After signing three NHL players on the first day of free agency, the Washington Capitals’ are essentially done for the summer, minus re-signing restricted free agents Jakub Vrana and Christian Djoos and making a decision on RFA Chandler Stephenson.
According to the Capitals’ Mike Vogel, the Capitals have 12 forwards, 6 defensemen, and 2 goalies under contract currently for the 2019-20 season and have approximately $4.3 million left in cap space to sign their remaining three RFAs.
Travis Boyd and Stephenson, mainstays on the fourth line last season, look unlikely to return to their former roles.
This is how the Capitals may line up next season.
Headed into free agency, Brian MacLellan acknowledged the Capitals were one of the highest scoring teams from their bottom six last season, but that pace fell off in their first-round series against the Hurricanes. The Capitals will try to find that same balance next season, but with more snarl and better penalty killing.
The #Caps now have four of the top 30 hitters from last season on their roster: Gudas (10th), Ovechkin (17), Wilson (28th) and Hathaway (29th). This is no coincidence.
— Tarik El-Bashir (@Tarik_ElBashir) July 1, 2019
Panik is expected to fill Brett Connolly’s role as the Capitals’ third-line right wing next season. The Slovakian winger also seems likely to become a full-time penalty killer next season. Panik told the media he hoped to hit the 20-goal plateau again in Washington.
“[T]hose two last years in Arizona were great seasons for me too,” Panik said. “I didn’t get much points, but I think everybody knows that Arizona they don’t play that style of hockey. They’re more defensive, so I think I’ve matured on that page too. I think I’m really good in the d-zone now. I started playing PK last year, so that helped me a lot to improve my game. It was a longer road, but now I’m an NHL player and can play real well.”
“Last year was my first year I was playing on the PK. We had a really good year in our penalty killing, so it was a great opportunity and I took advantage of it,” Panik continued. “I kind of like it, you’re more in the game. It can give you the momentum when you kill the penalties. Now I’m really happy I play the penalty kill too. I add something more to my game, so I’m really happy for it.”
During the 2018-19 season with the Arizona Coyotes, Panik skated 1:59 per night on the power play and 1:12 shorthanded.
MacLellan said he expects Panik to be in the 35-45 point range. Caps were impressed with his PK ability this year.
— Isabelle Khurshudyan (@ikhurshudyan) July 1, 2019
All three players on the Capitals’ projected third line are signed for the next four years (Hagelin, Eller, Panik).
Mike Vogel described Hathaway as “a non-drafted, self-made player in the Jay Beagle mold” who “gets in on the forecheck, finishes his checks, and can kill penalties.” The projected fourth line right wing is a physical, sandpapery type forward who has carved out himself a niche in the NHL through hard work.
Hathaway hopes to join Panik on the Capitals’ PK next season.
“We definitely talked about it,” Hathaway said. “It’s something I take a lot of pride in in my game. I think this past year I learned a lot about it. I worked a lot on the penalty kill. So, right now I think that’s a role I would really like to take on.”
The bruising forward has 13 career regular-season fights in the NHL and wants to bring even more toughness to the Capitals.
“We definitely discussed it, on how they built the roster so far,” Hathaway said. “Those guys are tough guys to play against. That, plus you see the skill that’s on the team already, the culture that’s in the room and the organization, I want to add to that physicality. It’s something we talked about and it’s something I’m looking forward to playing on the same side with. You don’t want to be hit by [Radko Gudas, Tom Wilson and Alex Ovechkin], so it’s going to make practice pretty fun, but it’s going to make the games even more fun.”
Similar to Panik, Hathaway received a four-year deal. MacLellan explained that he did so to drive down the AAV of the contracts and help with the salary cap.
Leipsic, a feisty, undersized left-wing formerly with the Los Angeles Kings, played 62 NHL games with the Kings and Canucks last season, scoring seven goals and 23 points – both career highs. The 25-year-old forward has played parts of three NHL seasons with four different teams, but the Capitals, according to Vogel, like the “abrasiveness and tenacity” Leipsic will bring to the team’s fourth line, something that was missing with Boyd and Stephenson. Leipsic got PP time with the Kings last year as well.
Leipsic was signed to a one-year, $700k contract so if he doesn’t pan out, the Capitals can turn to someone in Hershey.
These moves all set the stage for the Capitals to resign top-six forward Jakub Vrana and defenseman Christian Djoos with the $4.3 million they have remaining. Stephenson may not receive a contract offer after the Capitals’ moves today.
Sort of. They don't *need* to salary three more players; they can salary no more than three more. In all likelihood, they'll add two more. One near the minimum, and Vrana for most of the remainder of the space they have. https://t.co/X3Iuy5glYW
— Mike Vogel (@VogsCaps) July 1, 2019
The Capitals appear to want a bridge deal with Vrana that will be similar to the two-year, $6 million deal Andre Burakovsky signed two summers ago, but adjusted for inflation.
Vrana's ELC cumulative NHL stats are eerily similar to those of Burakovsky with two differences: 1) Burakovsky was a year younger, and 2) Vrana had a better third year. Burakovsky got two years at $3 mil per. Can see Vrana with similar deal, adjusted for inflation/cap increase. https://t.co/PMWvhS651u
— Mike Vogel (@VogsCaps) July 1, 2019
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