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The Capitals’ 2019 Free Agents: Who Stays and Who Goes?

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The Caps have nine free agents, four UFAs and five RFAs, to take care of this summer: what happens now?

NHL: Washington Capitals at New Jersey Devils Noah K. Murray-USA TODAY Sports

The Washington Capitals’ offseason started much earlier than anyone would have liked, and so has the free agency discussion. The Caps have nine free agents to either resign or say farewell to, and there’s only one certainty in this situation: not all of them can stay. The organization also has to keep potential trades and the tight salary cap situation in mind when making these decisions.

So what is the likelihood that each of the nine free agents returns for the 2019-2020 season? Let’s take a look...

See You Back In DC

Christian Djoos (RFA)

Expiring Contract: 2 years, $650,000
Arbitration Eligible: Yes

It would be very surprising if the Capitals don’t extend Christian Djoos a qualifying offer this offseason. He only played in 25 regular season games before being sidelined with a thigh injury that required surgery, but he looked solid when he did get some ice time. While he struggled a bit in the postseason, there will most likely be some spots to fill on the Caps’ blueline and Djoos is a good fit.

Chandler Stephenson (RFA)

Expiring Contract: 2 years, $650,000
Arbitration Eligible: Yes

The 24-year-old forward has earned himself a qualifying offer from the Capitals, despite what some fans may think. His offensive production still leaves something to be desired, but he is an excellent skater and can be brought back at a relatively low cost for Washington. He can also play at both center and wing, so that versatility is a plus.

Jakub Vrana (RFA)

Expiring Contract: 3 years, $863,333
Arbitration Eligible: No

If you, for some reason, think Jakub Vrana isn’t returning to the Washington Capitals next season then I have several questions. He was one of the Caps’ most consistent forwards this season, coming in third on the team in goals (24) and sixth in total points (47). He is also incredibly fast, which was very important for the Caps this year, and still has room for growth. The only question surrounding Vrana is what exactly his contract will look like.

He is absolutely due a raise, but it’s hard to say whether it will come in the form of a long-term deal or a bridge deal. A long-term deal would certainly be more appealing to Vrana because it offers more security, but it could put the Capitals in a bit of a bind in terms of cap space. A bridge deal (fewer years, less money) would help in that regard, and will probably be doable as long as Washington makes it clear that the potential for more money is on the table the next go around.

Happy Trails, Fellas

Dmitrij Jaskin (RFA)

Expiring Contract: 1 year, $1.1 million
Arbitration Eligible: Yes

The Capitals took a chance on Dmitrij Jaskin this season when they snagged him off waivers on October 2, and he showed some promise early on. However, as the season went on, his ice time decreased and he went 22 games as a healthy scratch between February 17 and April 6. He was also a healthy scratch for all seven of the Caps’ postseason games. All signs point to both the Capitals and Jaskin moving on.

Brooks Orpik (UFA)

Expiring Contract: 1 year, $1 million

The biggest decision here actually isn’t for the Capitals, it’s for Brooks Orpik. The two-time Cup winner has had an incredible 16-year NHL career, but at 38 years old, he has to to decide whether or not to hang up his skates. Orpik has mentioned that his knee, on which he had surgery in late November, will play a part in whatever decision he makes:

If Orpik says he’s not ready to retire, then the decision falls on the Capitals. Do they bring back the veteran defenseman who has become a mentor to so many younger Caps, or do they pass on re-signing him in favor of giving another young blueliner a chance or clearing up some cap space to sign a coveted free agent?

Devante Smith-Pelly (UFA)

Expiring Contract: 1 year, $1 million

This feels like the fuzziest decision in this trio. It’s clear that Smith-Pelly likes playing in Washington (if he didn’t, he wouldn’t have taken the shorter and lower contract he did last summer so he could stay). It’s clear that he can provide a bit of a spark when needed. It’s clear that he works well with the system if he’s in the Capitals’ lineup. That’s the key here: if he’s in the lineup.

GM Brian MacLellan hasn’t outright vetoed the idea of DSP returning, but he hasn’t exactly extended a warm welcome either. GMBM made both the conditioning issues that he had with Smith-Pelly earlier this season and the expectations if he were to return very clear to him:

DSP has said he would like to return, but he’ll have to put in the work to make it a possibility. Even then, he might not fit into Washington’s plans for next season. It’s hard to say for sure, but it seems highly unlikely that fans will see Smith-Pelly in a Caps’ sweater next year.

Decisions, Decisions...

Andre Burakovsky (RFA)

Expiring Contract: 2 years, $3 million
Arbitration Eligible: Yes

Oh Andre...what are the Caps going to do with you? A qualifying offer will cost the Capitals $3.25 million, which is, quite frankly, a bit much for an inconsistent forward who posted 12 goals and 13 assists through 76 games in the regular season. Yes, he did seem to turn things up a bit going into the playoffs and actually had a couple of stellar postseason games, but that doesn’t necessarily warrant the pay raise.

Burakovsky has made it clear that he loves playing in Washington, which might work in the their favor. There is a chance that they could choose not to extend a qualifying offer in hopes that he chooses to sign with the Caps anyway, but for less as a UFA. This is potentially the ideal solution to the Burakovsky Conundrum™, but only time will tell whether the Capitals go this route. Either way, although Burakovsky may want to stay in Washington, his return to the roster isn’t guaranteed.

Brett Connolly (UFA)

Expiring Contract: 2 years, $1.5 million

For Brett Connolly, it’s going to come down to comfort versus coin. Not only did Connolly have the best year of his career this season, he has also really come into himself as an NHL-er in Washington. He has more than proven himself to the team that took a chance on him back in 2016, and he’s due a pretty big raise from his $1.5 million cap hit this season. However, it’s going to be tricky for the Caps to pay him what he deserves to be paid.

Connolly has expressed a desire to return to Washington and said he would consider a bit of a “hometown” discount. The Caps probably want him back too. However, Conno will only go so low and the Caps will only be able to go so high. A decision can’t really be made until Washington moves some things around and reaches deals with a few other players, including Jakub Vrana. Cap space will have to be cleared up, and no one knows what that looks like yet.

Carl Hagelin (UFA)

Expiring Contract: 4 years, $1.875 million for Washington after salary retention/$4 million total

The chances of Carl Hagelin returning to Washington next season are slim, but it isn’t totally out of the question. Bringing him back will require more money movement than bringing Connolly back, especially because Hagelin is going to command at least the $4 million he has earned for the past four years. However, the Caps should at least look into what it would take to keep him in DC.

He fit seamlessly into Capitals’ lineup as soon as he was acquired at the deadline. He works well on any of Washington’s lines and can help anchor a PK unit. He also has a pretty impressive set of wheels, which served the Caps well. He seemed to get along well with the team and the coaching staff, and he said he felt comfortable. However, there aren’t many scenarios in which both Connolly and Hagelin come back.

So there you have it, the Capitals’ nine free agents for this offseason. Fans, players, and management all have images of the ideal way things will shake out, but no one knows exactly what the offseason holds. One thing is for certain: this will be a busy and complicated summer.