Washington Capitals: Salary Cap Crunch, Which team has it worse?

ARLINGTON, VA - APRIL 3: Washington Capitals GM Brian MacLellan ,left, talks to Alex Ovechkin,, right, during a team photo shoot at their practice facility in Arlington, VA on April 3, 2019 . (Photo by John McDonnell/The Washington Post via Getty Images)
ARLINGTON, VA - APRIL 3: Washington Capitals GM Brian MacLellan ,left, talks to Alex Ovechkin,, right, during a team photo shoot at their practice facility in Arlington, VA on April 3, 2019 . (Photo by John McDonnell/The Washington Post via Getty Images) /

When competing year in and year out for the Stanley Cup, most contenders spend majority of their time right up against the salary cap. The Washington Capitals make it a yearly circus to navigate the obstacle of the cap, this is how they stack up compared to the rest of the NHL.

Every year the NHL plays with all teams physique by announcing a potential increase in the salary cap. Most years the NHL get it fairly right, but this season the salary cap fell slightly short of the estimated value. Reports had the salary cap being approximately $83 million, however the final tally had the salary cap set to $81.5 million. Does $1.5 million have that great of an affect on how a team will construct their roster? In the case of teams like the Washington Capitals, repeated Stanley Cup Contenders, this amount of difference in salary cap space could mean letting go of someone like Brett Connolly in favor of a more affordable Richard Panik.

While this could work out for the best, you have to wonder whether the team lost a better opportunity to reach the Stanley Cup final by losing such a critical piece in their secondary scoring. Only time will tell, I personally think the move was more fiscally responsible and will most likely be more productive from an overall game standpoint; both offensively and defensively.  For other teams with less star power, they will just have slightly less cap space to operate which won’t greatly affect their ability to add necessary lineup changes.

Overall the Capitals, have the third worse situation with regards to the salary cap space. The Capitals are one of five teams who are currently over the salary cap. The two teams ahead of the Capitals, or behind them depending on how you look at the situation, are the Toronto Maple Leafs and Carolina Hurricanes. The Hurricanes are lucky they don’t need to fit in a contract to Justin Williams, but they will need to find a new captain in the process.

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The Maple Leafs are going to find it interesting to get Mitch Marner under contract considering they sit almost $4 million over the salary cap currently. I estimate the Maple Leafs will be looking to make a move soon to alleviate the pressure of the salary cap.

In terms of the same division, the Capitals are the second worse case as the Hurricanes hold the top cap number for the Metropolitan. This could make the Hurricanes contending window small as they will eventually have to distribute their payroll over younger players from their pipeline as they prove themselves valuable.

The Penguins having only a slightly better situation to the Capitals but are one of the five teams over the cap currently. They will also be looking for some solutions to extending stars as well, as Evgeni Malkin is interested in a long term future with the Penguins, and they will need to sign others to extensions to continue their best chance to win.

First team in the division to be on the right side of the cap is the Rangers, with about $1.2 million in space this could be an issue in the future but for now they can compete with youth on team friendly deals for the next few years.

For a team which came in second for the division, the Islanders have a pretty fair situation with about $4.6 million in space. This could be enough to make them a team which could land a star level player for the playoff push at the trade deadline, it could be something the Capitals will need to overcome to repeat as division champions.

The Devils come in with about $6.5 million in cap space, which they will most likely use once the team proves it is a viable threat to make the playoffs. Next come the Flyers with about $6.7 million in cap space, considering their new direction I would expect them to make moves at the deadline to eat up some of this cap a lot will depend on their place in the standings.

Last comes the Blue Jackets with over $10 million in cap space, this will serve them well if they find themselves in a position of only needing a few key players. Or they could use this to reward their young players as they grow as well.

Our main concern is with what the Capitals will do to gain the salary cap space needed. There have been a few theories floated involving a trade with one of the current bottom six forwards or bottom pairing defenseman or just some savvy roster maneuvering. Whichever decision is made to achieve the $1.5 million necessary to be below the salary cap, this season will be considered easy in comparison to trying to fit the future contracts of Nicklas Backstrom, Alex Ovechkin, and possibly Braden Holtby.

Most believe the Capitals will need to let one of these three go to fit them all under the future salary cap, namely the belief is that the Capitals will be making this season the last with Holtby as their starting goalie with Samsonov in the prospect pipeline.  Fans might be surprised given the recent report that Holtby’s representatives have had continued talks with the Capitals.

The series of moves over the next few seasons to navigate the salary cap will dictate how much longer the Capitals current window to win the Stanley Cup again will last. There has been some speculation that the window may close at the expense of watching Ovechkin leave in favor of finishing his career in the KHL or even retirement.

While this would give the Capitals some much needed cap space, it would also spell the end of an era which I don’t think the team is prepared for at this time.

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However, fans can walk back from the ledge as it was reported yesterday that Ovechkin would like to extend his career as a Washington Capital beyond his current contract. Hopefully, the Capitals will be able to find the right blend of personnel over the next few years to begin preparing for the inevitable that one day they will need to replace some of their star players, some sooner than others.