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How will Caps GM Brian Maclellan manage the salary cap? originally appeared on NBC Sports Washington
Believe it or not, summer is winding down and it is time to think about the 2021-22 hockey season. Andrew Gillis and JJ Regan will discuss the biggest questions surrounding the Caps heading into the new season.
Today's topic: How will Brian MacLellan manage the salary cap?
Andrew: My very scientific and well-thought-out answer is: "Very carefully."The Capitals have just $627,073, which right now, isn't enough to bring on a 13th forward to the lineup at the moment. That, clearly, is a problem.Brian MacLellan is smart. He knows the team is tight up against the cap, and I see three players as potential options to be moved out of Washington to save money on the cap. (And no, I don’t think Evgeny Kuznetsov is going anywhere in-season).First, there’s Carl Hagelin, who makes $2.75 million for the next two seasons. The problem with Hagelin’s contract is that he’s a fourth-line player that will shoot about seven percent and won’t provide a ton offensively. At some point, that becomes good business if the Capitals don’t free money with another player.Next is Michal Kempny. This isn’t so much an indictment on him as a player as it is the unfortunate injuries he’s been dealt. He makes $2.5 million against the cap, and with only this season left on his deal, wouldn’t be as hard to deal if his play isn’t worth $2.5 million. With the team still competing for a Cup, if Kempny isn’t 100 percent healthy his extra salary could pay for Alexander Alexeyev, a 13th forward and then some.Finally is Lars Eller. This might come as a surprise, certainly, but there are two must-haves for this to be on the table. Those conditions are that Kuznetsov is playing well, and Connor McMichael has proven his worth as a third-line center. By moving Eller, the Capitals would likely get a nice little return for a proven third-line center and would clear $3.5 million in cap space. That money, as the team approaches the trade deadline, could prove to be extremely valuable.I predict at least one of those players isn’t on the active roster by season’s end, and that’s where the Capitals will get their extra money from.
JJ: It's going to be a tight squeeze again.
Using CapFriendly's Armchair-GM tool, if the Caps have 12 forwards, seven defensemen (including Martin Fehervary) and their two goalies, that leaves the team with about $627,000 of cap space left, not enough for another player. That unfortunately will likely mean a guy like Beck Malenstyn, who I think could have made the roster as a 13th forward, is going to get left out.
I see another bare-bones roster this year with fingers crossed that injuries won't be a problem, or, if they are, that they will be known long enough in advance that the team can adjust the game lineup accordingly. Game-time decisions are not your friend when you have only 12 forwards on the roster. This may lead to some games with the team dressing 11 forwards and seven defensemen again this season. That's not ideal considering Peter Laviolette really did not find a way to utilize the extra defenseman in the few situations the team was forced into this lineup in 2021.
The fact that Fehervary is waiver exempt is probably going to be used at points this season. I could see a lot of paper transactions (reassigning him to Hershey on an off-day, recalling him for the next day of practice) in order to bank cap space. That's fine. What I fear is that injuries will crop up and Fehervary will end up missing games as the Caps reassign him just to get enough cap room for a call-up.
I'm not sure exactly what role veteran defenseman Matt Irwin plays in all of this. Hopefully, it is not in place of Fehervary. The cap savings are minimal (less than $42K) and you can't convince me the team is better with Irwin than Fehervary. With his exempt status, however, I worry that the team may lean on that a bit too much if injuries become an issue and, in the process, weaken its own defense as a result by taking out a solid player.
One other thing to keep in mind, I have been very vocal in my belief that Garrett PIlon will be the first call-up over Connor McMichael this season at forward/center. That is even more likely considering Pilon's cap hit is $750,000 and McMichael's is $863,333.