Who are the Caps' most likely expansion draft targets heading into the offseason?

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Who are the Caps' most likely expansion draft targets? originally appeared on NBC Sports Washington

When looking at the Capitals offseason plans, one of the big questions is how the team will approach July's expansion draft. The NHL officially added a 32nd team, the Seattle Kraken, and to fill out its roster, Seattle will select one player from every team except the Vegas Golden Knights who are exempt as a relatively new expansion franchise in the draft.

This is both good and bad news for the Capitals.

Yes, Washington is going to lose a player, but, on the other hand, this is a team in desperate need of clearing cap space. In that sense, this could also be an opportunity.

So what is general manager Brian MacLellan thinking now that the offseason is here? We don't really know.

At the team's final media availability of the season, MacLellan really only really addressed the expansion draft once when asked about T.J. Oshie (more on that later).

The expansion draft will take place on July 21. Let's take a look now at where the Caps stand heading into the offseason in regard to Seattle and who some of the most likely targets for the Kraken will be (in no particular order).

Long shots: Nic Dowd, Trevor van Riemsdyk

Dowd and van Riemsdyk are included on this list because the nature of their positions makes them more valuable. Dowd, a center, scored a career-high 11 goals in an abbreviated 56-game season and has a cap hit of only $750,000. Van Riemsdyk, meanwhile, is a right defenseman who does not turn 30 until July and has a cap hit of only $950,000.

Seattle is going to have better options available to them and I doubt either player gets taken, but chances are both players will be exposed and I would consider both to be wild cards.

Brenden Dillon

Dillon is only one year into a four-year contract with Washington, but the Caps will only be able to protect three defensemen and I expect two of those defensemen will be John Carlson and Justin Schultz. The question is whether the team protects Dillon or Dmitry Orlov with their third pick and, after the playoffs where I thought Orlov was the team's best defenseman, I believe Dillon will be left exposed.

Dillon is a 30-year-old defenseman who can play in the top four, can definitely be a locker room leader and is not afraid to drop his gloves. With those qualities, he is definitely someone who can generate some interest. He is also a native of British Columbia which is right across the border from Seattle.

Nick Jensen

Jensen was one of the most improved players on the Caps in the 2021 season playing alongside Zdeno Chara. He is a right defenseman, which is always a sought-after position, and his cap hit is a modest $2.5 million. People in Washington may view that as an overpay for a third-pair player, but that won't be an issue for a Seattle team starting from scratch.

Evgeny Kuznetsov

There has been plenty of talk about the future of Kuznetsov in Washington after yet another inconsistent season. When asked about possibly trading Kuznetsov MacLellan said, "I think we're always open to trading people if it makes sense for what's going on. If it's going to make our team better, I think we're open to it. I don't think anybody's off the table. We're not going to trade [Alex Ovechkin] or [Nicklas Backstrom] and those type of people, but I think you have to be open on anything. We would talk to anybody about any player."

So with that answer, assuming that MacLellan would be open to moving Kuznetsov for the right opportunity, what is the market for him? He may be a top-line center, but he is also inconsistent, has had issues on and off the ice, has a modified no-trade clause, is 29 years old and has a cap hit of $7.8 million at a time when a flat salary cap is forcing teams to look to shed salary.

If the Caps can get value in a trade then you would have to think MacLellan would seek that option if he is willing to move on from Kuznetsov. If Kuznetsov's trade value is too low, however, then Seattle suddenly appears to be a viable option.

Losing a player like Kuznetsov for nothing is not an ideal scenario, but for a team desperate to shed salary, moving a $7.8 million cap hit is not a total loss and Kuznetsov is good enough that I'm not sure Seattle could pass on him.

T.J. Oshie

Following the season, MacLellan said of Oshie: "I thought he had a great year, one of his best years. He continues to produce, he continues to be a big part of what's going on in the room and on the ice. He's a big part of our organization. It would hurt our team and our organization if we lost him in the expansion draft. I don't know that we've fully made any decisions on that, but ideally we'd like to keep him around."

Clearly, MacLellan does not want to lose Oshie to the expansion draft, but if the Caps leave Oshie exposed it will not be because they want to, but rather because the team felt it needed to.

Oshie is 34 years old and has four years remaining on a contract that carries a cap hit of $5.75 million. He was born in Washington state, is a top-six forward, a fan favorite and a locker room leader. In short, he is exactly the kind of player who could be the face of a new franchise.

MacLellan was pretty clear that he does not want to lose Oshie (and Oshie also made it clear he wanted to stay with the Capitals), but the GM did not exactly slam the door shut on the possibility of him going to Seattle either.

The team's salary cap situation is going to force MacLellan to make some tough decisions. You have to wonder if Oshie could be one of those decisions.

Vitek Vanecek

The expansion draft rules allow for teams to only protect one goalie and I believe that goalie will be Ilya Samsonov for Washington. That will leave Vanecek exposed.

Vanecek is only 25, has a cap hit of less than $717,000, and won 21 games in his rookie season. That's reason enough to generate some interest from Seattle, but I actually do not think Vanecek will be high on the Kraken's list.

With the NHL moving more and more towards goalie tandems, there are going to be a number of quality goalies available to Seattle to pick up. Carolina, Columbus, Florida, Detroit, Montreal, both New Yorks, Vancouver and Vegas are all teams with two quality goalies who will be stuck having to expose one to Seattle. I am not sure how much interest Vanecek will generate when compared to goalies like Robin Lehner and Alexander Georgiev who are just two of the possible goalies the Kraken may be able to pick from.