The Washington Capitals locked down Alex Ovechkin for the remainder of his NHL career on Tuesday, but the rest of the team’s free agency week was, for the most part, uneventful. The team re-acquired Expansion Draft pick Vitek Vanecek from the Seattle Kraken and signed four minor leaguers on Wednesday, one of which could figure into the NHL team’s plans next year, defenseman Matt Irwin.
The signings left the Capitals with around $2.62 million left to spend (when Martin Fehervary is added to the roster). Only starting goaltender Ilya Samsonov is left to re-sign. The team will enter the 2021-22 season with virtually the same roster minus Brenden Dillon.
“[We’ve] just (had) initial conversations with his agent,” Capitals general manager Brian MacLellan said of Samsonov after the NHL Draft on Saturday. “We’ll get a little more serious as we go forward after free agency.”
MacLellan said a bridge deal with the 24-year-old goaltender, seems to be the most likely route.
A bridge deal is a one or two year deal that is for less money. A player consciously leaves money on the table in the short-term, they can make more money in the long-term by betting on themselves to earn more money on their next contract once they sign their bridge deal.
“That’s most likely given the season he had last year,” MacLellan said. “A little inconsistency there. That probably works for both parties. I think he recognizes, or his representation recognizes, that there’s upside there. We recognize there’s upside there so it makes it. So that probably makes sense for both sides.”
Samsonov, who is coming off his three-year entry-level contract where he made $1.475 million per season, will likely earn a raise, but his problems off the ice — a reported ATV accident that kept him off the ice in the 2020 playoffs and two stints in COVID protocol in 2021 — will force him to leave money on the table which he could have earned simply by being available to play.
It’s unclear how much Samsonov will command from the team, but a two-year, $2-$2.5 million per season contract seems reasonable. If the two sides can’t work out a deal, Samsonov can opt for arbitration, meaning his status could stretch out well into the summer.
MacLellan added that nothing is guaranteed next season for Ilya in terms of role, but he believes in the goaltender’s talent.
“He has to earn it,” MacLellan said. “I think it’s up to him to be the number one. He has the potential to be a number one, but he has to show it.”
MacLellan also said that the team has an interest in bringing back Zdeno Chara “if we have room.” The “same thing” was true for unrestricted free agent Michael Raffl.
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