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Will Capitals Make A Big Splash In Free Agency? MacLellan Says Not So Fast

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Capitals forward Tom Wilson with Nazem Kadri

The Washington Capitals find themselves in a bit of a bind. As the 2022 NHL Draft and free agency kick off in the coming days, Washington has several voids to fill up and down the lineup, with the goaltending situation in flux, Nicklas Backstrom out long-term and Tom Wilson missing the first part of the season.

With the long-term injured reserve and some potential free agents departing, there appeared to be a bit of space to work with. Potentially even enough to make a bit of a splash and bring in a proven No. 1 and a star top-6 center.

It appeared that way for some. However, general manager Brian MacLellan shut that concept down on Wednesday.

“I think the salary cap is the salary cap,” MacLellan explained. “We have to plan for Nick coming back at some point. Use that space as his salary… it’s not like we go out and sign a $9 million player. We’re anticipating Nick comes back at some point. Until that goes away, we’re planning on him coming back.”

After a lengthy decision-making process and struggles with his hip over the course of the last few years, Backstrom ultimately underwent hip resurfacing surgery in Belgium. His timetable is unknown, and the surgery has a strange reputation. While it has worked for some players, it ended the careers of others like Ryan Kesler. Former Florida Panthers defenseman Ed Jovanovski is also known for having the surgery. He returned for 36 games before hanging up the skates but was able to return.

READ MORE ON WHN: MacLellan Shares Update On Backstrom, Timeline With Capitals

Backstrom was limited to just 47 games for Washington this season after spending the first part of the season rehabilitating his hip. It started to grind down at the end of the season. He expects to return and play this year, though, according to MacLellan.

So, his $9.25 million cap hit isn’t being considered “off the books” at all. So for now, it appears signing a star free agent — i.e. a Nazem Kadri-type player who costs upward of $8 million — appears unlikely.

Instead, MacLellan is focused on promoting from within and promoting some Capitals prospects to fill Backstrom’s void.

“What we can do is we can give opportunities to our young guys,” MacLellan explained. “[Connor] McMichael we hope to get to the next step. [Hendrix] Lapierre, we’ll see where he’s at. [Aliaksei] Protas is coming in; we expect him to take the next jump. And kind of look from there.

“I think we have a lot of good players, and we have some good young guys that are developing, so it’s not like I think it’s we have to shake it up. But we’re still open to it. If we could change the dynamics of our team and we think it’s better, we’d do it.”

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