In the past, there has been an expectation that Capitals winger Alex Ovechkin would finish up his career with Dynamo Moscow in Russia. On Friday, the veteran did indeed sign a contract with them, just not the Dynamo Moscow you might be thinking of. Instead, Dynamo’s soccer team announced the signing of the 36-year-old to a one-game contract, naming him the captain for the match as well. That game was played on Saturday with Ovechkin actually scoring the game-winner against Amkal in a 5-0 victory. Fittingly, given how many of his goals have been scored in the NHL, it came on a one-timer from the left side, the clip of which can be seen here.
A few minutes after announcing a contract for Brett Leason, the Washington Capitals have wrapped up another negotiation. This time it’s Beck Malenstyn signing a two-year extension. His deal will come in at a slightly lower average annual value of $762.5K, as Malenstyn will receive $750K in 2022-23 and $775K in 2023-24 at the NHL level. The other difference is that the first year of this contract is a two-way deal, which carries an AHL salary of $110K.
Malenstyn, 24, played 12 games for the Capitals this season, scoring his first NHL goal in the process. The 2016 fifth-round pick has 15 games total at that level and has spent the majority of his pro career to this point with the Hershey Bears. In 65 games there this season, he had ten goals and 16 points.
With a new contract in hand, Malenstyn will be another young forward fighting for minutes at training camp, while the Capitals try to sort out their lineup without Tom Wilson and Nicklas Backstrom. The 6’3″ winger represents a big, physical presence for the bottom six but lacks much offensive upside, meaning his role with Washington will likely remain as a depth option.
Still, Capitals’ general manager Brian MacLellan is getting some offseason work done ahead of time and now has just five pending restricted free agents in the whole organization. Malenstyn would not have been eligible for arbitration and had basically no leverage, though landing some security in a two-year deal is a nice reward for the Hershey favorite.
The Washington Capitals have taken care of a pending free agent negotiation, signing Brett Leason to a two-year extension. The contract will carry a cap hit of $775K, paying him $750K in 2022-23 and $800K in 2023-24. Notably, the deal is a one-way contract, meaning Leason will make that much no matter which level he plays.
Leason, 23, made his NHL debut this season and ended up playing in 36 games for the Capitals, scoring three goals and six points along the way. The 6’5″ forward adds an interesting dynamic to the lineup, representing a size and skill blend that is hard to find around the NHL.
While he isn’t overly physical, his long reach and ability to protect the puck have made scouts and prospect prognosticators excited for years. In his final year of junior, that size advantage led to an incredible 46 goals and 114 points in 77 games, though that kind of production has been hard to come by in the minor leagues.
Still, with Nicklas Backstrom and Tom Wilson both out following major surgery, there will be available opportunities in the Washington lineup to start the year. A player like Leason could take advantage of that and potentially even see time in the top six or on the powerplay, depending on how the lines shake out by the end of free agency.
The one-way nature of the contract suggests that he’ll be in the NHL at least, along with the fact that Leason is no longer waiver-exempt. If the Capitals wanted to send him to the minor leagues, he would need to clear waivers first.
With the offseason in full swing aside from the two teams in the Stanley Cup Final, it’s time to examine what each squad will need to accomplish over the coming months. Next up is a look at the Capitals.
It was a tough season on the injury front for Washington with three of their top forwards missing at least 35 games. Despite that, the Capitals remained a top-ten offensive team and were able to get to the playoffs although they were ousted in the first round by Florida. With an aging core, GM Brian MacLellan will have some work to do to keep this group in the playoff hunt as a rebuild isn’t likely in the cards.
Add Short-Term Offensive Talent
The recent news that Nicklas Backstrom has undergone hip resurfacing surgery should open up some LTIR flexibility for Washington. While no firm timetable for a return has been announced, of the handful of players who have had the surgery, the quickest recovery was after an entire season. Accordingly, MacLellan should be comfortable using a good chunk of his $9.2MM AAV on a replacement. But as this hasn’t been termed a career-ending procedure (though it put an end to Ryan Kesler’s career), the Capitals will be limited in terms of what they can do to replace him.
Since the potential exists for Backstrom to play down the road, Washington should be limiting themselves to looking to either acquire a player on an expiring contract or signing a free agent to a one-year deal. In doing so, they’ll be able to free up the cap space to integrate Backstrom back for 2023-24 without any issue and if he can’t return, then they’ll have the flexibility to spend next summer.
