As the term applies to the Washington Capitals, “the window” is that of competitiveness, more or less aligned with the careers of Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom, as in “as long as Ovechkin/Backstrom are Capitals, the team will do what it can to make ‘the window’ for winning a Stanley Cup open.”
Well, things happen. And big things are going to happen rather soon to the Washington Capitals. No, neither Ovechkin nor Backstrom are going anywhere (unless Backstrom’s injury renders him unable to resume or continue his career). But a lot of other Capitals could be. Let’s go to the folks over at capfriendly.com to see just what this looks like as we go into the new season:
Twenty-five players, 11 of them unrestricted free agents after this season, three restricted free agents, two of them arbitration eligible. That leaves 11 roster players under contract for the 2023-2024 season and the Capitals with a lot of roster decisions to make. So, while we leave the matter of who will stay and who will go for another time, we can ponder what this team might look like if the Caps were to fill the holes of all the free agents from within the organization. Let us start with a baseline, the capitals under contract for next season (we have left Backstrom off this list for the moment, given his uncertain status):
If the salary cap remains unchanged from its current level of $82.5 million, these ten players would take up $50.43 million in cap hit (61.1 percent of the cap), leaving 32.07 million for 12 other roster spots, assuming 23 roster spots to be filled. The first thing to note about this group is, it’s old. Of the 11, only Tom Wilson, Anthony Mantha, and Connor McMichael will be younger than 30 years old, a reason to think about how the Caps would build from within.
And while almost 30 percent of the cap remains to fill a dozen other roster spots sounds nice, hold that thought. If Nicklas Backstrom returns, that is another $9.2 million hit to the cap, leaving $22.87 million (27.7 percent of the cap) to fill 11 roster spots. Not necessarily crippling, but it does reduce the possibilities for filling roster spots from the outside.
And that brings us to the first wave of potential additions from within, the restricted free agents who appear to stand the best chance of making the 2023-2024 roster (highlighted in green):
We did not attach cap hits to these players, lacking clairvoyance as we do. But Dylan Strome, who carries a $3.5 million cap hit this season, could be due for a raise next season on a team that could be a bit thin at forward (note: we have Strome as a winger here, although he might end up slotted as a center; he and Connor McMichael could be flipped for purposes of this review). Martin Fehervary might be in line for a raise as well, but starting from a lower base, the pain might not be quite as sharply felt. In the case of Alexander Alexeyev, he is likely to have a thin resume on which to build a case for a significant raise. He is the only one of the three who is not arbitration-eligible.
Then there are the restricted free agents whose odds of making the roster appear longer and less certain (highlighted in blue):
Axel Jonsson-Fjallby has a future with this team, but he played only 23 games last season and seems unlikely to get regular playing time this season. And, he has been waived by the club once. He is not on the firmest of ground here as far as 2023-24 goes. As for Gabriel Carlsson, we include him here, but we are not particularly enthusiastic about it. After all, he has only 75 games in six seasons on his resume (more than half of them – 38 – last year with Columbus). If anything, his presence here is an indicator of a lack of depth among prospect defensemen, but that is another topic for another time. This leaves us with one last category – non-roster players under contract (highlighted in yellow):
In some ways, this is the most intriguing group of all. A number of players from this group (forwards) could play roles as core players in the next generation of Capitals or alt least play regular roles over a period of seasons for the club. But on a team with a “win now” approach and for which the 2022-23 season might be the last best chance at a run at a Stanley Cup, they might face the longest odds of making this year’s squad, making their big leap in the 2023-24 season we are looking at.
We have Ryan Chesley in his own category (highlighted in gray), a player only drafted this past summer, to fill out the roster. The Caps are not particularly deep in prospects on defense, especially on the right side. He would be perhaps the longest shot of any on this roster to make the squad in 2023-24.
If you look at this group in its entirety it is an oddly divided team comprised of the remnants of the “Rock the Red” era and the underlying components of what might start as a rebuild before becoming a more competitive team in a few years. Those players would not appear to have sufficient seasoning to support a playoff run in the short term.
What this 2023-24 roster serves to demonstrate is that while this coming season might be that last best bet to make a deep playoff run, the Capitals front office might be among the busiest in the NHL working to address the high volume of free agents who will be playing on the last year of their respective current contracts. Who will stay? Who will go? Who will be extended? And down the road, who do the Caps bring in from the outside? This will not be a quiet 12 months to come for the Capitals.