Cap­i­tals fo­cus on re-sign­ing re­stricted free agents, top four de­fense­man

The Washington Times Daily - - SPORTS - BY MATTHEW PARAS

The Wash­ing­ton Cap­i­tals have got­ten an early start on free agency.

The Cap­i­tals made a sig­nif­i­cant move last week when they re-signed for­ward T.J. Oshie to an eight-year, $46 mil­lion con­tract. Oshie was the No. 1 pri­or­ity for the Cap­i­tals among their pend­ing un­re­stricted free agents and Cap­i­tals gen­eral man­ager Brian MacLel­lan wasn’t sure they could re-sign him.

But a deal got done and now on the eve of free agency, the Cap­i­tals will shift their sights to re-sign­ing their own re­stricted free agents and fill­ing the hole for a top four de­fense­man cre­ated af­ter Nate Sch­midt was taken in the ex­pan­sion draft by the Ve­gas Golden Knights.

NHL free agency be­gins noon Satur­day.

Tak­ing care of busi­ness

MacLel­lan said last month the Cap­i­tals’ re­stricted free agents will be the pri­or­ity.

The Cap­i­tals have four RFAs: cen­ter Evgeny Kuznetsov, for­ward An­dre Bu­rakovsky, goalie Philipp Grubauer and de­fense­man Dmitry Orlov.

“I think all th­ese guys are get­ting bet­ter, will have a bigger role on our team and they’ll be the pri­or­ity for us to sign here go­ing for­ward,” MacLel­lan said.

Wash­ing­ton, ac­cord­ing to capfriendly. com, has $17.5 mil­lion to work with. That money will be needed to ex­tend those four play­ers and MacLel­lan said he would be open to long term deals for both Kuznetsov and Orlov, both who showed a lot of prom­ise last sea­son.

Kuznetsov, 25, was Wash­ing­ton’s sec­ond line cen­ter and had 59 points (19 goals, 40 as­sists) last year. He was one of the Cap­i­tals’ most con­sis­tent play­ers in the play­offs with five goals and five as­sists.

Orlov, on the other hand, thrived play­ing next to de­fense­man Matt Niska­nen. Orlov is also 25 and showed con­sid­er­able prom­ise af­ter be­ing benched briefly in the 2016 play­offs. He had a ca­reer-high 33 points (six goals, 27 as­sists) last sea­son.

The Cap­i­tals also al­ready took care of one pre­vi­ous RFA — re­port­edly re­sign­ing for­ward Brett Con­nolly to a two-year, $3 mil­lion deal. Con­nolly spent most of the reg­u­lar sea­son on the third line, but was de­moted in the play­offs and saw his ice time di­min­ish as the play­offs

went on.

Con­nolly was in­ac­tive af­ter Game 1 against the Pitts­burgh Pen­guins in the sec­ond round with coach Barry Trotz elect­ing to use seven de­fense­men in­stead. Still, Con­nolly had a ca­reer-high 15 goals dur­ing the reg­u­lar sea­son.

Say­ing bon voy­age

The Cap­i­tals have four un­re­stricted free agents: Kevin Shat­tenkirk, Karl Alzner, Daniel Win­nik and Justin Wil­liams. Af­ter the Cap­i­tals agreed with Oshie, MacLel­lan told re­porters in Chicago, he “would as­sume” the Cap­i­tals were done re-sign­ing their own UFAs.

The mar­ket for those play­ers will vary. Shat­tenkirk is likely to re­ceive a lu­cra­tive deal with the New York Rangers and the Tampa Bay Light­ning spec­u­lated as the top teams most in­ter­ested in his ser­vices.

Shat­tenkirk said in May he wanted a bigger role for what­ever team he ends up play­ing for. He was part of the third de­fen­sive pair­ing in Wash­ing­ton next to Brooks Or­pik.

“I want to chal­lenge my­self to be­come an elite de­fense­man and I have to as­sume a bigger role and more re­spon­si­bil­ity,” Shat­tenkirk said.

The Cap­i­tals need a top four de­fense­man, but won’t have the cap room to sign Shat­tenkirk or Alzner if they ex­tend all their RFAs. Alzner, Sport­snet re­ported, has been linked to the Mon­treal Cana­di­ens.

Wash­ing­ton still needs to fill Sch­midt’s ab­sence. There are op­tions on the ros­ter, pos­si­bly Or­pik or some of the Cap­i­tals’ younger prospects, but MacLel­lan told re­porters in Chicago, they have a “job open­ing.”

“We don’t have a plan,” MacLel­lan said. “We’re go­ing to look at young guys, look at free agents. Maybe the trade mar­ket. We’ll pur­sue all av­enues and see what we come up with.”

Else­where, Wil­liams has a grow­ing list of teams in­ter­ested in sign­ing him. TSN”s Dar­ren Dreger re­ported “no fewer than 10 teams” are lin­ing up to sign the 35-year-old.

Wil­liams said he would like to be back with the Cap­i­tals, but eco­nomics might play a fac­tor. Wil­liams was a calm­ing vet­eran pres­ence dur­ing his time in Wash­ing­ton and pro­vided a nice op­tion at right wing on the sec­ond line.

“My drive is there — it’s al­ways there,” Wil­liams said. “I think the ma­jor­ity of peo­ple saw that this year and I don’t think it’s some­thing I’m ever go­ing to lose. We’ll see what hap­pens.”

ASSOCIATED PRESS

The Wash­ing­ton Cap­i­tals have made re-sign­ing their four re­stricted free agents a pri­or­ity, and are open to a long-term deal for for­ward Evgeny Kuznetsov

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