The expansion draft is going to hurt. In mid-June, once the travails of this season are over, the Vegas Golden Knights will get to snatch players from every team in the league. It seems inevitable that the Caps will lose one or two valuable players to George McPhee’s new team.
But it doesn’t have to be that way. There are some scenarios that won’t be so bad overall, and maybe there’s a couple that might even help the Caps in the long run.
I don’t vouch for the likelihood of these moves except to say that they will all occur in some universe within a multiverse wherein anything is possible. I also make no guesses about whom the Caps will protect; that’s another article.
The Capitals have the league’s best goalie duo and they can’t protect ’em both. Philipp Grubauer’s .931 (all situation, this season) and career .924 on nearly 1500 shots suggests that he could be a viable starting goalie for an upstart team in the desert. And with three shutouts in 13 starts, he’s definitely got buzz.
Plus, with Ilya Samsonov and Vitek Vanacek showing promise on the farm, the Caps have a contingency plan in net. While a good goalie is a fungible asset and tasty trade bait, Philipp Grubauer’s biggest gift to the Caps might be reducing the exposure of middle-lineup players like Dmitry Orlov and, say, Andre Burakovsky.
George McPhee was let go from his job in Washington after failing to strengthen the Capitals blue line. His successor, Brian MacLellan, resolved the issue immediately, signing Brooks Orpik and Matt Niskanen. While Niskanen is a stone-cold ace and a certain protectee from the expansion draft, Brooks Orpik is not so much.
After a few years of flailing, Orpik’s numbers are looking good in 2016-17. That’s likely due to his partnership with Nate Schmidt and limited deployments, but it does not erase Orpik’s accomplishment. He has put up a strong season and made a case for his continued viability.
With proof positive that he can be a productive player, Orpik could be attractive to the stripling Knights. They would benefit from the stability and experience he’d bring to the blue line, and they won’t mind so much the $5.5 million cap hit, which would be better spent ensuring a deal for, say, Andre Burakovsky.
Karl Alzner is an iron man. He has played more than 500 games in a row and eats some some very tough, very numerous minutes in those games. But his role on the team is changing, and perhaps the man who drafted him, Vegas GM George McPhee, might want him as the centerpiece of his new defense.
Drafted 5th overall in 2007, Alzner plays 20 minutes a night, behind only John Carlson and Matt Niskanen. It’s a huge job, and Alzner does it quietly. Up until recently he had done it well, but we’ve recently seen suggestions that the trend is changing. Teammates uniformly perform worse in shot attempts when they share ice with Alzner, and Caps goalies see more action during Alzner’s shifts.
But more importantly, Alzner is due for a big payday this offseason. His $2.8-million deal expires this summer, and the Caps will be tempted to give him a big reward for big minutes. Were the Golden Knights to commit grand theft Alzner in the expansion draft, they would spare the Caps a lot of sunk costs that would go to better use locking up a player with more upside, like, say, Andre Burakovsky.
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