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Washington Capitals Expansion Preview

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WASHINGTON, DC – FEBRUARY 25: Tom Wilson #43 of the Washington Capitals skates on the ice against the Pittsburgh Penguins at Capital One Arena on February 25, 2021, in Washington, DC. (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)

The Seattle Kraken will be the 32nd team to be added to the NHL, and they have a long list of players to choose from. This is especially true of the Washington Capitals, who have a lot of depth, and more than one top talent that they will look to protect.

Projected Players to Protect

Forwards

The Capitals only have one player with a no-move contract in 33-year-old center Nicklas Backstrom, who holds an absolutely massive contract of $9.2 million. After this, the forward choices are fairly obvious, with franchise forward Alex Ovechkin taking the top protected spot, regardless of the fact he is about to become an unrestricted free agent if he doesn’t sign a new contract before free agency comes around. Ovechkin has the largest contract with the team, being that he has a $9.5 million contract which takes up a large portion of the team’s salary cap.

Ovechkin
NEW YORK, NEW YORK – FEBRUARY 04: Alex Ovechkin #8 of the Washington Capitals skates against the New York Rangers at Madison Square Garden on February 04, 2021, in New York City. The Rangers defeated the Capitals 4-2. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

After this, the Capitals will likely also protect top forwards Evgeny Kuznetsov and T.J Oshie, who hold seniority with the team, as well as being top performers and consistently putting up points. As well, the newly acquired Anthony Mantha will more than likely be protected as he has shown to already be a favorite among the fans and shown that he can fit in well with the team, putting up a solid amount of points in his limited time with the team. As well, the team’s enforcer, Tom Wilson, will likely see his position with the Capitals protected.

The final protected spot is up for debate, as it may see either veteran Lars Eller or Conor Sheary be protected from the newly created team. It is likely that the team will choose to protect Sheary, as thanks to his age the player may have more seasons remaining in his career. As well, he has a lower contract value of $735k, making it likely that the player would be taken if unprotected.

Defense

In defense, the first protected spot goes to alternate captain John Carlson, the veteran player is central to the team, and plays a key role in the defensive synergy the Capitals have established. As well, the Capitals will likely look to protect their top-performing defencemen in Dimitry Orlov and Justin Schultz. While these three players have the highest contract value, they also have the highest points, and some of the highest +/- scores in the team with the exception of John Carlson whose score went down due largely to his position on the penalty kill and overtime units.

There is some controversy in the protection of Schultz as there is an argument to be made to protect Brenden Dillon instead, due to his high +/- score and his gritty physical play. However, the depth of physical players in the roster, and the ability to fill in left defensive roles readily. The comparison between these two players is clear, as both are the same age, and both have close to the same amount of seniority with the team, with Dillon only having arrived shortly before Schultz.

Goaltender

The pick for which goaltender to protect is a fairly easy one with Vitek Vanecek taking the protected spot, the 25-year-old goalie has taken over the starting position in the absence of Braden Holtby. Some argument may be made for his younger counterpart, Ilya Samsonov, however, Samsonov’s abilities have yet to be fully proven, and are currently being used in the AHL rather than with the Capitals.

Vitek Vanecek
WASHINGTON, DC – JANUARY 22: Goalie Vitek Vanecek #41 of the Washington Capitals tends the net against the Buffalo Sabres during overtime at Capital One Arena on January 22, 2021, in Washington, DC. (Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images)

Who’s at Risk of Being Lost

Overall, the Capitals are likely at higher risk than most of losing a goalie, and at lower risk of losing a forward as long as T.J. Oshie is protected as predicted. If Oshie was to be unprotected he would be a no-brainer for the pick from the Capitals, and could likely fill in a captaincy role for the newly formed Kraken.

With the players predicted to be left up for grabs, it is likely that Ilya Samsonov will be taken, as he could serve as a good potential goalie, with the Kraken’s choices for starters being mostly veteran goalies. The young goalie has a solid future ahead of him and looks almost ready to play as a starter in the NHL. With the prospect of a strong starter ahead of him, he would have the time to fully develop his play, as well as not face the harsh expectations of a starting goalie before he’s ready.

Another potential loss for the Capitals is defensemen Brenden Dillon, the player has had some experience moving around between teams, and is able to serve the role of a second-line defenseman fairly well. If paired with a solid partner, he could potentially help to create one of the stronger second-line pairings in the league.

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