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2023 Free Agency

Capitals Free Agency Primer: Improving Top 6 Is The Focus, MacLellan Says



NASHVILLE — Added emphasis isn’t necessary, but Washington Capitals general manager Brian MacLellan is making it known that another season like the last is unacceptable.

“We’re still trying to make a change or changes in our top six, or find a way to create something,” MacLellan said. “We’ll see if we can make it happen or not. Trade, yes…or free agency. We’ll look at both opportunities.”

With the salary cap set to jump only $1 million this upcoming season — an uncharacteristic growth of only $2 million total over the past five seasons — finding the right deal will be much easier said than done. The Capitals kicked the tires on potential moves at the draft, but ultimately could not bring a trade over the goal line.

“There’s a lot of chatter, but I think there’s a lot of frustration with — seems like a lot of teams have players but no space and money,” MacLellan said. “It’s not really hockey trades that are being discussed, it’s how-to-create-space trades, so it’s frustrating I think for managers in that way.”

Maneuvering the salary cap was the focus of any player-centric trades made during the two-day draft, such as the Edmonton Oilers unloading Kailer Yamamato and Klim Kostin on Detroit for instant cap relief, or the New York Islanders sending Josh Bailey and a future second-round pick to Chicago, who quickly bought-out Bailey’s $5 million contract.

The Capitals, however, are not in a position to add any major salary. Barring any cap-dump deals of their own before free agency opens Saturday at noon, the Capitals will enter with $7.3 million in cap space and have six NHL roster spots to fill, according to CapFriendly.

Off the bat, restricted free agent Martin Fehervary will account for a portion of that cap space. The team extended a qualifying offer to the 23-year-old defenseman earlier in June, and expects him to return as a key piece of the team’s blueline — now and into the future.

Fehervary is expected to command a three-year, roughly $2.8 million AAV contract, according to Evolving Hockey.

Winger Connor Brown also stands to be one of the team’s central figures of free agency, hitting the market after playing only four games in Washington.

Brown is coming off a torn ACL, and with salary cap concerns around the league, he’s a potential target for a smaller than normal contract. In his last “full” season, Brown tallied 39 poitns in 64 games for the Ottawa Senators in 2021-22.

Brown’s return to Washington in itself would be an addition, but there’s a very real possibility that he does not return. The Oilers, who have Brown’s former juniors teammate Connor McDavid, have been linked to the 29-year-old, and seem to have the requisite cap space after unloading two contracts.

“We said we’d circle back after free agency opens,” MacLellan said. “I think his representatives and him would like to see what happens on the UFA market — he’s never been an unrestricted free agent, so he’d like to talk to teams. We’ll talk to him at that time too, see what his plan is going forward.”

According to Tarik El-Bashir of The Athletic, the team is not expected to re-sign UFA forwards Conor Sheary and Craig Smith, or defenseman Matt Irwin.

Jared Serre covers the Washington Capitals for Washington Hockey Now. He is a graduate of West Virginia University.