Washington in another unconventional season. With the potential for more back-to-back games next season, having two solid goaltenders could be key.

Lundqvist has already made at least one trip up to Washington to check out the Capitals’ training facility and explore the D.C. area with his family. He also recently posted a video of himself on the ice in Capitals’ practice gear.

So when will the next NHL season even start?

The NHL is still targeting a Jan. 1 start date for its next regular season, with hopes that they can still play a full 82-game season. However that Jan. 1 start date, and the goal of of playing a full season and in arenas with fans, will be a tough feat to complete. The American Hockey League announced Wednesday that it will be targeting its anticipated start date to Feb. 5. It wouldn’t be surprising to see the NHL push back it’s Jan. 1 date to closer mirror the AHL season.

The NHL already postponed the 2021 Winter Classic in Minneapolis and 2021 All-Star Weekend in South Florida. Both events will be pushed to 2022, according to the league.

With the NHL’s start date still up in the air, Capitals players are still scattered across the world, with most not in the Washington area. Informal skates are expected to start prior to training camp at MedStar Capitals Iceplex, but nothing official has been announced by the league. Players are still training and skating on their own time.



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Newsrust: Where the Capitals' roster stands amid offseason changes
Where the Capitals' roster stands amid offseason changes
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