With the expansion draft set to take place next Wednesday, NHL teams must submit their final list of which players they will be protecting by July 17. It’s expected that the Capitals will go with the seven forwards, three defensemen option they used for the Vegas Expansion back in 2017.
The forward list is pretty predictable, especially if the Capitals are waiting to sign Alexander Ovechkin until after the draft so they can protect an extra forward. There’s probably a little bit of a debate who the seventh forward will be, either Daniel Sprong or Connor Sheary, but outside that there isn’t much mystery.
As for the defensemen, unless something crazy happens, it’s safe to assume the Capitals will protect Dmitry Orlov and John Carlson as two of their three defensemen. Orlov is one of the better two-way defensemen in the game and Carlson is arguably a top-three offensive defensemen in the league. The much bigger question mark on the blueline is that third protected spot.
Let’s take a look at each of the remaining eligible defensemen and see why they might or might not be protected (and what Seattle probably thinks of each option)
31 years old, RHD
$4M AAV (through 2021-22)
Why the Caps Will Protect Him: Justin Schultz got off to a roaring start with the Caps. He was putting up points and driving play extremely well, and he finished the season first in primary assists/60 among all defensemen (min 500 minutes) and 12th in overall points/60. When he was healthy, he was generally productive - and after Carlson, the Capitals’ defensive core doesn’t have much offense to it outside of the occasional Orlov sighting. Having someone behind Carlson that can put up points is very helpful for a team that needs depth scoring.
Why the Caps Won’t Protect Him: Schultz had three separate injury strikes throughout the season that cost him 10 games total, which is becoming a trend in recent years. Every time he was playing well, he would get hurt, would have a slow return, play well, then get hurt again. And that was in a shortened season - who knows if he would have been missed more games in a full 82-game season. His $4M cap hit isn’t high by any means but for a team that is cap-strapped they might sacrifice some offense (especially when the offense is from a guy who can’t stay healthy) for players like Nick Jensen or Trevor van Riemsdyk who are cheaper.
Seattle’s Thoughts: There probably aren’t too many teams leaving defensemen with 50 point potential in the expansion draft. Add that Schultz only has one more year at $4M on his contract, so if he doesn’t work out it’s no sweat to Seattle, it is probably pretty appetizing. The question is do injuries outweigh his potential in Seattle’s eyes.
31 years old, LHD
$3.9M AAV (through 2023-24)
Why the Caps Will Protect Him: Dillon seemed like a perfect match for the Capitals’ style of play. He’s a big body that has decent speed for his size, he plays very physical and has good defensive instincts. When he’s on his game he quickly ends opponents’ offensive chances with his body and can get the puck up ice; he’s exactly what the Capitals need on the backend.
Why the Caps Won’t Protect Him: Though Dillon started the season very well, his performance began to slump as the season went on. He picked it up later once Trevor van Riemsdyk partnered up with him (more on him later). The other thing going against Dillon is he’s a lefty. The Capitals are stacked with left handed defensemen: Orlov, Michael Kempny, with Martin Fehervary, Alexander Alexeyev, and Bobby Nardella all NHL ready or very close to it. And like Schultz, though the cap hit isn’t high, shedding almost $4M in cap in a position the team is stacked at makes sense. Basically, he won’t be sorely missed.
Seattle’s Thoughts: Unless Seattle thinks they need some bite to their game on the backend then Dillon might not be worth the pick. He has three years at $3.9M per year on his deal, which is fine, but unless they really want that physicality it’s probably not worth. There’s bound to be a lot of left handed defensemen available.
30 years old, RHD
$2.5M AAV (through 2022-23)
Why the Caps Will Protect Him: Jensen is a smooth, quick-skating defensive defensemen that can match the fastest players in the league and shut them down. At his best he can be a top-four defensemen who (at least for now) is getting paid third-pair money. His analytics have always been really strong, although his ice time last season was mainly on the bottom pair. When he was given top-four minutes the two seasons before the last, the results weren’t great, but that was under Todd Reirden’s watch and that system was not kind to defensemen. He put up elite defensive numbers when partnered with Chara. According to MoneyPuck, that pairing had the seventh-best expected goal against per 60 minutes in the league.
Why the Caps Won’t Protect Him: It’s hard to come up with a reason not to protect Jensen. His cap hit isn’t drastically high. You could save a little more than $1.5M to replace him with van Riemsdyk if you want, but that isn’t much. The only hit on Jensen is he isn’t particularly spectacular in any one area. He’s a safe defensive defensemen who is light on the offensive contributions but is on a good contract. You can worry about Schultz’s health and cap hit, but at least Schultz has a high-end offensive game.
Seattle’s Thoughts: Jensen might be the perfect match for Seattle. They have a good analytic department so you know they see what Jensen has been doing over his career and are happy with it. If they think he’s a real top-four player, with great speed, that’s on a terrific deal, they may have him on their short list.
Trevor van Riemsdyk
29 years old, RHD
$950K AAV (through 2022-23)
Why the Caps Will Protect Him: When van Riemsdyk was signed over the summer it seemed like a good depth signing - nothing too flashy, but after just seven games played the Capitals saw enough to re-sign him for two more years. He eventually found a home next to Dillon and that pair ended up being the best defensive pair the Capitals had all season (with small sample size caveats, of course). When they were on the ice, for whatever reason, they dominated at both ends of the ice while playing on the second pair. TVR is also very cheap, making less than a million a year - so if the Caps ever need to make room they can just send him to the AHL with no extra cap hit. That’s very good value.
Why the Caps Won’t Protect Him: Much like Jensen, money wouldn’t be an issue. At the very worst you get a good depth defensemen. But like Jensen, Trevor is a safe pick - he’s just a reliable, steady player.
Seattle’s Thoughts: If Seattle thinks van Riemsdyk has second-pair ability and wants to get that for a much lower price than a lot of other options out there (including Jensen), that’s value that would be hard to beat. If Jensen is protected, it wouldn’t be crazy to see Seattle pick up van Riemsdyk.
30 years old, LHD
$2.5M AAV (through 2021-22)
Why the Caps Will Protect Him: Ummm... he’s handsome?
Why the Caps Won’t Protect Him: Kempny missed all of last season with an Achilles injury after missing over 20 games the season before that with a hamstring injury. That’s some rough injury luck, and it seemed to have taken its toll on his overall game (although it’s hard to say that for certain, given he was out all last year). He’s also a left-handed defenseman, which the Caps have a plethora of and doesn’t help his case. His top-four days are probably over but he could make a fine bottom-pairing defensemen.
Seattle’s Thoughts: Hard to see Seattle interested in a player that didn’t play at all last season.
25 years old, LHD
$750K AAV (through 2022-23)
Why the Caps Will Protect Him: This may seem like an odd addition, and to be fair it’s dark horse selection. Nardella is an unknown with zero NHL experience but he’s shown potential in both the SHL and AHL against men and he’s making league minimum. He’s extremely low risk but very high reward player. So they could protect him...
Why the Caps Won’t Protect Him: ...but they won’t.
Seattle’s Thoughts: It’s highly unlikely Seattle takes him but if they he catches the eye of one of their scouts and if their focus is on a younger, less proven addition to build up their prospect pool, maybe Seattle takes a look. As noted above, Nardella is a very low-risk player to take but has potentially huge upside. If he hits his ceiling he could give a team high-end offensive production with a league minimum money for two years.
So... who gets that last protected spot?
Who will be the third defenseman the Caps protect?
This poll is closed
Trevor van Riemsdyk