Caps, as ex­pected, lose Justin Wil­liams, Kevin Shat­tenkirk and Karl Alzner.

Alzner, Wil­liams, Shat­tenkirk move on; Con­nolly stays put

The Washington Post Sunday - - SPORTS - BY IS­ABELLE KHURSHUDYAN is­abelle.khurshudyan@wash­post.com

Karl Alzner spent his last few min­utes as a mem­ber of the Wash­ing­ton Cap­i­tals say­ing good­bye. He stopped by the team’s prac­tice fa­cil­ity in Ar­ling­ton to thank mem­bers of the team’s train­ing and equip­ment staff, and then four min­utes into the of­fi­cial start of free agency, he joined the Mon­treal Cana­di­ens on a five-year deal worth $4.625 mil­lion per year.

The end of Alzner’s tenure in Wash­ing­ton ap­peared in­evitable be­fore his new deal. While Alzner, for­ward Justin Wil­liams and de­fense­man Kevin Shat­tenkirk all moved on to new teams with lu­cra­tive con­tracts Satur­day, the Cap­i­tals were quiet, hand­cuffed by their shrink­ing salary cap space.

They of­fi­cially an­nounced a two-year, $3 mil­lion re-sign­ing of Brett Con­nolly that was re­ported ear­lier this week, and they also added depth with winger An­thony Peluso get­ting a one-year, twoway con­tract for the league min­i­mum. Gen­eral Man­ager Brian MacLel­lan wasn’t made avail­able to mem­bers of the me­dia Satur­day.

Wash­ing­ton could strug­gle to re-sign its three re­main­ing re­stricted free agents with the salary cap space the team has avail­able af­ter re-sign­ing T.J. Oshie to an eight-year, $46 mil­lion deal and giv­ing Dmitry Orlov an av­er­age of $5.1 mil­lion for the next six sea­sons. All of that con­trib­uted to the or­ga­ni­za­tion be­ing mostly idle on the first day of free agency.

“It was pretty clear from my end that there didn’t look like there was go­ing to be an op­tion in Wash­ing­ton,” Alzner said. “We asked a cou­ple times to see if there was even a num­ber or years or dol­lars or any­thing that they were look­ing at, and it just wasn’t pos­si­ble. There’s big-ticket guys that needed to be signed, and you can’t prom­ise any­one any­thing un­til those get done, so we were pretty cer­tain for prob­a­bly two or three weeks now that we weren’t go­ing to be able to come back.”

Alzner wasn’t the only for­mer Wash­ing­ton player to cash in. Wil­liams got a pay raise with the Carolina Hur­ri­canes, the team he won the Stan­ley Cup with in 2006, on a two-year deal that has an av­er­age an­nual value of $4.5 mil­lion. Shat­tenkirk was the af­ter­noon’s high­est-paid player with a re­ported four-year deal worth $26.6 mil­lion with the New York Rangers. In the chal­leng­ing Metropoli­tan Di­vi­sion, those two teams got bet­ter Satur­day, while the Cap­i­tals will lean on young and in­ex­pen­sive play­ers to stay com­pet­i­tive.

“I re­ally like this team,” Wil­liams said of the Hur­ri­canes. “I like where it’s go­ing, and I think you can ask any­one in the NHL who has played against the Hur­ri­canes, they are a tough, tough team to play against . . . .

“I hadn’t heard from Wash­ing­ton very much. You know, we had heard from them through the process but cer­tainly not as much as the other teams. They said they wanted to sign me, but some­times it doesn’t work out that both sides are able to get it done.”

While Wash­ing­ton may have wanted to re-sign Wil­liams, its salary cap lim­i­ta­tions likely made it im­pos­si­ble. Ac­cord­ing to CapFriendly.com, the Cap­i­tals have $62,543,440 tied up in 14 play­ers ex­pected to be on their NHL ros­ter next sea­son, leav­ing the team with $12,456,560 to spend be­fore hit­ting the salary cap of $75 mil­lion. As­sum­ing the Cap­i­tals carry a 22-man ros­ter with one ex­tra for­ward and one ex­tra de­fense­man, that means that $12.45 mil­lion needs to cover the re-sign­ings of re­stricted free agents Evgeny Kuznetsov, An­dre Bu­rakovsky and Philipp Grubauer as well as five other player con­tracts.

Kuznetsov is ex­pected to get a long-term deal, and his cap hit could be in the neigh­bor­hood of $6 mil­lion, mean­ing the Cap­i­tals will have lit­tle room to ma­neu­ver and may have to trade a player for some cap re­lief.

With goal­tender Pheonix Co­p­ley re-signed to a two-year deal that will pay him the league min­i­mum of $650,000 per sea­son, Grubauer could be on the move. But if los­ing top-four de­fense­man Nate Sch­midt for noth­ing in the Las Ve­gas ex­pan­sion draft could be con­sid­ered poor as­set man­age­ment, then des­per­ately trad­ing a qual­ity young goal­tender in Grubauer for less-than-ideal re­turn wouldn’t be much bet­ter.

Even if Wash­ing­ton is able to clear some cap room, the team likely will have to plug some lineup holes with play­ers mak­ing the min­i­mum salary. As the cap pic­ture stands now, the $863,333 cap hit for 21-year-old winger Jakub Vrana could be too rich for the team.

In­stead, the Cap­i­tals may have to con­sider some­one like Peluso, who was signed to a one-year, two-way deal worth $650,000 on Satur­day. Peluso has played in 142 NHL games over four sea­sons in Win­nipeg, and while he likely will spend most of next sea­son in the Amer­i­can Hockey League, he could con­tend for a spot on the fourth line, par­tially be­cause he’s in­ex­pen­sive.

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