Cap­i­tals in tough bind as ex­pan­sion draft looms

The Washington Times Daily - - SPORTS - BY MATTHEW PARAS

The NHL’s ex­pan­sion draft is fast ap­proach­ing and the Ve­gas Golden Knights could put the Wash­ing­ton Cap­i­tals in a tough po­si­tion.

The Cap­i­tals must sub­mit their list of pro­tected play­ers by Satur­day and the NHL will an­nounce Ve­gas’ selections on Wed­nes­day. The Golden Knights have to select one player from among those left off each team’s pro­tected list.

“We’re gonna have to re­act after they pick their player,” Cap­i­tals gen­eral man­ager Brian MacLel­lan said last month. “What­ever player they pick, we’re gonna have to try and fill that hole.”

MacLel­lan said the Cap­i­tals will pro­tect seven for­wards, three de­fense­man and one goalie rather than eight skaters plus one goalie, which were the op­tions teams had to choose from for the draft.

In the 72 hours lead­ing up to the ex­pan­sion draft after the NHL pub­licly re­veals the pro­tec­tion lists Sun­day, all sorts of dis­cus­sions and deals could be hag­gled.

For­mer Cap­i­tals gen­eral man­ager Ge­orge McPhee is now the GM of the Golden Knights. MacLel­lan, who served seven years as McPhee’s as­sis­tant gen­eral man­ager, said he ex­pects to have dis­cus­sions with his for­mer boss, but knows McPhee won’t dis­close who he is se­lect­ing.

Mean­while, the Cap­i­tals have al­ready be­gun mak­ing moves to en­hance the odds they won’t lose a player too valu­able.

Wash­ing­ton traded a 2018 fifth-round pick Wed­nes­day to the Min­nesota Wild for cen­ter Tyler Grao­vac, let­ting them pro­tect Lars Eller. Eller pro­vided sta­bil­ity on the Cap­i­tals third line last sea­son after he was ac­quired from Mon­treal Cana­di­ens for two sec­ond round picks last June. But the loss might sting no mat­ter what. The Cap­i­tals are in real dan­ger of los­ing de­fense­man Nate Sch­midt, a re­stricted free

agent who ex­celled in the play­offs. At his year-end press con­fer­ence, MacLel­lan en­vi­sioned Sch­midt as a top-four de­fense­man for next sea­son along­side Dmitry Orlov, Matt Niska­nen and John Carlson.

The prob­lem, though, is the Cap­i­tals only get to pro­tect three de­fense­man. Niska­nen and Orlov were the Cap­i­tals’ best de­fen­sive pair­ing dur­ing the play­offs and it makes sense to pair them to­gether go­ing for­ward. Orlov is also a re­stricted free agent and MacLel­lan said he would be open to sign­ing him to a long term ex­ten­sion.

That leaves Carlson, who is also a valu­able de­fender.

If the Cap­i­tals re­ally want to go bold, they could trade Carlson for a draft pick or other as­sets be­fore­hand — shed­ding his $4 mil­lion salary — to pro­tect Sch­midt. But the Cap­i­tals have shown no in­di­ca­tion they would make such a move — and the de­fense would get worse in the short term in trad­ing Carlson.

“Ob­vi­ously there’s a pos­si­bil­ity,” Sch­midt said last month about Ve­gas. “It seems like ev­ery­thing (Las Ve­gas is) do­ing is the right thing . ... This ex­pan­sion, with how good the league is, there’s go­ing to be a lot of good play­ers that are go­ing to be ex­posed on ev­ery team.”

The Pitts­burgh Pen­guins, who elim­i­nated the Cap­i­tals from the sec­ond round in the play­offs, added in­sult to in­jury with a re­cent ros­ter move that will make it more dif­fi­cult for Wash­ing­ton to keep Ve­gas from pick­ing Sch­midt.

Marc-An­dre Fleury, the Pen­guins goal­tender the Cap­i­tals strug­gled to crack in their seven-game se­ries last month, agreed Mon­day to waive his no move­ment clause, mean­ing Ve­gas will likely select him in­stead of Cap­i­tals backup goalie Philipp Grubauer.

The move also al­lows Pitts­burgh to pro­tect Matt Mur­ray, their 23-year-old start­ing goal­tender.

Fleury, 32, would pro­vide Ve­gas with a mar­ketable name and a men­tor to help younger play­ers. Pick­ing up the Pen­guins backup goalie would al­low the Golden Knights to use their Cap­i­tals pick to grab Sch­midt — mean­ing the Cap­i­tals will have to ne­go­ti­ate di­rectly with Ve­gas to keep Sch­midt.

“It’s go­ing to be in­ter­est­ing to see the process,” MacLel­lan said.

Which 11 play­ers will the Cap­i­tals pro­tect? Here’s an ed­u­cated guess:

For­wards: Alex Ovechkin, Nick­las Back­strom, Evgeny Kuznetsov, Mar­cus Jo­hans­son, An­dre Bu­rakovsky, Lars Eller and Tom Wil­son.

De­fense­man: Dmitry Orlov, Matt Niska­nen, John Carlson.

Goalie: Braden Holtby.

AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

The Cap­i­tals are in dan­ger of los­ing de­fense­man Nate Sch­midt to the Ve­gas Golden Knights in next week’s ex­pan­sion draft.

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