ARLINGTON, V.A. — Right now is somewhat of a calm before the storm. As the Washington Capitals are watching their top prospects take flight at development camp, their eyes are also on the clock at 12 p.m. on Wednesday looms.
Noon marks the opening day of NHL Free Agency, where UFAs are free to go and talk with other teams and ink new deals. The Capitals are sure to be busy, as they have several vacancies to fill.
First off, the team needs to find a goalie — well, make that two. Washington ran it back in 2021-22 with the same young duo of Ilya Samsonov and Vitek Vanecek, but neither was able to maintain consistency or steal the No. 1 job in contract years. General manager Brian MacLellan said both would receive qualifying offers, but that the team would ultimately be pursuing a No. 1 netminder in free agency.
Those plans changed on Friday when the Capitals shipped Vitek Vanecek to the New Jersey Devils for draft picks. That left Ilya Samsonov as the only goalie on the roster. So, all signs had pointed to him being the backup for 2022-23. However, that changed, too, as MacLellan opted out of qualifying the Russian netminder, who will become a UFA on Wednesday.
Per the team, Washington elected to not issue Samsonov a qualifying offer for financial reasons. His next deal was projected to fall in the $3-3.5 million AAV range. The team felt it was too expensive for a backup. Plus, it was not representative of Samsonov’s play to this point. Hence, a complete overhaul and new direction in net.
That leaves the Capitals looking for a starter and a backup, and the goalie market is thinning. Darcy Kuemper is now the top name and has been linked to Washington. Beyond that, there’s Jack Campbell, but there aren’t many names left in terms of a No. 1. Marc-Andre Fleury re-signed with the Minnesota Wild, Ville Husso signed with the Detroit Red Wings and Braden Holtby is reportedly unlikely to play again this season and potentially ever.
There’s also the trade route, as the Capitals could look to acquire a netminder. John Gibson, Sergei Bobrovsky and Jake Allen have all been rumored names on the block. However, it is unclear what Washington would want to give up at this point.
Then, of course, there are pending free agents that the team needs to address. Forwards Marcus Johansson and Johan Larsson are in need of new deals. Also, defensemen Justin Schultz, Michal Kempny and Matt Irwin will also hit the market.
When it comes to the forward vacancies, with Nicklas Backstrom out long-term (hip resurfacing surgery) and Tom Wilson not back until December (ACL surgery), the Capitals want to fill their voids in the lineup with younger players on the depth chart. Washington also wants to see what Carl Hagelin’s availability will be. So, when it comes to re-signing the two defensive forwards, there are a few moving parts.
On the blue line, Schultz could come back, but likely not at the $4 million AAV he earned over the last two seasons. Kempny hasn’t been able to bounce back completely following adversity and injuries to his left leg, so it appears unlikely he’d return. Irwin could get another deal and continue to play the role of a No. 7, something he did quite well in 2021-22.
But, if Schultz walks, the team would need a left-handed defenseman, and they could either look to promote from within with Lucas Johansen or even Vincent Iorio as a dark horse or look to free agency for a cheap option.
Overall, there are several needs to address. We will see what noon looks like on Wednesday, but expect a lot of action for the Capitals, who didn’t go too crazy last summer.