With the 2018 Stanley Cup Final now history, the Washington Capitals are basking in their championship glow. Their opponents, the Vegas Golden Knights, can take solace in their record-setting inaugural season.
As the players head off for a well-deserved summer break, the business of hockey enters its offseason phase. Plenty of work remains for Capitals general manager Brian MacLellan and Golden Knights GM George McPhee before they can take some vacation time.
Like their 29 counterparts, MacLellan and McPhee must prepare for the upcoming 2018 NHL Draft (June 22-23) in Dallas. They must also re-sign or replace key free agents and decide if they will make any forays into the offseason trade market.
Salary-cap space will be a determining factor for both clubs. Cap Friendly indicates the Capitals have over $63.7 million invested in 16 players, while the Golden Knights have over $48.5 million committed to 17 players. Even with the salary cap projected to reach around $80 million for 2018-19, McPhee has considerably more payroll to work with than MacLellan.
Most of MacLellan’s off-season roster decisions could depend upon whether he re-signs defenseman John Carlson. An unrestricted free agent on July 1, Carlson is the best blueliner potentially available in this summer’s free-agent market.
TSN’s Bob McKenzie speculates Carlson could get around $8 million per season on a long-term deal. He’s uncertain if the Capitals can afford it but believes they’ll try to re-sign him.
Carlson’s not the only notable free agent on MacLellan’s plate. Backup goalie Philipp Grubauer and forwards Tom Wilson and Devante Smith-Pelly are restricted free agents with arbitration rights, while center Jay Beagle and blueliner Michal Kempny are unrestricted free agents.
MacLellan could be forced to shed salary to make room for Carlson’s new contract. ESPN.com’s Emily Kaplan suggested shopping winger Andre Burakovsky ($3-million annual cap hit) and perhaps buying out the final year of defenseman Brooks Orpik’s contract could free up sufficient room.
If MacLellan gets Carlson under contract, he’s unlikely to pursue expensive talent via the trade or free-agent markets. But if Carlson departs via free agency, the Capitals GM will be forced to find a suitable replacement.
Should Carlson test the UFA market, the Golden Knights could be among his suitors. McPhee knows Carlson well, having drafted him during his days as Capitals GM. On May 28, TSN’s Pierre LeBrun suggested Carlson would be a “heck of a fit” with the Golden Knights.
McPhee, however, could have other notable players on his radar. Noting the Golden Knights’ considerable salary-cap space, Bob McKenzie said they could go “big-game hunting” by also looking at Ottawa Senators defenseman Erik Karlsson or New York Islanders center John Tavares.
Leading up to last February’s NHL trade deadline, McPhee reportedly made a strong pitch for Karlsson. If the Senators fail to re-sign their captain to a long-term extension, McPhee could make another attempt at acquiring him.
Tavares, meanwhile, is the best player potentially available in this summer’s free-agent market. He could command well over $11 million per season. The Golden Knights would be among the few clubs with more than enough cap room to sign him. Considering their stunning first-year success, they could become an enticing destination for Tavares.
McPhee also has several free agents of his own to consider. Forwards James Neal and David Perron are the noteworthy UFAs, while William Karlsson, Colin Miller and Shea Theodore are among the restricted free agents.
The Golden Knights have sufficient cap space to re-sign those players if they wish. However, McPhee won’t just blindly toss money at them.
Neal, who turns 31 in September, is completing a six-year, $30-million contract. McPhee could be leery of giving him a lengthy new deal with a significant raise.
Perron, 29, had a career-best 66-point campaign but faded down the stretch and in the playoffs due to injury and illness. Coming off a two-year, $7.5-million deal, he’d be easier to re-sign but McPhee might consider different options via trade or free agency.
After compiling 50 points over his three previous seasons, Karlsson burst out in 2017-18 with a 43-goal, 78-point performance. He’ll definitely seek a substantial raise over his current $1-million annual salary.
McPhee might prefer an affordable short-term deal to fully evaluate Karlsson’s performance before making a long-term investment. The center also has arbitration rights, which could make negotiations dicey.
MacLellan and McPhee have some big decisions to make this summer. Their respective rosters could look significantly different when the curtain rises for next season.