We know the Washington Capitals are in a tough situation. They’ve got big problems of various kinds with their top-six forwards: Kuznetsov reportedly wants a trade, Backstrom is trying to recover from hip surgery, Wilson is coming back from a knee surgery, and Mantha hasn’t fit in. Given those challenges, plus the team’s promise to Alex Ovechkin that they’ll be competitive next season, plus their implicit goal to get Ovi the goal-scoring title, they’re going to need some reinforcements up front.
So what if – and this is a big what if – they got New Jersey Devils forward Jesper Bratt to help them out with all of the above? And how could they get him?
This is part two in fanciful series in which we imagine how cool it would be for the Caps to get a good forward, but also how hard it would be to do it.
Bratt, 24, has been playing right wing on New Jersey’s top six. He put up 32 goals last season, but his real value was in his passing. Bratt recorded 41 assists (14 on the power play) and was rated by Corey Sznajder as one of the best passers in the league.
In the visualization above, blue bars mean the player is better than league average in each microstat. Orange means worse than average, which you won’t see much above. In the case of Bratt, we see that he makes high-danger passes more than practically anyone in the league (3.4 standard deviations above average). That in particular would make him a ideal complement to Alex Ovechkin, who needs to be fed the puck in optimal situations, and who no longer gets that service from Evgeny Kuznetsov.
Bratt is also a producer on his own, with a five-on-five goal-rate in the top fifth among the league’s forwards. In March he recorded his first career-hat trick. Those three goals displayed his rush skills, his puck control under pressure in the offensive zone, and also his ability to score on an empty net while under no pressure at all.
But in the playoffs the Devils got outscored 7 to 4 during Bratt’s shifts, which I followed way too closely. Bratt’s play was really, really strong – the Devils controlled 66 percent of the expected goals – but they had trouble with shooting and saving percentages. Whatever the underlying process, those results can sting, and it might have worsened his relationship with the team.
That relationship was already strained, though you wouldn’t tell from their public quotes. “We want him here long-term,” Devils GM Tom Fitzgerald said last summer amidst trade rumors. “It’s negotiation. Jesper Bratt is a player we want here next year and beyond.”
Except the deal they then reached was for just one year, worth $5.5 million. They kicked the can down the road to this summer, where they’re in the same situation as last year, and now Bratt has arbitration rights.
Bratt sounds optimistic about it, and everything he’s ever said about the front office has been glowing. “I’ve been clear since day one that this is a great place to play a place that I call home,” he told the press on breakdown day. “I’m so excited about what this team and franchise did, and this ride is obviously something that I want to be a part of. I think the contract negotiation will all get settled somehow. I have full confidence that my agent and Tom [Fitzgerald] will get something done.”
On Tuesday, Pierre LeBrun reported that the Devils had offered Bratt a contract for the CBA-maximum length of eight years. No dollar amount was named, and that’s where things will be contentious. According to Elliotte Friedman, the Devils enforce a salary hierarchy that would leave Bratt underpaid. The team’s top forward, Jack Hughes, earns eight million dollars, and the team wants their next-down tier of forwards to come in under that number. Meanwhile, The Athletic estimates Bratt’s open-market value at $9.3 million, so a tier-compliant deal — such as Evolving Hockey’s projection of $6.8 million — would mean Bratt leaves some money on the table. Depending on how far below $8 million the Devils demand, getting this deal done could be hard.
Maybe the Capitals could help. They have one major asset that could and should be attractive in a package to New Jersey: the eighth overall pick in the 2023 NHL Draft. In any other year, this would not be a controversial item to consider in a trade. An eighth overall pick has something like a 70-percent chance of becoming a full-time NHL player within three seasons, except this year the circumstances of 18-year-old winger Matvei Michkov offer a twist. By all accounts, Michkov is a very good player, and probably NHL-ready. If not for his KHL contract situation (he’s signed through 2025-26), he’d likely go higher in the draft. The Capitals, who have obviously been comfortable with developing Russian players, could be a fit, and they are desperate for an immediate-impact player.
The stars would have to align for the Caps to secure Michkov. After the top two picks (almost certainly Bedard and Fantilli), he have to go undrafted by Columbus, San Jose, Montreal, Arizona, and Philadelphia. It’s looking increasingly unlikely for him to slip down to eighth. And even if he’s available, for the pick to make sense or Washington’s immediate strategy he’d have to be able to play in North America very soon.
So if the Caps aren’t confident they draft him, and they’re not sure they could get him here soon if they did draft him, and if Bratt and Jersey aren’t on the same page, then using the eighth overall pick in a bundle in a bundle of assets for Bratt’s arbitration rights could make sense. Even if a non-Michkov eight overall pick becomes a very good player, he likely wouldn’t become one until Alex Ovechkin’s contract is over. Washington’s needs are more urgent than the draft can help with, but Bratt could help with them on day one.
But that would only happen if negotiations in New Jersey go poorly. If I were them, I’d pay Bratt whatever he wants for however long I can. He’s great.
RMNB is not associated with the Washington Capitals; Monumental Sports, the NHL, or its properties. Not even a little bit.
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