On Saturday evening, The Washington Post confirmed the Capitals’ protected list for the expansion draft on Wednesday. The notable exceptions, who the Vegas Golden Knights will be free to pick from starting at 10 AM tomorrow, include Jay Beagle, Nate Schmidt, Philipp Grubauer, and TJ Oshie.
Since then, many readers have been wondering why Capitals general manager Brian MacLellan made Oshie, who tied Alex Ovechkin for the team lead in goals last season, available to Vegas. While Oshie is an unrestricted free agent this summer, both the 30-year-old winger and the Caps want him to stay in DC.
“I think TJ’s a big part of our hockey team,” Caps head coach Barry Trotz said after the season. “He’s what you look for in a Washington Capital.”
So why did the Capitals leave him exposed?
First, the Caps don’t know what next year’s salary cap will be. Originally, it looked like the upper limit would be staying around $73-74 million. At that number, re-signing Oshie, who made $4.5 million last year and scored 33 goals in just 68 games, is a near impossibility. The Capitals’ priority this season is keeping young players like Evgeny Kuznetsov, Andre Burakovsky, Dmitry Orlov, and (hopefully) Schmidt in the fold.
However, TSN’s Pierre LeBrun reported Friday that the NHL Player’s Association was voting on approving a $75 million cap. If that goes through, it looks like the Caps may be able to make a deal work.
However, the main reason Washington left Oshie exposed is because, despite becoming a UFA on July 1, Oshie’s rights are still held by the Capitals. If the Golden Knights considered selecting him in the expansion draft, they would be rolling the dice on a player who may have no interest in playing in Las Vegas.
Vegas has just 72 hours to negotiate a contract with free agents, restricted and unrestricted, that were left unprotected. If the Golden Knights sign a player, he counts as a selection from the team that previously held his rights.
Rather than risk wasting time on a player unlikely to sign with his team, Vegas GM George McPhee, Washington’s former shot caller, will likely select a player under contract like Brooks Orpik or a promising restricted free agent like Grubauer, who Vegas then will control the negotiating rights for. If a restricted free agent Vegas selects in the expansion draft signs with another team, they can match the deal or get draft pick compensation.
If Oshie does enter the open market when we hit July, the Golden Knights can always go after him then — if the Capitals haven’t re-signed him already. In May, Sportsnet reported a deal between Oshie and the Capitals was all but agreed upon, pending the cap number and the expansion draft. If the Capitals had re-signed Oshie already, they would have to protect him and leave another player exposed.
No matter what, the expansion draft promises to be hard on Caps fans and heavy on familiar faces McPhee signed or drafted back in the day.
Headline photo: Claus Andersen
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