WASHINGTON — As T.J. Oshie was backchecking in the Washington Capitals' Saturday tilt with the Toronto Maple Leafs, something went wrong, and the team held its breath.
The 35-year-old pulled up in visible pain and slowly made his way back to the bench. Then, after standing for a moment and leaning on his stick, Oshie, in visible discomfort, went down the dressing room tunnel, using the boards to help him. Right now, he's day-to-day, but his injury may ultimately drive what the Capitals' next move will be.
Washington faces some tough salary cap questions as Nicklas Backstrom continues to make progress in his recovery. When he comes back from the long-term injured reserve, the Capitals will have his $9.2 million back on the books and will have to clear roughly $6.1 million in cap space, per the CapFriendly tool. Tom Wilson is on the IR, so his salary already goes against the cap, meaning his return won't have an impact there.
Even sending down the likes of Lucas Johansen and other Hershey call-ups, Washington will still be over. That would lead to quite a move having to be made to clear that space. However, if Oshie's out of the picture for a bit, that changes things.
It is unclear what Oshie's injury is, but it looks similar to the one he suffered in Nashville that sidelined him for 11 games. For a player to go on LTIR, they must be expected to miss at least 10 NHL games and 24 days of the season. So, there is definitely a possibility that could work for the team. He could go on LTIR and have his $5.75 million come off the books, which would leave Washington just $350,000 over the cap and needing to likely make just one small transaction to be under the cap and have Backstrom and Wilson back in the picture.
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Still, if Oshie is out long-term, the team may have to consider a big trade for a top-6 forward to take his place. The star winger is the "motor" of the dressing room, and his energy and presence alone are a major boost to the lineup night in and night out. The Capitals have been 9-1-3 since he returned from his injury, and they won just two of the 11 games he was out. Washington needs that X-factor and to keep the offense going, so a trade may make sense there. However, if he's not out for long, that isn't likely.
In the end, Oshie to the LTIR is just a short-term solution, and the Capitals will still have to clear that space. They'd just get more time to consider who goes.
One candidate for a trade would be Lars Eller, as Backstrom's return would give the team an influx of centers, and Eller's $3 million cap hit for the remainder of the season could help bring in more assets at the deadline. Of course, Dylan Strome could move to the wing, but he's been thriving in the center role.
If the team doesn't want to make a deal at that point, then it would lead to tough decisions surrounding Nicolas Aube-Kubel, Joe Snively, and Aliaksei Protas, as well as Matt Irwin and Alex Alexeyev.
Overall, it's unclear what the road ahead looks like for Oshie, but it does weigh on the team's decisions going forward.