With the arrival of Monday’s noon waiver wire update, several NHL teams had their opening night rosters essentially set. Perhaps the Washington Capitals had that luxury in past training camps, but with 24 hours until their roster has to be salary cap-compliant and no more than 23 players long, the team is still mulling some decisions as the deadline nears.
“We’re struggling with it right now because we had some guys who unexpectedly had a better-than-we-thought camp, and they played well,” General Manager Brian MacLellan said Monday. “So, it’s probably going to come down to one decision that we don’t want to make, and we’re going to have to make it.”
The Capitals waived forward Anthony Peluso on Monday, so their roster sits at 24 players, not including forward Alex Chiasson, who attended training camp on a professional tryout agreement. MacLellan and Coach Barry Trotz were nice enough to come to The Washington Post newsroom Monday afternoon for a wide-ranging interview, and with final roster decisions imminent, here’s some insight into which direction they might be leaning:
• Washington intends to start the season with a 23-man roster, which would give the team two extra forwards. That’s especially important with forward Tom Wilson facing a potential suspension to start the season, but with how many players need waivers to be reassigned to the American Hockey League, the team was likely leaning toward carrying the maximum number of players anyway.
• A 23-man roster doesn’t leave the Capitals much wiggle room with a $75 million salary cap. Of the defensemen considered on the bubble, Madison Bowey ($703,333) and Taylor Chorney ($800,000) have the highest cap hits. The only fringe forward who makes more than the league minimum salary of $650,000 is 2014 first-round pick Jakub Vrana, who has a cap hit of $863,333. While Chorney would have to be exposed to waivers to be sent down, Bowey and Vrana are still exempt. According to projections on CapFriendly.com, all three of those players can’t make the team if Washington intends to carry 23 players to start the season. If the Capitals waive someone by noon Tuesday, he won’t count toward the opening night roster and salary cap.
• Chorney has been on Washington’s roster for the past two seasons, primarily filling the role of seventh defenseman, but when asked if that makes him a lock to start this season with the Capitals, MacLellan said the only blue-line locks are Matt Niskanen, John Carlson, Dmitry Orlov and Brooks Orpik.
• Don’t necessarily rule out the possibility that Washington claims a defenseman off the waiver wire.
• Here’s what MacLellan said about defenseman Christian Djoos, who could make the opening night roster: “He’s shown flashes of a real good skill level that we’re going to be able to use, but he also has some deficiencies that we have to work through.” The Capitals have that general feeling about several players who are going to crack the lineup to start the season. The hope is that they improve as the year goes on, or other players in the pipeline develop to the point of being able to step in.
• After he wasn’t qualified by the Calgary Flames and went all summer without a contract offer, Chiasson has impressed on a professional tryout at Washington’s training camp. He scored 12 goals with the Flames last year, and in the preseason, the Capitals often played him high in the lineup and on the power play. Has the team decided whether it will offer him a contract? “No, but we’re close, though,” MacLellan said. “We’ll see in the next couple of days here.”
• Just because a player might have been cut from the roster earlier in training camp doesn’t mean he won’t be back with the team at some point this season. MacLellan mentioned that as a possibility, particularly for young defensemen Lucas Johansen, Jonas Siegenthaler, Connor Hobbs and Colby Williams. “They all played well for us,” he said. “They’re not ready, but they’re close. So, that’s optimistic for me. In the second half, I don’t know what it looks like, but depending on how guys progress, they’re going to help fill holes that you have.”
• As for plugging various holes on the roster, MacLellan said the philosophy has shifted some from last season. “We’re making decisions based on now and in the future,” he said. “Last year, it was, ‘What’s best for us now? What can we do to max this out and give our guys the best chance to win?’ Now it’s more reserved.”