Capitals Gain Cap Room, Roster Spot & Free Agent Flexibility with Dillon Trade

As expected, the Washington Capitals have been busy since the draft, and it’s only been less than a week. The team traded defenseman Brenden Dillon to the Winnipeg Jets on Monday Night in exchange for two second-round picks in 2022 and 2023.

Capitals Trade Dillon to Jets, Regain Cap Space

It was rumored that the Seattle Kraken was going to select a defenseman from Washington during the 2021 NHL Expansion Draft, but instead elected to pick goalie Vitek Vanecek. The loss left the Capitals with three issues: an aging blue line, a very tight salary cap, and questions in net.

Brenden Dillon Washington Capitals
Brenden Dillon as a member of the Washington Capitals (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

Due to little contract flexibility and money to dish out during free agency, which began today, a trade was almost inevitable and the move would likely feature a top defenseman. The blue line for the Capitals, all being over the age of 30, ate up $26.95 million against the cap. Dillion was the lamb.

Details of the Trade

Dillon, 30, was sent to Winnipeg in exchange for two second-round picks in 2022 and 2023 as mentioned above. The transaction helps out both teams tremendously.

From Washington’s perspective, they freed up $3.9 million in cap space, regained two early-round draft selections, which they recently have been handing out, and it opened up roster spots for the talented defensive youth of the organization. In addition, it cleared more money to re-sign star Alexander Ovechkin, who agreed to a five-year, $47.5 million contract on Tuesday to stay in Washington.

The Jets were able to strengthen the weakest part of their roster. Dillon is a quality defenseman; he’s strong, can take up space, and serve on the penalty kill. Though he’s mainly known for his defense, he also accounted for 19 points and posted a plus/minus rating of plus-15 during the shortened 2021-21 season. Skating in all 56 games, he was on an 82-game pace to earn 28 points if playing a standard season, which would have been the highest of his career. Dillon has recorded 133 points, 623 penalty minutes, and has a plus-28 rating in 654 career NHL games.

Youth of D.C.

Dillon’s departure signifies that general manager Brian MacLellan and head coach Peter Laviolette are prepared to recall Martin Fehervary and eventually Alexander Alexeyev from the Capitals’ American Hockey League (AHL) affiliate, the Hershey Bears, for a more frequent role on the Capital One Arena ice.

Fehervary, 21, is a left-handed shot like Dillon, and played six games for the Capitals in 2020. At Hershey, he has skated in 80 games and posted 31 points and a 25 plus-minus rating over the last two seasons. Alexeyev, 21, recorded similar numbers. In 70 AHL games, he has earned 30 points with a plus-19 rating. During the 2020-21 season, the young Russian was on loan by the Capitals to the Kontinental Hockey League’s (KHL) Salavat Yulaev Ufa where he contributed 16 points, including his second-highest goal total of his career (8) in 55 games.

Martin Fehervary Washington Capitals
Martin Fehervary, Washington Capitals (Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images)

Defense is something the Capitals have a decent inventory of, so trading Dillon was a smart move — it would have been smart if it were Nick Jensen or Justin Schultz as well. They bolstered their stock even more during the 2021 NHL Draft, choosing four defensemen out of six picks, including their first three selections.

A Different Look on D

Now that Dillon is in Winnipeg and Zdeno Chara remains undecided on his future as an unrestricted free agent, the Capitals’ defensive pairings will look fairly different from last season. By protecting Trevor van Riemsdyk during the expansion draft and with Michal Kempny set to return from an Achilles injury that sidelined him all of last season, Laviolette has pairing options. He also will have the luxury of a full season to figure out the best duos and ease in the youth to the lineup. Here’s a projection of Washington’s top six at the start of the season.

1stDmitry OrlovJohn Carlson
2ndMichal KempnyJustin Schultz
3rdMartin FehervaryNick Jensen
2021-22 Washington Capitals Projected Defensive Pairings

The issue is on the left side of the ice, so there’s also the possibility of landing a veteran free agent at a bargain. They don’t seem to have two solid, top-four, lefty options unless Jensen or Schultz can show versatility and play both sides like Orlov, which could happen with van Riemsdyk sitting on the bench as another right defenseman. Also, don’t be surprised if they split up Carlson and Orlov to create more balance, especially considering Kempny’s health and the transition of Fehervary and Alexeyev.

Unless another big move happens, the offense will appear to look the same. The Evgeny Kuznetsov trade rumors have softened a tad. The defense will look different and, hopefully, Laviolette doesn’t take too much time figuring out which pairings mesh well together. Growing pains seem to have no age limit, and the Capitals have little room for error this season.