Every team in the NHL is planning for the future and lining up younger players to fill in as contracts expire or older players are “moved” off the roster. The past couple of summers, the Capitals have made some long-term investments in players that may make it harder for younger players to have their opportunity on the NHL ice.
Start by looking at the forwards under contract. It is too early to predict what the top two lines will look like. We know with some certainty that the top five on this list will comprise those top lines. We should begin to see who the sixth player is once training camp begins in mid-September. It is possible that Jakub Vrana receives a top spot, unless it goes to Andre Burakovsky.
The Caps have locked down TJ Oshie, Evgeny Kuznetsov, Lars Eller, and Tom Wilson as the forwards for the long haul. That leaves a few players in place for the next two to three seasons before a good deal of shuffling begins.
- More than likely Nicklas Backstrom will receive an extension, barring any health issues or drop in performance. He will be 32 at the end of his contract. Would they give him another five years if he is healthy? Would he want it?
- Alex Ovechkin is the big question. He will hold the captain spot as long as he wants it. He will remain the face of the franchise for as long as he plays. After three seasons will a 35-year old Ovi still want to play for the Capitals? Many speculate that with the birth of a son, and more children likely, he and his wife may decide it is time to give back to the motherland.
More than likely Brett Connolly and Devante Smith-Pelly are playing their last season with the Capitals to make room for the young squad. Who will continue from the current list of players that need new contracts next summer? It will all depend on how they perform and if the Caps actually can go back-to-back. We have high hopes for Jakub Vrana and Shane Gersich, if he makes the cut. Andre Burakovsky will have to work hard this season to earn a new longer-term contract for himself.
The Caps, therefore will have a new look by 2020 or 2021. There are some good prospects in Hershey who will surely get their chance to dance in the big show to show that they have what it takes.
The defense is a tougher nut to crack. The Caps like John Carlson and locked him in for the next eight seasons. Dmitry Orlov received his commitment last season and is with the Caps for another five seasons and Michal Kempny for four more. Moving on down the line, Matt Niskanen will hold on for another three seasons at this point. That ties down the top four spots for the next three seasons. Brook Orpik, who the Caps brought back for a year, is not thought to return after 2019 nor to play in every game this season.
The bottom pairs is anybody’s guess right now. The good news is they have great options with Christian Djoos and the many developing defensemen from the Hershey Bears:
Right now the prospect most talked about is Madison Bowey; however, it remains to be seen if he will stay in Washington after training camp in September. Connor Hobbs, Jonas Siegenthaler, and Kris Bindulis looked like strong contenders during Caps development camp this past July.
Braden Holtby remains the number one guy in the net. For now, Pheonix Copley will start as number two; however, that could only be for the one year left on his contract. Ilya Samsanov will spend the next season training with the Hershey Bears and if successful, he could become the number two and heir apparent to Holtby. The unknown answer to the question is: will Holtby be number one when it is time to extend his contract after two seasons? The Capitals have a history of bringing up their goalies from the ECHL and AHL and that is the most likely scenario here.
For now we know with a high level of certainty who the six Caps players who will be on the forward lines for the next three years. We know who the first two pairs of defenseman will he and which goaltender will lead the defense for at least two years. That gives the Capitals coaches and managers a pretty stable crew to work with and to plan around. And there is just enough space for six forwards, two or three defensemen, and at least one one goaltender to prove themselves and secure long-term contracts for their future