With the Washington Capitals entering their offseason earlier than anticipated, the future of several players remains in flux, with restricted and unrestricted free agency coming up on July 1.
Devante Smith-Pelly has yet to secure a contract with the Capitals for the 2019-20 season, and there appears to be no plan to send him back to Hershey — who are playing the Charlotte Checkers in the Atlantic Division Final — for the remainder of their Calder Cup run.
Smith-Pelly was called back up to the Capitals roster after a broken collarbone sidelined TJ Oshie. He was waived and sent to the Capitals AHL affiliate, the Hershey Bears, back in February. DSP tallied 14 points in 20 games with the Bears, including a hat trick in March against the Hartford Wolf Pack.
On breakdown day, Capitals general manager Brian MacLellan said that the Capitals were open to signing Smith-Pelly to another contract, but only if he met certain requirements.
MacLellan’s comments begin at 4:55.
“I think internally we had a couple issues and we’ve had to work through them,” MacLellan said. “I think we’ll talk to him going forward. I had an exit meeting with him. Just outlaid our expectations. We need to be assured that those requirements would be met before we brought him back.”
After the Capitals won the Stanley Cup last summer, Smith-Pelly turned down more lucrative one-year and two-year contracts to re-sign with Washington, according to reporting from the Washington Post.
However, when he returned to Washington after the summer, he was held out of several preseason games, with head coach Todd Reirden stating that Smith-Pelly was “not at the level that he was at last year,” suggesting the forward was out of shape.
That message was reiterated by Reirden when Smith-Pelly was sent down to Hershey later in the season. “He has to get his game back to where it was at last year in playoff time, and he’s someone who’s going to have to find that down in Hershey now,” Reirden said.
As far as Smith-Pelly is concerned, Washington is the team that he would like to return to next season, though he admitted that he hadn’t thought about his next contract on breakdown day.
“I haven’t thought about it at all,” Smith-Pelly said. “I love it here. I love all the guys. I love everyone in the organization, city as well. If they want me back, I’d love to come back.”
The media later questioned him about his season, including how he felt after being sent down to the Hershey Bears. Smith-Pelly was honest, but brief, about his struggles over the 2018-19 season, suggesting his short summer was to blame.
“It was up and down, like every other year,” Smith-Pelly said. “The summer was different for a lot of guys. Very short. Guys are hurt going to the summer, so obviously you don’t have the same routine as you’ve had years passed to get ready. I guess that just affected me more than some other guys. You try to get your footing, stuff happens. With the Hershey thing, I don’t know. It happened. I went down there, worked on my game, and felt good about my game. Came back, and I just wish we were playing more games.”
When questioned on whether he saw the re-assignment to the AHL as a challenge, Smith-Pelly remained confident in the fact that he belonged at the NHL level.
“I don’t know about challenge,” he added. “Just a necessary step in trying to get my game back. I know this is the level I should be playing at, and that was just something I had to do to get back to this level. I enjoyed my time down there, it was fun to play in different situations. I think it worked out in a positive way.”
Smith-Pelly also spoke about how Hershey provided him an opportunity to play regularly, and find his game again in time for the Capitals’ playoff run.
“At the time, I could have been staying here and not playing at all,” Smith-Pelly said. “I got a chance to go down there and play, and play a lot. That’s what they thought was best. That was their prerogative.”
After Oshie was injured, and Smith-Pelly was called back up to the Capitals, he felt he did everything that was asked of him and was pleased with his performance. And, though the Capitals’ playoff run was cut short, he believes that the summer will allow him to work on more things.
“I thought I did what I was asked to do when I came back,” he said. “Obviously would have loved to score a couple of goals or something like that. But I thought, for how much our line played, I thought we played pretty well. For the summer, just like every summer, trying to get better. It’d suck to have a long summer, but you get to work on a lot more things.”
Ultimately, Smith-Pelly reiterated his willingness to return to Washington, should there be space in the plans for him.
“Like I said, I haven’t really thought a lot about it. I would love to come back,” he said. “At the same time, if I’m not in the plans then that’s how it is. I enjoyed my time here. We had a great two-year run here.”
Headline photo: Capitals
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