With the Seattle Kraken set to join the NHL next season, it’s Expansion Draft time again. So let’s examine the Capitals roster and see who could potentially be lost on July 21.
The Caps will likely employ the 7-3-1 protection option that allows them to keep seven forwards, three defensemen, and one goaltender instead of the 8-1 option which allows them to protect any eight skaters and one goaltender.
Let’s take a peek at what that could look like.
Projected players protected: Nicklas Backstrom (NMC), Evgeny Kuznetsov, TJ Oshie, Anthony Mantha, Tom Wilson, Lars Eller, Daniel Sprong
Projected players left unprotected: Carl Hagelin, Conor Sheary, Garnet Hathaway, Nic Dowd
I believe that five of the names I project to be protected are absolute no-brainers. Nicklas Backstrom is a staple and legend of the franchise. Brian MacLellan has basically already committed to protecting TJ Oshie, Anthony Mantha was just traded for at a very high cost, Tom Wilson is irreplaceable in the Caps lineup, and Lars Eller is the best third-line center in the NHL.
Evgeny Kuznetsov is realistically also a no-brainer as his value as a potential trade asset alone makes not protecting him completely out of the realm of possibility even if the Caps would save close to eight million dollars towards the cap if Seattle were to select him if left unprotected.
The seventh forward protected is where things could go either way between Daniel Sprong and Conor Sheary. I could also even see an argument for Nic Dowd. At the end of the thinking process, I believe the Caps will see the team control and future value of a player like Sprong as a more valuable asset than someone like Sheary or Dowd that is easier to replace via free agency or from within the organization. To put things in better perspective, Sprong just scored at a 25-goal pace over a full 82-game season, is under contract for another season at barely above league minimum salary, and is currently the only Caps skater on the entire roster under the age of 25.
Finally, you probably noticed Alex Ovechkin wasn’t mentioned as being protected here. Do not fret. Ovi is an unrestricted free agent and has said he would prefer to play in the NHL with only one team. It *appears* the Caps will likely wait until after the Expansion Draft to sign him to his new contract so they can protect an extra player. They did the same with Oshie for the Vegas Golden Knights’ Expansion Draft.
Note: Nicklas Backstrom is required to be protected due to the NMC (no-movement clause) in his contract
Projected players protected: John Carlson, Dmitry Orlov, Justin Schultz
Projected players left unprotected: Brenden Dillon, Nick Jensen, Michal Kempny, Trevor van Riemsdyk
John Carlson may draw the ire of the fanbase more than most on the roster but he’s seen as probably one of the more valuable players in the entire league. Dmitry Orlov has quietly been the Caps’ best defenseman for what feels like five years. Justin Schultz had a tough, injury-laden second half of last season but he was very good in the first half and the Caps probably think that’s the player Schultz really is in Peter Laviolette’s system.
If I had a personal choice here, Nick Jensen would be the third defenseman protected but the Caps have yet to hire me so I have no say. Jensen and Trevor van Riemsdyk are both probably two guys Seattle looks long and hard at due to their contracts and consistency on the ice. I’d be sad to see one of them leave.
The big question here is Brenden Dillon. I think Dillon could honestly grab the third protected slot due to the lack of experience the Caps have on their left side in terms of defense. Should he though, in my opinion? No. And he’s someone I hope Seattle takes off the Caps’ hands due to his contract (for a lack of a better term) being “brutal” in this flat cap environment. I think Martin Fehervary is more than ready for the NHL and a better, third-pairing level, left defenseman really isn’t tough to find for a much cheaper price.
Michal Kempny is not getting picked unless the Caps somehow make a deal where Seattle has to in exchange for some sort of future benefit.
Projected players protected: Ilya Samsonov
Projected players left unprotected: Vitek Vanecek, Zach Fucale, Pheonix Copley
The Caps spent a first-round selection on Ilya Samsonov in 2015 and even through all the unneeded shenanigans he has to be seen as the goaltender with the most upside in terms of becoming a bonafide NHL number one. Simple.
Vitek Vanecek performed phenomenally when you consider he wasn’t even supposed to be in Washington this past season. He’s probably the third most likely player I believe that Seattle would select if the Caps protect who I have projected in this post.
Zach Fucale had a great AHL season but hasn’t proved anything for a good enough amount of time. Pheonix Copley is at best an NHL backup and Seattle will have plenty better options.
If I had to give you one player that I think is departing for Seattle it would be Trevor van Riemsdyk. He gives the Kraken major flexibility due to his two-year contract far undervaluing his actual performance level and he fits the modern NHL very well on that right side.
Nick Jensen, Vitek Vanecek, Nic Dowd, Daniel Sprong, and Conor Sheary are the other names I would pick out as having high probabilities of ending up in the Pacific Northwest for the 2021-22 season.
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