Of course, Backstrom’s injury leaves a big hole down the middle and let’s face it, there aren’t a lot of impact centers available on one-year contracts so the Capitals may need to get creative here. Lars Eller can play in the top six in a pinch but isn’t an ideal fit there for a long stretch, nor is Nic Dowd. T.J. Oshie has shifted down the middle to cover for short-term injuries but asking him to do that for a full season would be tough and it’s not as if he’s consistently healthy either. Spending at least part of Backstrom’s money on help at center will be a must for MacLellan.
You might have noticed I haven’t mentioned Tom Wilson here who will be on LTIR as well to start the year. However, since he’s due back a couple of months into the season, the Capitals can’t really do much of anything to replace him outside of recalls although they’ll be able to carry a max-sized roster at least.
Pick A Goalie; Deal A Goalie
When Seattle took Vitek Vanecek in expansion, it looked as if Washington’s decision of who to run with between the pipes had been finalized and that they’d run with Ilya Samsonov moving forward. But a week later, the Capitals reacquired Vanecek and the questions returned. After running that tandem for all of this past season, the questions still remain.
Vanecek’s campaign was practically identical to his rookie year (2.67 GAA, .908 SV% compared to 2.69 and .908, respectively) but his track record is still limited to just 79 games in the regular season. While those numbers are decent, they’re also not starter-level either. Meanwhile, Samsonov saw his numbers get worse for the second straight year (3.02 GAA, .896 SV%, both worse than the league average). That said, Samsonov was a highly-touted first-round pick who has been perceived to have the higher upside of the two even though the results haven’t been there so far.
While it’s possible that the Capitals could opt to bring both goalies back (both are restricted free agents with arbitration rights as well), it feels like the time is right for a chance. Washington was believed to be interested in Marc-Andre Fleury at the trade deadline although making a deal and remaining cap-compliant was next to impossible. But if they were looking for a veteran then and have since suffered another quick playoff exit, it stands to reason they’ll be looking for a veteran upgrade again. If that’s the case, one of Samsonov or Vanecek has to go.
The trade market for goalies rarely yields a significant return although the fact that both are young (Vanecek is 26, Samsonov 25) will help. This is something that they may want to do sooner than later as well. While it’s possible they could wait to see how free agency shakes out to see if there’s a vulnerable team or two, the risk is that if everyone finds alternative options between the pipes, the Capitals could be stuck carrying three goalies into training camp. If they want to avoid that, the choice of who to keep and who to trade will need to be made within the next few weeks before the start of free agency on July 13th.
Round Out The Back End
With Justin Schultz, Matt Irwin, and Michal Kempny all set to hit free agency this summer, there are a couple of slots to fill at the back of Washington’s back end. The emergence of Martin Fehervary helps in that they don’t necessarily have to look for someone that can fill a spot in the top four although it would be a nice luxury if they opt to reallocate some of Backstrom’s money to the blueline.
Assuming none of those three free agents return, there will be a couple of different roles to try to fill. Schultz took a regular turn on the second power play unit and the Capitals don’t have a lot of players that can run the point aside from their top two. Accordingly, one of their two targets to fill out their defense corps should be someone that can play in that role. The other role is Irwin’s, one that he did a good job with. While he didn’t log a lot of special teams time, he was able to play on both sides and that type of flexibility is something that head coach Peter Laviolette certainly covets.
It wouldn’t hurt if at least one of those spots was filled by someone on a multi-year deal either. The list of Washington’s NHL rearguards that are signed beyond 2022-23 starts and ends with John Carlson. It wouldn’t be ideal to be in a situation where the Capitals are trying to rebuild half of their back end or more a year from now so if they can get a bit of stability with their depth options, it would be helpful.
Orlov Extension Talks
To that end, extension talks for Dmitry Orlov should be high on MacLellan’s priority list. The soon-to-be 31-year-old is actually coming off a career season offensively with 12 goals and 35 points but overall, has been quite consistent with his offensive production, averaging between 0.35 and 0.46 points per game over the last seven seasons. It’s pretty safe to pencil him near that rate for a little while longer yet. Orlov has seen his ice time dip a little bit the last couple of seasons but he was just under 21 minutes in 2021-22. Again, it’s pretty safe to pencil him in around the 20-minute mark for a few more years.
That helps set a ballpark price for what an extension should look like. Orlov is a number two defender who, in an ideal world, would drop down a peg over the next few seasons as he gets older. For that type of role at his age, Orlov should be in line for a raise on his current $5.1MM AAV but not a substantial one. While the total AAV will likely depend on the length of the contract (do they work out, say, a six-year deal with the salary in the final season being a little lower to bring the cap hit down?), it should check in somewhere near the $6MM mark. If Washington is comfortable around that range, they should be trying to work something out soon after he’s eligible for an extension in mid-July and ensure that a second key cog of their back end will be around for a while.
Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images. Contract information courtesy of CapFriendly.
In the past few days, two teams in somewhat similar positions, perennial contenders who need to improve to compete but with limited funds, found some additional salary cap space, though for different and ultimately unhelpful reasons. For the Vegas Golden Knights, they traded away veteran forward Evgenii Dadonov in exchange for defenseman Shea Weber, who is injured and unlikely to play again in the NHL. The Washington Capitals lost center Nicklas Backstrom presumably to LTIR after he had hip resurfacing surgery on Friday, a procedure that has a lengthy recovery time, if not ending his career outright. With what appears to be new cap space they may not have been fully expecting, both teams have some flexibility to make the moves they need to this summer, retaining players and perhaps replacing the talent they lost.
Vegas is currently just over $2.6MM above the salary cap ceiling, but once Weber’s LTIR is factored in, they will have exactly $5.2MM in cap space. Because the cap space is created using LTIR, they will not accrue any beyond that. With key RFAs including Brett Howden, Nicolas Hague, Nicolas Roy, and Keegan Kolesar, as well as UFA and original Golden Knight Reilly Smith to re-sign, it’s hard to imagine Vegas will be able to add any additional talent, and may even be in a difficult position just bringing back those five alone without making an additional move. Still, the created space does give Vegas a chance to not be handcuffed and be able to have some leverage in any additional cap trades they might look to make. A primary issue they will have to deal with is the cap space came at the expense of Dadonov, a talented veteran who recorded 43 points in 78 games, not a magical season but production that will be missed, especially if Vegas can’t find a way to at least keep Smith in the fold too.
Heading over to the east coast, Washington already stood in a much more comfortable spot than Vegas, with just a touch under $9MM in available cap space going into this offseason. With Backstrom’s injury and likely trip to LTIR, Washington will have just under $19.2MM in cap space with which to work. Not all of that can be spent on additions to the roster, but after giving contracts to pending free agents, including Marcus Johansson, Johan Larsson, and Justin Schultz on the UFA side and their goaltending tandem of Vitek Vanecek and Ilya Samsonov on the RFA side, the Capitals should still have a few million to work with. The issue in this is, after another first round exit in the playoffs, the Capitals were already in need of a few upgrades to their roster, and the departure of a superstar like Backstrom only adds to that need. Not only does Washington have to add, but they have to replace the production of one of the all-time greats in their organization. The team does have two options to add production up the middle, including young forward Connor McMichael who had 18 points in 68 games this season in the NHL and could be poised for a breakout 2022-23, and top prospect Hendrix Lapierre, who made his NHL debut this season before heading back for another strong season in the QMJHL.
The recent changes seem to mean more for Washington, and the league, than it does for Vegas, though it does buy Vegas some time, and power, in their negotiations, especially those focused on creating more cap space. To the Capitals, it provides much more flexibility and creates another interesting buyer on the trade and free agency markets, and an intriguing opportunity for those interested players who could have an opportunity to play with greats like Alex Ovechkin, John Carlson, and Evgeny Kuznetsov.
This afternoon, the Washington Capitals announced that star center Nicklas Backstrom and prospect Alexander Alexeyev both had surgery recently, with both expected to miss significant time. Backstrom had hip resurfacing surgery on Friday in Belgium, Washington confirmed, his recovery process beginning immediately, though a recovery timetable was not given (link). Alexeyev had a surgical labral repair to his left shoulder and is expected to mis four to five months (link).
The news on Backstrom is not surprising, his previous hip issues well documented, and his playing future seemingly uncertain at the conclusion of Washington’s season (link). At that point, Capitals GM Brian MacLellan said Backstrom continuing to play with his hip as is was not sustainable and that the veteran forward would be looking at his options. Frank Seravalli of The Daily Faceoff points out that forward Ryan Kesler had the same hip resurfacing surgery that Backstrom had back in 2019 and of course, did not play again after (link). He also points to Ed Jovanovski, who had the same procedure in 2013, taking a full year to rehab, but came back to play 37 games before retiring.
Faced with a lengthy recovery and a checkered history of continued NHL play after having this surgery, Backstrom’s NHL future is up in the air. If Backstrom takes roughly the same year Jovanovski needed for recovery, he would find himself aiming to return at the start of the 2023-24 season, just ahead of his 36th birthday, but still with two years at a $9.2MM AAV remaining on his contract. Speaking of his contract, the injury does provide the Capitals with some flexibility to replace the production they will miss, allowing them to place the veteran on LTIR, adding another $9.2MM in cap space, more than doubling their current figure of just under $9MM of free space. This should add another wrinkle into the offseason, as a still-competitive Capitals team would presumably look to replace that production, jumping into a crowded market of teams looking to add from an also fairly crowded market of talented forwards both in free agency and on the trade block.
