With the annual general manager meetings taking place in Boca Raton, Fla., many important points of discussion are being addressed, and all obviously will have a direct impact on the Washington Capitals.
One of the more critical points in the GM discussions is the expectations of the cap ceiling next year.
According to Sportsnet’s Chris Johnston, the salary cap is expected to fall somewhere between $75.5 million and $76 million. That is, unless, the players opt to utilize their five percent inflator clause.
Bill Daly says the NHL's salary cap is projected to be $75.5M-$76M next season, but adds it will depend on inflator negotiations with NHLPA.— Chris Johnston (@reporterchris) March 8, 2017
The salary cap for this season was set at $73 million, a $1.6 million increase from the 2015-16 season after the players elected to use the inflator clause.
To see an early projection of the salary cap suggest at least a $2.5 million increase over the current cap is especially encouraging for the Capitals. With T.J. Oshie, Justin Williams, Daniel Winnik, Karl Alzner and Kevin Shattenkirk set to become unrestricted free agents, and Evgeny Kuznetsov, Andre Burakovsky, Brett Connolly, Dmitry Orlov, Nate Schmidt and Philipp Grubauer set to become restricted free agents, the Capitals have to squeeze as much out of the salary cap as physically possible if they hope to retain the dominant team they’ve possessed over the last two seasons.
Of those 11 free agents, Oshie, Alzner, Shattenkirk, Kuznetsov and Orlov are likely to see large pay raises over their current cap hits. Kuznetsov, Connolly, Orlov, Schmidt and Grubauer even have arbitration rights, further making the upcoming Capitals offseason a more sticky situation.
It will be physically impossible for the Capitals to retain all 11 players, forcing general manager Brian MacLellan to make decisions like who could be more valuable to his team for the next several seasons: Oshie or Shattenkirk?
Now, one of the ways MacLellan’s decisions will become a bit simpler will be the upcoming expansion draft. The Capitals will have two options on how many players they are allowed to protect: Seven forwards, three defensemen and one goaltender or eight skaters and one goaltender. And as the season continues to progress, it seems more than likely that Vegas Golden Knights general manager George McPhee will have his eye on anyone of the Capitals’ RFAs that will be exposed.
It doesn’t appear, unfortunately, that fans will have an idea of who will be protected in that expansion draft from each team
For those who have asked, here's an NHL spokesperson's statement on the public release of teams' protected lists for the expansion draft. pic.twitter.com/TiChf2lsDV— Craig Morgan (@craigsmorgan) March 8, 2017
It just appears to be another instance where the NHL forgets that its sole purpose is entertainment for its fans.
Lemme guess - they don't think fans would be interested, just like we're not interested in salaries? https://t.co/e3KIvFcgKr— Japers' Rink (@JapersRink) March 8, 2017
Another point of discussion was how the NHL should approach the bye week for the next season. One proposal that seems to be gaining ground is the possibility of holding each team’s bye week over a two-week period, where 15 teams would take it one week and 16 would take it another. Following each bye week, teams that enjoyed a mini vacation would immediately face a team that also enjoyed a mini vacation.
The NHL is looking at changing bye week to having 15 teams off at one time, 16 the next. First two games would be vs. teams coming off bye.— Chris Johnston (@reporterchris) March 8, 2017
Heading into the Capitals’ bye week this season, the team was enjoying a six-game win streak and a home streak of an astounding 10 games with at least five goals scored. But upon their return, Washington lost its next two decisions and has since gone 5-3-1, pedestrian by Capitals standards.
Now, assuming the NHL is fine with essentially barring half of the NHL from playing games over a two-week span, it seems reasonable that the NHL would be okay with allowing players to participate in the Olympics, a tournament which also happens to take about two weeks, right?
Think again. According to the Canadian Press, the NHL’s involvement in the PyeongChang Olympics doesn’t appear to be likely.
This is critical because not only has Alex Ovechkin said he will attend the Olympics regardless of the decision, but owner Ted Leonsis said any player worthy enough to represent their country would have his blessing to participate in the tournament. That could mean multiple of the Capitals’ best players could be leaving their team for a two-week period during a critical part of the season.
The uproar against the NHL barring its best athletes from participating in the tournament may end up being a bit too strong for the NHL to ignore.
One person that may lead the charge? NHL super agent Allan Walsh, whose Capitals clients in Octagon Hockey include Taylor Chorney, Nathan Walker, Vitek Vanecek and Travis Boyd. Walsh is never afraid to bully the NHL to have his clients’ way.