Why Capitals benefit from losing a left-side defenseman to Seattle Kraken

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Why Capitals benefit from losing a left-side defenseman to Kraken originally appeared on NBC Sports Washington

For every team in the NHL, the upcoming expansion draft has been a looming storm on the horizon no one wants to deal with. 

The new Seattle Kraken could take a player that a team wasn’t expecting to be selected. Or they could take a player that the team simply didn’t have the numbers to protect. Or, they could take a player that the team had on a team-friendly deal. 

All of those fears exist for the Capitals, but there’s also a scenario where they could find themselves in an advantageous situation after the expansion draft. And that involves the Kraken picking one of their left-side defensemen.

Washington, if it protects John Carlson, Dmitry Orlov and Justin Schultz, will have a few interesting options available on defense if that’s the route the Kraken want to build through. In 2017, the expansion Vegas Golden Knights selected 13 defenders, including the Capitals' Nate Schmidt, and met Washington in the Stanley Cup Final just 12 months later.  

But the reasoning for the Caps to hope for the least bad outcome of losing a left-side defenseman is because of the salary cap - not that they want to lose a specific player. 

As it stands now, Washington has $9.491 million in projected salary-cap space, according to the web site CapFriendly. That does not include the eventual Alex Ovechkin contract, nor does it include goaltender Ilya Samsonov’s expected RFA extension nor does it include the removal of defenseman Michal Kempny and his $2.5 million salary from Long-Term Injured Reserve. It also doesn’t include needed roster slots to add depth to the forward and defensive ranks.

In short, the Capitals have to clear salary at some point this offseason. The easiest and most efficient way to do so is for the Kraken to take a player that lessens the blow. And of the options on the left side, Brenden Dillon is the clear choice. 

A key acquisition from the San Jose Sharks at the trade deadline in 2020, Dillon makes $3.9 million against the cap for the next three seasons. He is the fourth-most expensive defender on a Capitals team that has expressed desire to get younger anyways. Dillon, who turns 31 on Nov. 13, fits the role of a dependable, veteran player Seattle can rely upon on the blueline. 

The Kraken could also roll the dice and pick Kempny, who is coming off an Achilles injury that followed the torn hamstring injury he sustained late in the 2018-2019 season. He’ll make $2.5 million for just one more season making it a short-term gamble, but he played critical minutes during Washington's 2018 Stanley Cup run on the top pair with John Carlson. 

Whether it's losing Dillon or Kempny, that money coming off the books would help Washington immensely as it tries to balance its roster.  

Were it not for the COVID-19 pandemic wreaking havoc on the league’s finances, the Capitals would likely be in a different scenario during the expansion draft. The cap almost certainly would be a few million dollars higher and there would be breathing room even with Ovechkin's expected extension.

But they do need to cut salary under a flat cap. And the expansion draft is the best way to start that process. A trade is also likely still necessary to create room for cheaper depth players at forward and on the blueline.  

It helps that the Caps have young, cheap, young defensemen coming up the minor-league ranks. General manager Brian MacLellan mentioned Martin Fehervary, 21, by name as someone who he thinks is ready to make the leap to the NHL.

Alexander Alexeyev, also 21, isn’t far behind him. Both defenders are left-handed shots and can fill in for the NHL club in the 2021-22 season. Alexeyev was the organization's first-round pick in 2018 and Fehervary went in the second round at No. 46. 

So while it seems like the expansion draft is a scary endeavor for the Capitals, there’s a chance the Kraken actually ends up helping make their offseason easier to navigate.