CHICAGO — It seemed it would be quiet night for the Washington Capitals during the first round of the 2017 NHL Draft at United Center. They had already traded their pick, the 27th one overall in the Entry Draft, to the St. Louis Blues as part of their trade deadline rental of defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk.
But just under 90 minutes before the show was to begin, the Caps surprised the hockey world by re-signing TJ Oshie to a massive eight-year, $46 million dollar contract, carrying a salary cap hit of $5.75 million.
“Osh means a lot to us,” Capitals head coach Barry Trotz told a small gaggle of reporters here. “It’s a great message not only to our team, but our fans. I think he’s a big part of our success. I think it’s a huge signing. Good job by the organization.”
Before the news broke, it looked doubtful that the Capitals would be able to afford Oshie considering all the valuable restricted free agents they want to re-sign, something general manger Brian MacLellan said last month was their top offseason priority.
Andre Burakovsky, who made just under $900,000 last year, is in line for significant raise. Phillip Grubauer, who has the possibility of being a great starting goaltender, also needs to be kept in the fold. Washington also wants to ink Evgeny Kuznetsov, one of the most skilled players in the NHL, and Dmitry Orlov, who was one of just 23 defensemen to receive a Norris Trophy vote as the league’s best D-man.
But Oshie scored 33 goals in 68 games. Alex Ovechkin, the team’s $124 million man, also tallied 33 goals, and he took 14 more games to do it.
“If we didn’t get it before July 1, we might have gotten in a little trouble,” MacLellan said of the deal. “The market for scoring wingers is pretty thin this year. I would assume he would be the number one or number two targets so I think he could have made maybe more money if he totally went to free agency.”
The Capitals were able to make the Oshie deal work for a few reasons. First, Oshie loves the community of Capitals players and their families that the team has fostered under Trotz, a feature members of the organization cite endlessly as something special that does not exist in the rest of the league. Also, the Capitals are a good hockey team.
“I have no doubt in my mind we’ll be able to win a Cup here in the next couple years,” Oshie said on a conference call. “It’s somewhere my family is comfortable with. Washington I feel does a very, very good job of making families feel welcome and letting the kids run around and understands there are a lot of parents on the team.”
Second, the cap will increase from $$73 million to $75 million.
“I think both sides had a desire to get a deal done,” MacLellan said. “We had to wait to see how the season played out and where the salary cap was coming in. We got the [cap] number there last week and we tried to make our numbers work with that number.”
Third, Nate Schmidt’s departure will leave them some more wiggle room though the Capitals do not have a plan to fill his role in the top-six, with it possibly falling on a rookie D-man straight out of junior or the American Hockey League.
While the Capitals are in a bind in with cap, the team is confident Oshie is worth it. Oshie, 30, is a favorite of head coach Barry Trotz, who says he embodies exactly what a Capitals player should be.
“He’s a guy that brings energy,” Trotz said. “He consistently brings a high compete level, a high execution level, and a relentless attitude. That’s Osh.”
Here’s the downside. On average, production drops off for players after their mid-20s. Oshie will turn 31 in December. He will cost the Capitals over $6 million dollars when he is 39. Oshie said this is likely his last contact before he retires.
“You never know,” MacLellan said of how the deal will hold up in the future. “He really works at his game. He’s a good athlete. There’s guys playing in the league that are 38, 39 years old.”
In fact, Oshie may just be hitting his stride. What happens at the tail end of his contract is another question.
“I feel l like my game got freed up,” Oshie said of his play after being traded to the Capitals by the Blues. “It was a new opportunity to take back the offensive side of the game.”
No matter what, you’ll hear Joe B calling his name for a long time.
“I was a nervous wreck for a while,” Oshie said of the contract negations with the Caps after he told he agent Washington was where he wanted to be. “Everything worked out exactly as I wanted it to. I really couldn’t be happy with staying and re-signing.”
Headline photo: Patrick Smith
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