Capitals Free Up Cap Space Ahead of Trade Deadline

Early on Sunday, the Washington Capitals traded defenseman Jonas Seigenthaler to the New Jersey Devils in exchange for a third-round pick in the 2021 NHL Draft. The 23-year old Swiss defenseman played in 64 games for Washington in 2019-20. But after the arrivals of left-handed defensemen Brenden Dillon and Zdeno Chara, Seigenthaler only appeared in seven games this season and was ultimately dealt.

Related: Trade Deadline Tracker

The trade was general manager Brian MacLellan’s second move in the past four days. On Wednesday, bottom-six winger Richard Panik was placed on waivers. He cleared the following day and was assigned to the Capitals’ taxi squad. League rules state that waiving a player only frees up to $1.075 million, which is how much room Washington will clear in this transaction.

Richard Panik Washington Capitals
Richard Panik, Washington Capitals (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

Both moves freed up $1.875 million combined, so the Capitals, who previously had $10 of cap space, now have some spending money. What the front office decides to do with said money remains to be seen. The NHL trade deadline is 3 p.m. EST on Monday, so whatever moves they plan on making will need to be made with haste.

Goaltending Depth

Vitek Vanecek has exceeded expectations stepping in for Henrik Lundqvist. He has played in 28 games, going 16-7-3, and is sporting a .911 save percentage (SV%) and a 2.66 goals-against average (GAA). Ilya Samsonov on the other hand, the presumed number one going into the season, has not displayed NHL starter type play in his 14 games this year. He is 9-3-1 but has a 2.97 GAA and a .897 SV%. A debilitating encounter with COVID-19 has likely contributed, but there is still time for the young Russian to find his game.

The glaring concern with this tandem is their limited experience; they have a combined 67 games of NHL action, and none in the playoffs. And with Lundqvist officially announcing his inability to return to the team this season, Capitals management may be looking for a safety net, should the youngsters falter.

The Buffalo Sabres have been in sell mode for weeks now and will continue to be up until the clock strikes 3:00 on Monday. Their goalie Linus Ullmark has been heavily involved in trade discussions and could be an option for the Capitals. Despite playing on the worst team in the NHL this season, he has posted a respectable .916 SV% and 2.62 GAA. He carries a $2.6 million cap hit, so MacLellan would have to shave off just over $700,000 to acquire the 27-year old Swede or negotiate a deal where Buffalo takes on some of his salary.

Another option could be Chris Driedger of the Florida Panthers. The Cats signed top goalie prospect Spencer Knight to his entry-level contract recently and was promoted to the active roster on Thursday. Sergei Bobrovsky likely isn’t going anywhere either. He is in year two of a seven-year $70 million contract, which has a no-move clause, and has regained his Vezina caliber play of late. It’s clear that Driedger isn’t part of their long-term plans, and is only making $850,000, well within Washington’s price range. He’s been having a great season (.930 SV% and 2.05 GAA), but with only 33 regular-season games to his name, Driedger may not be the answer if experience is a priority.

Bottom-Six Forward

Moving Panik to the taxi squad creates an obvious opening in the bottom six. Daniel Sprong seemed like the clear replacement with his recent offensive production, but he was replaced by Daniel Carr against the Boston Bruins, so Peter Laviolette may not be 100% sold on Sprong. And with the New York Islanders acquiring Kyle Palmieri and Travis Zajac, the Capitals front office might feel some pressure to make a move.

The Calgary Flames have failed to turn their season around after making a coaching change and could be looking at a massive rebuild in the near future, considering their current core has failed to advance past the conference quarterfinals since 2014-15. One player Brian MacLellan will have his eyes on, along with several other NHL GMs, is Sam Bennett. He has 19 points in 30 career playoff games and plays a rugged hardnosed style needed for the postseason. He carries a $2.55 million cap hit and will be a restricted free agent after this season. He can play center and wing too, making him an extremely valuable potential addition.

Sam Bennett (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Scott Laughton is a very intriguing option that many teams will be inquiring about. Philadelphia lost to the Sabres on Sunday, which could be the factor that makes them sellers instead of buyers before the deadline. He carries a cap hit of only $2.3 million and will be an unrestricted free agent after this season. The Capitals’ centers have missed substantial time dating back to last year’s postseason, so Laughton would give them depth at the position, as well as secondary even-strength scoring.

Connor Hellebuyck Scott Laughton
Connor Hellebuyck, Winnipeg Jets and Scott Laughton, Philadelphia Flyers (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Trading Seigenthaler and waiving Panik indicate that the Capitals’ front office is up to something. MacLellan is typically active at trade deadlines, and there are still several viable options up for grabs. This Capitals team is one of the Stanley Cup favorites as the regular season winds down, and coming off of two first-round exits, they do not want to look back in August and think of what could have been.

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