(April 17, 2016) – A verdict on the potential expansion of the National Hockey League is due ahead of the 2016 NHL Draft, according to NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman. While there has been no 100% guaranteed-official format announced, the NHL has discussed a potential format for an Expansion Draft (full details here): Teams will protect seven forwards, three defensemen and one goaltender OR eight total skaters and one goaltender with the choice belonging to the team. It is unknown what will happen with players who have a No Movement Clause (NMC) or a No Trade Clause (NTC) in their contract, but the same report states that any player in their first or second year of professional play will be exempt. It also looks like each team would lose one player if there is one expansion team, or two if both Las Vegas and Quebec City are awarded teams.

For this 30-part #TFTPB series, we will be taking a closer look at each current NHL team and what players might be available to a new franchise at the conclusion of the 2016-17 NHL season. For the sake of simplicity, players with a NMC/NTC will not be made automatically exempt. All contract and salary information for this series is courtesy of NHLNumbers.com.

Today, we’re taking a look at the Washington Capitals.

 

FORWARDS:

To get the obvious ones out of the way, Alex Ovechkin ($9.538 million), Nicklas Backstrom ($6.700 million) and Evgeny Kuznetsov ($3.000 million) will all be protected. Ovechkin and Backstrom are locked up through at least 2019-20, but Kuznetsov will become a Restricted Free Agent in 2017. Regardless of whether or not he’s re-signed before the Expansion Draft, he should be protected (even if the Capitals are unable to re-sign him for some reason, the compensation he’d likely bring in would be well worth the protection slot).

The only remaining forward currently signed beyond 2017 (playing for the big club) is Jay Beagle, who is scheduled to become an Unrestricted Free Agent in 2018.

This offseason, the Capitals will need to re-sign RFAs Marcus Johansson ($3.750 million), Tom Wilson ($1.294 million) and Michael Latta ($0.575 million), along with UFAs Jason Chimera ($2.000 million) and Mike Richards ($1.000 million). Johansson is the only lock for protection out of that group, with Wilson a possibility.

Next summer, Washington has RFAs Andre Burakovsky ($0.894 million) and Stanislav Galiev ($0.575 million) to re-sign, along with UFAs T.J. Oshie ($4.175 million), Justin Williams ($3.250 million) and Daniel Winnik ($2.250 million). Burakovsky should be protected, along with Oshie (if the Caps can afford to bring him back). Williams has been great for Washington this year (52 points in 82 games, ranking him fourth on the team), but will be turning 36 ahead of the 2017 season.

Washington’s first round pick in 2014, Jakub Vrana ($1.394 million), has totaled 37 points through 36 career AHL games so far. Prospect Riley Barber ($0.925 million) made his professional debut this season, managing an impressive 53 points in 71 games playing in the AHL. Travis Boyd ($0.925 million) was close behind him with 51 points in 73 games for the Hershey Bears this season. Boyd will be an RFA in 2017. All three would need to be protected in order to avoid exposure.

 

DEFENSEMEN:

Matt Niskanen ($5.750 million), John Carlson ($3.967 million) and Karl Alzner ($2.800 million) led the Capitals in average time on ice this season, all topping 21 minutes per game. Alzner will become a UFA in 2017, but both Niskanen and Carlson are signed beyond that (until 2021 and 2019, respectively). All will be 30 years old or younger at the time of the Expansion Draft (Niskanen will turn 31 in December, 2017).

Brooks Orpik ($5.500 million) is signed through 2019, and Taylor Chorney ($0.700 million this season, $0.800 million starting next season) is signed through 2018. Nate Schmidt ($0.812 million) will become an RFA in 2017, while both Dmitry Orlov ($2.000 million) and Mike Weber ($1.667 million total cap hit) become free agents this summer (as an RFA and UFA, respectively).

Top prospect Madison Bowey ($0.894 million) will be entering the third year of his rookie contract in 2017, making him eligible for selection by an expansion team. Bowey made his professional debut this season, tallying 29 points in 67 games for the AHL’s Hershey Bears.

 

GOALTENDERS:

Braden Holtby ($6.100 million) turns 27 later this year and is signed through the 2019-20 season (he’ll be 30 at the end of the contract). Behind him, prospects Philipp Grubauer ($0.750 million) and Vitek Vanecek ($0.894 million) are signed through 2016-17 and 2017-18, respectively, when they become RFAs. Prospect Ilya Samsonov – rated the team’s top goaltending prospect by HockeysFuture.com and the Capitals’ first round pick in 2015 – won’t need to be protected, as he’ll be exempt from selection.

 

THOUGHTS:

Ovechkin, Backstrom, Kuznetsov, Johansson and Burakovsky are the team’s five locks for protection up front. Oshie will be protected if re-signed and, with Brooks Laich’s contract coming off the books in 2017, it would seem probable that Oshie could be retained. That would leave one open spot, and the final spot is likely just a matter of wait and see. Young players like Vrana, Barber and Boyd could all make a case for the final spot if they impress next season. Justin Williams could be brought back and protected if he puts up another 50+ point season in 2016-17. However, with forwards Oshie, Kuznetsov and Burakovsky all due new contracts in 2017 (along with Alzner and Grubauer), Williams’ $3+ million will likely end up being spent elsewhere.

For that reason, look for Washington to protect: Ovechkin, Backstrom, Kuznetsov, Johansson, Burakovsky, Oshie and a prospect (give the current edge to Vrana, based on pure potential).

It’s a tough situation for the Capitals when it comes to the defensemen, and that’s actually a pretty good sign of how deep Washington’s blue line actually is. There are five real candidates for the team’s three slots: Niskanen, Carlson, Alzner, Bowey and Orlov. Niskanen and Carlson are the best bets for protection, as both are signed beyond 2017 and extremely productive. While Orlov could make a case for a spot, the third position will likely come down to Alzner and Bowey. If Washington can lock down Alzner to a contract extension ahead of the Expansion Draft, give him the edge given his proven track record (as should be the strategy for a team in Washington’s position). If Alzner looks to be walking away on July 1, 2017, then the Caps should lock up Bowey.

Brooks Orpik turns 37 just before the 2017-18 NHL season. Combine that with his contract (which runs until just before his 39th birthday) and it should leave Orpik exposed by Washington, almost as bait to try and lure an expansion team away from their younger exposed players.

Despite the plethora of young talent behind him – and partly because of it – Holtby is the likely protected piece in goal. The Capitals are winning right now and shouldn’t be looking to hit the reset button next summer and Holtby will still be in his 20’s anyway. Plus, the Caps have three young netminders in tow; losing one shouldn’t be the worst thing in the world. Grubauer has been a strong backup option this season (despite the sub-.500 record, his GAA and save percentage are both close behind Holtby), and could make for an enticing option for an expansion team, but Holtby would be, as well, and it makes more sense for a team in Washington’s position to protect the proven entity.

 

In the next edition of #TFTPB: NHL Expansion, we’ll be looking at the Winnipeg Jets.