In case you haven't noticed, 2020 has been a weird year and it's not going to get any less weird. Capitals general manager Brian MacLellan is facing an uncertain offseason unlike any he has experienced in the past. It's not just because it is going to happen in the fall and not the summer, it's about changes that will make all of the careful planning and projecting that goes into maintaining a roster go right out the window.
The major obstacle facing the Caps is a flat salary cap for next season and most likely beyond. Washington is a cap team meaning they spend close to the cap ceiling. MacLellan had to get creative at times over the season to keep the team under the cap. Now, because of lost revenue, the NHL will have a flat cap for next season meaning it will remain the same and not receive the projected increase. That's a huge issue for a team like Washington which needed all the cap relief it could get.
"It's difficult," MacLellan said Friday. "We've been a cap team. We did our projections last season and it was going to be anywhere from $83 to $88 million and it comes in at $81.5. Even last season when it came in a little under what we projected it to be, you have to make some difficult decisions based on that."
Players like Braden Holtby, Brenden Dillon and Jonas Siegenthaler are all on the final year of their contracts and will be looking for raises. Considering the team just barely had enough cap space this year, there's no extra money to give raises to three free agents. Washington also has a number of veterans on long-term contracts. Long term contracts are beneficial because, as time goes on and the cap steadily grows, the percentage of a player's cap hit decreases. With a flat cap, that obviously won't happen.
MacLellan also has to keep an eye on the future as Alex Ovechkin, Jakub Vrana and Ilya Samsonov are also entering the final year of their contracts in the 2020-21 season. It is very likely that the cap will remain flat beyond the next season so the team can't max out this year without keeping enough money open for a new deal for those three players.
As if that wasn't enough, the 2021 expansion draft also looms large.
The Seattle Kraken will enter the league in the 2021-22 season and the expansion draft will be held at the end of next season. Every team is going to lose one player to Seattle. Any player that MacLellan may want to sign or re-sign is another player he has to think about whether to protect in the draft or leave exposed and possibly lose.
"We're going to lose a player," MacLellan said. "There's no way around it. You can only protect so many players and defensemen, you can only protect three. Any indication [from] the last time's expansion draft, there were a lot of defensemen chosen. So I think it affects your decision-making process, but you've got to do what's best for your team -- that you feel, or we feel, that's best for our team."
Every team will be able to protect seven forwards, three defensemen and one goalie. MacLellan specifically referenced the defensemen because the team will have a lot of good players on the blue line that they will not be able to protect.
Should the team re-sign Dillon -- and there seems to be mutual interest between the player and the team -- then Dillon, John Carlson, Dmitry Orlov, Michal Kempny and Nick Jensen will all still be under contract by the time of the expansion draft. You can add Siegenthaler to that list as well as he is an RFA and almost certainly will be re-signed. Plus, if the team wants to pick up a right-shot defenseman for the second pair in the offseason, that's another body, far more than the team can protect.
"It's a hard thing to manage," MacLellan said, "But we'll do the best we can."
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How a flat cap and Seattle will affect the future of the Capitals originally appeared on NBC Sports Washington