Alexeyev’s surgery, unlike Backstrom’s, does provide clarity on his situation and appears to give him a path to return without missing too much time, the four to five months timeline giving a late October or early November return date. The defenseman’s absence shouldn’t be a huge blow to the Capitals immediately, having played just one NHL game back in December. But, for the former first-round pick, who has been excellent in his time with the AHL’s Hershey Bears, he may have had a chance to push for a roster spot with the Capitals out of training camp. Now, the 22-year-old will now have to focus on recovering, likely beginning his season in the AHL.
Free agency is now less than six weeks away and many teams are already looking ahead to when it opens up. There will be several prominent players set to hit the open market in mid-July while many teams have key restricted free agents to re-sign as well. Next up is a look at the Capitals.
Key Restricted Free Agents
G Ilya Samsonov – After a disappointing sophomore year, the Capitals were hoping that the 25-year-old would have a bounce-back campaign and stake his claim to the starting spot. It didn’t happen. Instead, Samsonov’s performance dipped once again with a save percentage of just .896 while his GAA jumped to 3.02. In other words, he performed like a backup goalie. Samsonov is owed a $2MM qualifying offer but is now arbitration-eligible which will help drive the price tag a little higher but it would be hard to see Washington offer a long-term deal. He still will be RFA-eligible next summer so a one-year contract that gives him one more chance makes the most sense for both sides.
G Vitek Vanecek – Washington opted to trade a second-round pick to Seattle to get Vanecek back a week after they lost him in expansion and it’s a move that worked out well for them. The 26-year-old had a near-repeat performance of his rookie year, posting an identical save percentage of .908 and improving slightly on his GAA from 2.69 to 2.67. The qualifying offer for under $800K but it’s irrelevant as he’ll get at least three times that on his next deal. Unlike Samsonov, Vanecek is a year away from UFA eligibility so they might be inclined to work on a multi-year pact with him which could push the price tag closer to the $3.5MM range.
Key Unrestricted Free Agents
D Justin Schultz – Schultz was a surprise signing in 2020 considering Washington had little cap space at the time which made it seem unlikely that they’d use a lot of it on one player. His first year with them was good and he was able to hold down a spot in their top four, averaging just over 19 minutes a game. However, things didn’t go as well this season. His production dipped to 23 points in 74 games (a bit on the low side for an offensive defenseman) while he dipped below 17 minutes in ATOI as he was more sheltered; in the playoffs, that dipped to just over 15 minutes. The Schultz of 2020-21 was close to being worth his $4MM AAV but this year’s version wasn’t near that price point. Still just 31, there will be a market for him – especially as a right-shot defender – but he will be hard-pressed to land a raise in free agency. A small dip appears likely.
F Marcus Johansson – It took a little while for Johansson to sign last summer, eventually agreeing to a one-year, $1.5MM deal with Seattle before making his way to Washington at the trade deadline for the second go-round with the team. His per-game numbers were quite similar to his 2020-21 performance so it stands to reason that he should be able to command a similar price tag this time around. Johansson’s positional versatility will help his market but at this point of his career, he’s more of a depth scorer than a top-six player like he was just a few years ago.
F Johan Larsson – Larsson has shown flashes of offensive skill in the past but it hasn’t yielded much production. He had a bigger role while he was with Arizona and there was a corresponding increase in production as he was just over a half a point per game before being moved to the Capitals at the trade deadline. Generally speaking, teams will want to go low on their fourth liners and role players to save some cap space but Larsson has a chance to be an exception as a decent checking center that can chip in a bit from the fourth line. He should have a chance to at least come close to the $1.4MM AAV he had in each of the last two years.
Projected Cap Space
Washington enters this offseason with just under $9MM in cap space and two big question marks with the injuries to Nicklas Backstrom and Tom Wilson. They could both be LTIR-bound to start the season but at least in Wilson’s case, he’ll be back after a couple of months. With Backstrom, everything is on the table still with GM Brian MacLellan saying continuing to play through his injury would be unsustainable. If they shut him down for a year with surgery, he could stay on LTIR throughout the year and the Capitals would have some flexibility.
Until they know one way or the other, they can’t plan for that to happen so for now, the bulk of that $9MM will need to go towards their two RFA goaltenders while they’ll also need to sign a defenseman or two with the leftover money. Unless Backstrom is ruled out for the season, MacLellan won’t have much cap flexibility to work with this summer.
Photos courtesy of USA Today Sports Images. Contract information courtesy of CapFriendly.
