The Capitals have unveiled their opening night roster following the signing of Dylan Strome


The Capitals have unveiled their opening night roster following the signing of Dylan Strome

The Washington Capitals have been busy so far this offseason, bringing in eight players in the first two days of the free hand.

As a reminder, the 2022-23 Capitals roster is now athletic Dylan Strome (2C), Connor Brown (upper six wings), Markus Johanson (bottom six) and Henrik Borgstrom (Deep Center/Winger) in Forward; Eric Gustafsson (lower pairing) and Matt Irwin (Depth) on defenders; and two new goalkeepers, Darcy Kumper and Charlie Lindgren.

The team is now $6.3 million over the salary cap, per Cap Friendly. Teams are allowed up to 10 percent over the cap during the off-season.

Brian MacLellan’s signings suggest several major competitions will be played during training camp, none bigger than third-place center where Connor McMichael could spend the season at AHL Hershey if he loses to Lars Eller .

Capitals forecast the roster for opening night

Capitals GM Brian MacLellan said the Caps would fill Nicklas Backstrom’s spot internally, but the addition of Strome during free agency pushes McMichael, the team’s best young player, down the lineup and potentially out of the roster altogether. Despite a 2021-22 season in which he placed second on the team in CF/60, first in xGF/60, second in SCF/60 and second in HDCF/60, McMichael was not given more opportunities and was one of the first players pinned to the bench by head coach Peter Laviolette, who seemed concerned about the Canadian’s two-way play. Among players who played 20 games for the Caps last season, only Brett Leason (8:57) had an average ice time shorter than McMichael’s (10:28). McMichael could join Hendrix Lapierre and Aliaksei Protas at Hershey next season, but the opportunity could come a year later. Several veteran forwards will be unrestricted free agents next summer.

Other battles in the camp will involve both bottom six left wing positions. Based on evidence from last season, Marcus Johansson and Axel Jonsson-Fjallby have the inside lane, but Snively, Borgstrom, Leason, Protas and maybe even McMichael will all be pushing for one of those spots. It will be either the 13th forward in the NHL or the Hershey Bears for those losing on the positions. Is it possible that Eller is even fit on the wing, as attempted a couple of times last season?

It’s a little tighter on the defensive. It seems Gustafsson was signed on purpose to play for TVR, but Caps Brass also gushed about how well Lucas Johansen played in the AHL last season. Matt Irwin is also back and a Laviolette favorite, playing at both sides and coming in 17 games in 2021-22. That’s a contest that’s likely to run throughout the season as the Caps have typically promoted eight defenders under Laviolette.

The Capitals’ weird salary cap situation

Capitals salary cap specialist Don Fishman likely worked long hours this summer. The team is currently well above the cap max ($6.3M) but there is an obvious quick fix: Nicklas Backstrom ($9.2M), Tom Wilson ($5.17M) and Carl Hagelin ($2.75M) to put all on long-term injured reserves to start the year. The cap savings would be $17.12 million, giving the team just a touch more than $10.7 million in space. But what happens when these guys return, as the team expects sometime this season? That’s a little more complicated.

The last update we had on Hagelin was that he has an appointment in August to determine how well his eye surgery actually went and if he’s recovered enough to play hockey in 2022-23. He’s been back to skating since early May and if that date goes well could we see him struggling to play as early as October? Hagelin’s $2.75 million salary is still covered by the long-term absences of Wilson and Backstrom ($8.05 million in space), but it’s also likely forcing a younger forward to hold one of Hershey’s last spots or in the case of someone like AJF winning back on waivers first. This forward will not have a cap hit that changes significantly for the future team.

Now Wilson is expected back after his off-season knee surgery over the holiday season. The first-line forward’s salary of $5.17 million will also fit under the cap as Backstrom is still on LTIR, but it creates another scenario where without a trade another forward joins Hershey must return. Wilson is a right wing and it’s unlikely that any of the guys currently on the right wing on the depth chart will be the one moving on. One possible scenario sees Sheary moving to the left flank, where we already anticipate the greatest competition for roster spots, without adding another established NHL veteran into the mix. As you can see, things are getting really tight for someone like the aforementioned McMichael.

The last piece is Backstrom. The Capitals have operated this entire offseason like they expect they can’t just pull a Nikita Kucherov and tuck the Swedish center into the playoffs. If that were the case, there would currently be someone on the list paid a lot more than Dylan Strome. In our hypothetical scenario so far, Backstrom’s salary of $9.2 million would put the team about $6 million over the cap upon his return. So there has to be something big going on, and one possibility could be trades by Eller and Hagelin, whose salaries add up to $6.25 million. That would also unlock opportunities for the cheaper, younger alternatives that are already in the organization.

One thing is for sure, the team’s front office will be earning their checks for the rest of the summer through the regular season.

What do you think of the work the Caps did on day one? How do you think they will look on opening night?

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