clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

What Are The Capitals’ Cap Options?

Exploring a trio of routes the Caps could go down to become cap-compliant

NHL: SEP 16 Preseason - Capitals at Bruins Photo by Fred Kfoury III/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

With the Washington Capitals and Chandler Stephenson settling on a one year $1.05M deal late Friday night, the Capitals now sit a little over $1.3M in cap with a full 23 man roster of 14 forwards, seven defensemen, and two goalie. Obviously this won’t work and the Capitals will have to shed salary to be able to ice a proper roster come opening night October 2nd. So what are their options?

First, it’s important to note that unless the Capitals shed some big salary, Stephenson simply cannot be on the roster opening night. He’s not a $1M player and the Capitals probably didn’t want to pay him that but after the arbitrator settled on Christian Djoos getting more than he should have, the Capitals thought Stephenson would get similar money so they had to settle quickly. (Note: Djoos is more than worth is price tag but considering his down, injured year getting $1.25M was more than people and most likely the Capitals thought he would get).

The reason they needed to make sure Stephenson stayed low on his AAV, and couldn’t take the chance on the arbitrator giving him more, is because with the price tag they signed him to the Capitals can send Stephenson to Hershey without a penalty cap hit at the NHL level. For example, if they send Djoos and his $1.25M cap down to Herhsey (no way he would clear) it would be a $175K cap hit. So for the sake of argument, for every option presented below, assume Stephenson has been traded, picked up on waivers, or in Hershey.

OPTION A

An extreme route the Capitals could take is roll with only 21 players on the roster. It’s allowed but not often exercised. Teams love to have at least one extra forward and defenseman, especially when traveling, just in case there is an emergency and a player needs to be replaced. But the Capitals could take this route by either sending down Brendon Leipsic or Travis Boyd on the forward front or Jonas Siegenthaler on the defensive end.

Leipsic and Boyd would have to clear waivers, which they should pass through, but remember Nathan Walker didn’t pass through waivers a couple years ago and it’s arguable Leipsic and Boyd are better. Siegenthaler is the only player on the roster that does not need waivers, which means he can go straight to the AHL. But the Capitals, and most teams, would much rather have one more defensemen than one extra forward, so it probably wouldn’t be Siegenthaler.

Sending down any of those three would leave the Capitals with $400K-$500K in cap space to start the season. It isn’t huge but very doable. It’s just doubtful the Capitals want to do it. They might be able to get away with it for the first couple weeks of the season because they only have two short road trips (STL-NYI and NSH-DAL) so only having one extra is a small gamble.

But starting October 20th, after the first nine games, the Capitals hit the road going CHI-CGY-EDM-VAN. The West Coast Canadian trip is where having extras is really important because if someone goes down, it’s hard to get someone from the East Coast to Western Canada in time and be able to play without being a liability. For instance if someone gets hurt in the Edmonton game, their replacement must get from the East Coast to Vancouver in less than 24 hours and be able to play. It’s not ideal.

Unless the Capitals really think they can make this work it’s doubtful they run with a 21 man roster, but they could be back into this corner if they don’t want to make any bigger moves.

OPTION B

The easiest way to fix the problem is trading a player with enough cap (at least $1.2M) to cover everyone to have a 22 man roster. Easy doesn’t mean it’s the best, just that it would check a lot of boxes in one swipe. There’s also an issue of who would you trade? It can’t be any of the forwards because all the most likely candidates of who gets paid more than $1.2M are unmovable. There are the most recent signees like Carl Hagelin ($2.75M), Richard Panik ($2.75M), and Garnet Hathaway ($1.5M) but it’s very unlikely that the Capitals trade players they literally just signed. Lars Eller is also an option with his $3.5M cap hit but no way that happens because there is no one else to replace him at the third line center position.

So it’s a no go on the forwards. What about defensive options? Many think the Capitals should just move Djoos new $1.25M cap out but the thing is Djoos is a really good defensemen that just had a down season due to a brutal injury. Trading him would bring back pennies on the dollar of what he’s actually worth. Between his down year and teams knowing the Capitals are up against the cap, they’ll have to take a terrible return to move him out.

The only other option that makes “sense” is trading Michal Kempny. Sense is in quotations because it makes sense cap wise but not sanity wise. Kempny was not only the reason the Capitals won the Stanley Cup in 2018 but his absence due to injury in 2019 is arguably the reason they didn’t win it again. But he did just go through a brutal injury and the Capitals have 300 million (approximate) left handed defensemen that could potentially take his place in the top four. So MAYBE the Capitals could see him as replaceable by Djoos or Siegenthaler, but still doubtful.

But none of those options really make sense at all for a team still trying to win a Cup. Maybe a Djoos trade because he’ll barely get the Capitals under $400K in cap space. The issue is you go from having seven strong defensemen to just six and having Tyler Lewington as your extra. Lewington isn’t bad, he actually had a great two game stint with the Capitals last season, but it’s unlikely he’s more than just a seventh defensemen at the NHL level. If someone gets hurt the Capitals go from a great player that can jump in and help to a seventh defensemen that could make the team weaker. There’s also an option of having a young top talent like Alexander Alexeyev, Lucas Johansen, or Martin Fehervary be the number seven but that isn’t great for development.

OPTION C

An option that many people are not talking about is to send Pheonix Copley down to Hershey and recall Vitek Vanecek (Ilya Samsonov would put the Capitals over the cap). If Copley is sent through waivers during the crazy start of preseason when other teams have no idea what they have, it’s unlikely he gets claimed. But even if he is claimed it isn’t the biggest hit to the team. Copley is good, but he’s just a backup, not a Philipp Grubauer with number one potential. A backup could be found in Vanecek, waivers, or a trade.

If Copley makes it through waivers, which he probably would, he would give the Capitals only a $25K cap hit. Plus, Vanecek is very underrated and is ready to take his shot at the NHL. He could provide at the very least what Copley did last season, but with the potential to be much better.

This move would allow the Capitals to keep both Djoos and Siegenthaler in order to carry seven very good defensemen defensemen, but also allow for 13 forwards, so there is depth at both positions. The only problem would be this would give a little less than $50K in cap space to the team, which is really cutting it close.

This option works like the trade option in that moving one person down (sans Stephenson) fixes all the problems. Granted, Copley could be traded, but his return might not be worth the chance on trying to keep him in the system in case he is needed down the road. If the Capitals stick with Vanecek long enough they could bank enough space to bring Copley back under the cap down the road.

It’s really unfortunate the Capitals are in this position, but it probably has more to do with the NHL General Managers being blind sided by a cap hit that was $1.5M less than they were told for months. If the cap was set at $83M like it was reported the Capitals could ice a full 23 man roster with almost a full $1M in cap space to play with. But alas, it wasn’t and now some tough decisions have to be made.

Don’t expect anything major to happen between now and training camp like a trade. The most likely scenario is the Capitals go into training camp over the cap and let players battle it out. Maybe every player shows up to training camp and looks great in preseason so the Capitals go with option A. Maybe Djoos just doesn’t return to his old self and they go with option B. Maybe Vanecek shows Copley up and the Capitals go with option C. Or an injury could happen, which opens up space like when Boyd was hurt to start last season.

The good news is whatever they decide to do it should not affect the overall team, they will still be a great team regardless. Be thankful the Capitals are not in a Vegas Golden Knights situations where they just lost an amazing player in Nikita Gusev because of their cap situation.