Of the 25 different players who suited up for the Washington Capitals during their 24-game run to the Cup in the 2018 playoffs, 21 of them came into the Capitals organization in the 30-day annual window between June 15 and July 15, the most crucial portion of the hockey calendar. Only Jay Beagle, Alex Chiasson, Jakub Jerabek and Michal Kempny found their way into the Washington system at some other point during the year.
With that critical juncture of the hockey calendar upon us once again, it’s worth taking note of a few key dates ahead on the horizon. First – and of extreme importance – is the setting of the salary cap for the 2018-19 season, which is coming at any hour now. The figure was $75 million last season, and a rise to the $80-82 million area is expected for '18-19. Until that number is cast in stone, the 31 NHL teams are playing a guessing game in regards to their roster management and planning. There has been a bit of a trade flurry around the circuit since the Caps won the Stanley Cup on June 7, and once the cap figure is set, you can expect to see several more swaps take place.
That salary cap figure will also be critical as soon-to-be-intensifying discussions begin with unrestricted and restricted free agents whose current contracts expire on June 30. Caps general manager Brian MacLellan indicated earlier this week that he would be meeting with representatives from at least some of his pending UFA and RFA players this weekend in Dallas.
Why Dallas? That’s the location of the 2018 NHL Draft this weekend, and the Caps’ hockey operations department has already established its base camp here. All of the team’s scouts, brass and support staff are here in Texas, scheming and strategizing for both the draft itself and for the Caps’ happily abbreviated offseason. The first round of the draft is on Friday night, and the next six rounds will unfold on Saturday morning and early afternoon. The Caps own the 31st and 46th overall picks among a total of six choices they currently hold in the seven-round draft.
On Wednesday, we learned that the Caps will begin the defense of their 2017-18 Stanley Cup title on Oct. 3 when they host the Boston Bruins in Washington’s home opener for the 2018-19 regular season at Capital One Arena. A night later, the Caps will be in Pittsburgh to supply the opposition for the Penguins’ home opener. On Thursday, the Caps and the NHL will unveil the full 82-game regular season slates for all 31 clubs.
By Sunday, the Caps’ braintrust will all be back in Washington and the team will be readying for its annual summer development camp, which takes place next week at Kettler. An upcoming press release will contain more specific information, but a couple dozen Caps prospects and other young hockey hopefuls will convene at Kettler for some on-ice and off-ice indoctrination into the Caps’ methods of operation.
Beginning at noon (ET) on Sunday, June 24, the league’s annual “courtship” period for impending UFA players begins. Players in that category may visit with and/or have conversations with teams that don’t hold their rights, but they may not sign with any club other than their current one until noon (ET) on July 1, when the league’s annual free agent shopping emporium opens its randomly stocked shelves.
The deadline for the issuance of qualifying offers to pending RFA players is 5 p.m. (ET) on Monday, June 25. Any RFA players not in receipt of a qualifying offer by that deadline instantly move to the UFA category and are free to sign elsewhere. Those RFA players with arbitration rights have until 5 p.m. on July 5 to file for arbitration, and the deadline for team-elected arbitration comes 24 hours later. Players have until July 15 to accept or reject those qualifying offers, and rejection doesn’t alter their RFA status.
At noon on Tuesday, June 26, the “courtship period” for impending RFA players begins. Impending RFA players may entertain discussions with teams other than the one holding their soon-to-expire contract, for the purpose of signing an offer sheet with one of those teams. Those offer sheets cannot be issued before noon on July 1. Offer sheets are and have been even rarer than usual in the NHL for several years now, but roughly a quarter of the league’s GM posts have turned over within the last year. The lack of activity on that avenue seems to stem from an unspoken gentleman’s agreement amidst the GM fraternity, and one cowboy could change that.
The first buyout window is underway and runs up to 5 p.m. on June 30. Teams can buyout unwieldy or otherwise undesirable contracts. The upside is the instant salary cap relief and roster flexibility, but the downside is spreading the penalty – which varies depending on the age of the player – over twice the remaining term of the deal. As the underrated Dan Stuart once sang, “There ain’t no free lunch/no free lunch today.”
As noted above, the free agency period begins at noon on Sunday, July 1, a day after the conclusion of development camp.
Amid all the hubbub of these many offseason rituals, MacLellan must also work toward filling the Caps’ head coaching vacancy and settling the remainder of the team’s bench braintrust for the upcoming campaign. Between now and the middle of next month, he and his hockey ops staff will have their collective hands full with the rest of the cyclical duties and details of the hockey calendar. For those gentlemen, the work is just heating up to a boil, and the offseason is almost a month away.
Washington UFAs: Jay Beagle, John Carlson, Alex Chiasson, Jakub Jerabek, Michal Kempny.
Washington RFAs: Riley Barber, Madison Bowey, Travis Boyd, Philipp Grubauer, Liam O'Brien, Devante Smith-Pelly, Tom Wilson.