With the Washington Capitals on the brink of 2017 NHL playoff elimination, it won’t take long for fans, media and management to start asking ‘what went wrong?’ How can a team so talented repeatedly perform so poorly in the playoffs? How does a team who wins the Presidents’ Trophy not finally defeat their division rival — a rival who is clearly less healthy than they are? If the Washington Capitals can’t find the answers, and they do in fact fall to the Pittsburgh Penguins, expect big changes.
The Washington Capitals have no less than six substantial players on contracts who come to a close this season. Evgeny Kuznetzov, Dmitry Orlov and Andre Burakovsky are restricted free agents (RFA’s) and T.J. Oshie, Justin Willams, Karl Alzner and Kevin Shattenkirk are unrestricted free agents (UFA’s). Not everyone will stay.
The Capitals are a team that may be making big changes despite their recent failures. Defenceman Kevin Shattenkirk was never likely a long-term solution. Added as a rental player with the hopes his presence might be the factor that pushes the Caps over that hill, Shattenkirk will be looking for a big payday this summer. Lackluster performance for the Capitals aside, he’ll probably get it.
NHL Insider Pierre LeBrun noted during a Tuesday evening radio hit on Montreal’s TSN 690 that he thinks Shattenkirk has done just enough to stay the cream of a very limited crop of defensive free agents. He went on to add:
Have you looked at the crop of UFA defensemen that are available on July 1? It’s extremely thin… No. 2, he’s a right-handed transitioning offensive defenseman. I mean, that’s like a unicorn. Those guys are just never available… So even though I think there’s a real risk of a team overpaying him July 1, at the end of the day the need for a power play right-handed quarterback is so huge for so many teams, I still think he gets paid.
LeBrun specifically noted the New Jersey Devils as a team that might be interested. Should Devils’ general manager Ray Shero also reach out to Ilya Kovalchuk — who would likely be part of a sign and trade deal out of New Jersey — this could be a different Devils team come October 2017.
T.J. Oshie picked a very good time to have this two best NHL goal scoring seasons. Both with the Capitals, Oshie scored 26 goals in 2015-16 and this past regular season ended with 33 goals to tie him as the top scorer on the team. His production, his age and his talent will ensure he gets a good deal. It’s not a given that deal comes from the Capitals.
“It’s always in the back of your mind where you’re going to be because I have a family to think about,” Oshie said when talking to media after a practice in March. It could take more than $6 million per season over at least five seasons to keep Oshie in the nation’s capital.
Mr. Clutch, Justin Williams is once again proving his value in Washington with nine points in 10 playoff games. He had 24 goals and 48 points to end the 2016-17 regular season and that kind of consistent production ensures he’s going to get paid come the summer. As a UFA, that number could be between $3.5 and $4 million for a one or two-year deal. The only reason it won’t be more is his age.
There are plenty of teams who will be in the bidding for his services and that could mean a change of scenery if the Capitals choose to hang onto some of their more higher-priced free agents.
59 points in 80 games does not equal a $3 million dollar player. That Kuznetsov had 77 points in last year’s regular season means the scenario facing the Capitals is tricky. Kuznetsov will be due a hefty raise come the offseason. Still an RFA, the Capitals have some leverage but Kuznetsov has already gone on record suggesting he won’t put up with a lengthy and drawn out negotiation much like the one that involved Nikita Kucherov in Tampa. As Craig Custance notes from ESPN, Kuznetsov’s exact words were, “If I would be in his position, I would be signed in the KHL for sure… I would sign and say bye. That’s me. I would buy a beach house and a couple Rolls-Royces.”
Win or lose this playoff run, the Capitals are going to be one of the busier teams this offseason. This isn’t even considering the fact that the leader of this team is Alex Ovechkin who has yet to find a way to get his team to the promise land. Ovechkin is making over $9.5 million per season until 2020-21. That’s a lot of money to pay for a player who can’t get the best team in hockey over the last three years a Stanley Cup.
Could the Capitals be so frustrated they view the necessary changes ones that come from the top of the roster? It would be hard to imagine a world where the Caps move Ovechkin, but weirder things have happened.
Jim Parsons is a freelance writer who covers the Edmonton Oilers and news and rumors posts here at The Hockey Writers.
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