Many draft experts will often express something like “with all else equal, take the center” when discussing forwards. The position is much more coveted than wing, especially near the top of draft boards. Perhaps that’s why Cutter Gauthier is flying up rankings as this year’s draft approaches, finishing third among North American skaters in the final list from NHL Central scouting.
Gauthier, 18, will transition to center full-time next season for Boston College, and teams that have interviewed him this week at the combine see him in the middle, according to Corey Pronman of The Athletic. The 6’3″ forward is already an interesting mix of size and skill, meaning that news of his move to center makes him all the more intriguing as an option near the very top.
- Malcolm Spence, a 15-year-old winger from the GTHL, has officially committed to the Erie Otters after the team selected him second overall in this year’s OHL draft. That shouldn’t come as much of a surprise but means there will be plenty of eyes on the Otters over the next several years, as Spence tries to establish himself as one of the very top options for the 2025 draft. Mike Battah, co-director of scouting for the Otters, called Spence the most dynamic player in this year’s draft, despite going after first-overall pick and exceptional status player Michael Misa.
- Technically, to carry a draft pick’s rights from year to year, a team has to extend a bona fide offer to them. Most teams don’t announce these offers publicly, but not so for the Washington Capitals, who tweeted today that Chase Clark, Joaquim Lemay, and Dru Krebs have all received one. This simply keeps them on the Capitals’ reserve list for another year, and certainly was an expected decision.
With the AHL’s Calder Cup Playoffs now in full gear and one team already through to the Conference Finals, most AHL teams’ seasons are over and some have already begun chipping away at their offseason work. We’ll keep track of that AHL news here.
- The Grand Rapids Griffins, the affiliate of the Detroit Red Wings, announced today that they re-signed forward Dominik Shine to a two-year AHL contract. Shine, an undrafted player and Detroit native, has played in six seasons for the Griffins. After a successful career at Northern Michigan University, Shine turned pro and got into eight regular-season games for the Griffins in 2017-18, the year the team went on to win the Calder Cup. From that point, Shine became a regular in Grand Rapids and produced modestly. This past season Shine had his best offensive output, posting 17 goals and 32 points in 71 games, to go along with a career-high 141 penalty minutes.
- The Hershey Bears announced two signings today, the first being of forward Bear Hughes on an AHL deal for the 2022-23 season. Hughes, 20, was the Capitals’ fifth-round choice at the 2020 draft. Hughes is coming off a productive season for the Spokane Chiefs of the WHL, where he posted 67 points in 64 games, which led his team. The Post Falls, Idaho native will continue his development in Hershey hoping that his WHL production will translate to professional success and eventually an NHL contract.
- The other signing the Bears announced today was of defenseman Benton Maass, also to an AHL deal covering 2022-23. Maass, 23, was a Washington Capitals sixth-rounder at the 2017 draft and has spent the past five seasons in the NCAA. He spent four years manning the blueline of the University of New Hampshire before spending a final season at Minnesota State University, where he played with Hobey Baker winner Dryden McKay and forward Nathan Smith, who now plays for the Arizona Coyotes.
The Washington Capitals won’t have Tom Wilson for the start of the 2022-23 season. The team announced today that Wilson underwent a successful surgical procedure to reconstruct the torn ACL of his left knee. The current recovery timeline is set at six to eight months.
That would essentially rule Wilson out for all of training camp and the first month of the season at least, with the very real possibility of him missing a much bigger chunk of games. The seriousness of the surgery will also immediately draw speculation about Wilson’s effectiveness going forward, something that won’t be known for quite some time.
A player that is known for his power, speed, and physicality, Wilson has developed into quite an offensive threat for the Capitals. Selected 16th overall after scoring just nine goals in his draft season for the Plymouth Whalers, the 28-year-old forward now has three seasons with at least 21 goals and set a new career high of 52 points in 78 games this year.
He even scored on one of his three shifts against the Florida Panthers before exiting game one with an injury. Amazingly, Wilson actually skated with the team several times as the series continued–on what is now confirmed to be a torn ACL–but did not re-enter the lineup.
This news will come as a brutal blow to the Capitals as they try to reload for another Stanley Cup run in 2022-23. The team is already dealing with some uncertainty for Nicklas Backstrom as he deals with a serious hip injury and has an aging core led by Alex Ovechkin (36) and T.J. Oshie (35). While the Washington roster is still a good one, red flags are starting to wave.
For Wilson in particular, any loss of that full throttle speed and power could be devastating to his game. Always among the league leaders in hits, he has missed quite a few games throughout his career (even outside of the suspensions) and will now face a lengthy rehab.