ARLINGTON, V.A. — The Washington Capitals are just one day away from the start of 2022 NHL Free Agency, and they have quite a few signings to make.
Washington now needs not one, but two goaltenders after electing not to issue a qualifying offer to Ilya Samsonov and trading away Vitek Vanecek. The Capitals also need to address how to go about filling voids on the forward lines with Nicklas Backstrom, Tom Wilson and potentially Carl Hagelin out to start 2022-23.
All the while, Washington needs to play its cards right. Cap space will still be vital, especially as general manager Brian MacLellan plans to operate as if Backstrom’s $9.2 million will come back on the books at some point this season.
So, taking all that into account, what does the road ahead look like? You guys asked, and I give my best answers in our latest WHN Mailbag.
Editor’s Note: Questions have been edited for formatting/clarity.
@Robostop10: Will the Capitals have enough cap space to add a top-6 forward after signing a goalie to a deal that carries an AAV of $5 million +?
Looking at the current situation and MacLellan’s comments at the draft, the Capitals know that the price for a netminder will be high, and they’re ready to pay. A lot of signs point to Darcy Kuemper being the top choice to head to D.C. this upcoming season, but there’s also Jack Campbell. Plus, the team also needs a backup now that Samsonov is becoming a UFA.
Right now, Washington is projected to have $8,978,334 million in cap space, per CapFriendly. That, of course, doesn’t take into account Backstrom or Wilson being on the LTIR, which is likely given their statuses to open 2022-23. However, there’s still not a lot of money to go around for a top-6 forward if the team signs an expensive goalie. And, from the sound of it, the Capitals are prioritizing stability in net and are likely willing to pay a high price, then will address other voids.
MacLellan also stressed that he wants to promote from within to fill the different voids in the lineup and isn’t looking to sign a $9 million player this offseason, so a Nazem Kadri addition seems unlikely. Instead, I’d expect Connor McMichael, Hendrix Lapierre and more to compete for their spot, and potentially, see one more UFA addition at forward if the price is right. But not a top-6 star.
@Rashelle_Wilcox: How do you feel about the Capitals trading Vitek Vanecek?
It’s always tough when a promising young player gets traded, especially after just two years at the NHL level. He still has a lot of promise, but the 1A/1B tandem of him and Ilya Samsonov just wasn’t working. MacLellan said that he had been answering calls on both, and the trade ultimately just worked out where Washington felt they could get the best value for one of their goaltenders. And in the end, that goalie was Vanecek.
I do believe, though, that this deal will work out best for him. He will get to compete for a No. 1 job with MacKenzie Blackwood and get a change in scenery, rather than sticking around and sitting as a backup to the No. 1 that the Capitals bring in this offseason. He has a good resume (.908 save percentage), and at 26, still has plenty of upside. Also always a nice guy to talk to. Wish him nothing but the best.
@GMUHockeyScout: Do the Capitals have any interest in Dylan Strome? How About Sergei Bobrovsky?
I haven’t heard anything on the Strome front with regard to Washington as a potential landing spot, but he is coming off a strong season. He had 22 goals and 26 assists in 69 games with the Chicago Blackhawks this past season, which will likely mean a bit of a pay raise.
But, over the course of his career, he hasn’t been able to maintain consistency or live up to his third overall selection in 2015. Taking that into account, I wouldn’t think so. McMichael and Lapierre show upside as young, talented centers, and, Aliaksei Protas is also expected to compete for a spot. All three of them are still on entry-level deals. So, with so many prospects in the system waiting for their spot, I don’t expect the Capitals to roll the dice and give Strome a one-way deal without more consistency to back him up.
On the Bobrovsky front, I haven’t heard anything except reports that he was on the block. He is certainly a name that stood out that could have caught Washington’s eye (this is just my take, not any report) but at this point, free agency seems like the right route, especially with no goalies to give back. Plus, the Capitals shouldn’t let go of assets unless they feel the return is a surefire No. 1. Bobrovsky has shown he can be a starter but hasn’t been able to get it done in the playoffs. He’s also approaching 34 and is signed through 2026.
@Ryan_Deem: How will the Capitals fill Backstrom’s spot? And which Fallout is your favorite?
As I mentioned above, I believe Washington will fill that role from within and look to McMichael, Lapierre and Protas to battle it out.
And as for Fallout, I love Fallout 3 but I need to go with New Vegas.
@Brian_Schubox: If the Capitals sign Kuemper, is he the clear No. 1? Would Fucale Back Up If Samsonov Walks?
Yes. With Samsonov moving on, Kuemper would be the top name on the market and the definitive starter. He is coming off a Stanley Cup-winning season and has strong career numbers that make him worthy of the No. 1 role.
Though there aren’t any goaltenders, on the active roster at the moment the, goalie pipeline in D.C. is deep. And if the Capitals can’t find a promising backup, I could see them signing a smaller name and having Fucale compete for a role at camp.
@Ivancapsrock5: Who do the Capitals sign in free agency?
My belief right now, and this is just based on the reports and speculation, is that Washington signs Kuemper. But from there, I don’t know who could come in as the backup; whether it be a Charlie Lindgren, Malcolm Subban or Thomas Greiss From there, there are some other names of interest in some forward options. But the only one I am feeling the most likely to happen: Kuemper.
@LisaDesabrais: What will the opening night lineup look like?
I’ll have some fun with this one and go with:
Alex Ovechkin-Evgeny Kuznetsov-Conor Sheary
Anthony Mantha-Lars Eller-T.J. Oshie
Joe Snively-Connor McMichael/Hendrix Lapierre-Brett Leason
Carl Hagelin/Axel Jonsson-Fjallby-Nic Dowd-Garnet Hathaway
Martin Fehervary-John Carlson
Dmitry Orlov-Nick Jensen
Lucas Johansen-Trevor van Riemsdyk