When the Capitals announced on Sunday night that they’ve come to terms with defenseman John Carlson on an eight-year contract extension worth a total of $64 million, it capped off an excellent weekend for the recently crowned Stanley Cup champions. A Friday evening trade of defenseman Brooks Orpik and goaltender Philipp Grubauer to Colorado freed up more than $8 million in salary cap space, and brought a second-round choice – the 47
thoverall pick – back to Washington in the deal.
That second-round pick from the Avalanche gave the Caps three of the top 47 choices in the 2018 NHL Draft in Dallas this weekend, and made Washington the first defending Cup champs in 35 years to have a first-round pick
and three of the top 50 overall picks in the draft the same year in which it won the Cup. The last time Washington owned three of the top 50 picks in an NHL draft was 2007.
The Caps drafted seven players overall this weekend, matching the team’s highest number of players taken in a draft since 2012. Each of the first four of those choices is a late birthdate, meaning those players could be playing professionally as soon as 2019-20, a nice perk for an organization in need of an injection of youthful talent.
Ten years ago last week, the Caps made a draft day trade, shipping defenseman Steve Eminger and a third-round pick in that 2008 Draft to Philadelphia in exchange for the Flyers’ first-round pick at No. 27 overall. Washington then used that choice to take Carlson. With his maximum-length contract extension on Sunday, Carlson could potentially end up spending the better part of two decades in the Washington organization.
It was a good trade that brought Carlson into the Caps’ system a decade ago, and a good trade that helped facilitate his extension. In shedding Orpik’s $5.5 million salary cap hit and in replacing Grubauer – who signed a three-year extension worth $10 million with Colorado on Saturday – on the roster with Pheonix Copley ($650,000 for next season), the Caps saved just under $8.2 million of cap space. That assumes the same cap hit for Grubauer if he’d stayed in the District, and Caps’ GM Brian MacLellan estimated on Friday evening that the arbitration-eligible Grubauer would be in line to earn somewhere in the neighborhood of $3 million annually.
The Avalanche placed Orpik on waivers on Saturday for the purpose of buying out the final year of the veteran defenseman’s contract, a scenario that will result in him becoming an unrestricted free agent on July 1. MacLellan indicated on Friday that in the event Orpik is bought out, he would not rule out a return for the blueliner in D.C.
Carlson led all NHL defensemen in regular season (68 points) and playoff (20 points) scoring, establishing a franchise record for most points by a Washington defenseman in a single playoff year. And speaking of franchise records, the 28-year-old Carlson is now looking at an eight-year window in which he could push his way to the top of many of those ledgers, already liberally dotted with the likes of Hall of Famers Rod Langway, Scott Stevens and Larry Murphy as well as standout blueliners Calle Johansson, Kevin Hatcher and Sergei Gonchar.
Through the first nine seasons of his NHL career, Carlson has appeared in 608 regular season games, with the possibility of as many as 656 more over the next eight seasons. Already seventh on the team’s all-time list for games played by a defenseman, Carlson could ascend as high as third on that list in 2018-19. He currently ranks sixth all-time in assists (256) by a Washington defenseman and he is seventh in both goals (77) and points (333). With a couple more seasons like the one he just had, Carlson will push his way into the top two or three on those lists.
Carlson replaces Orpik as the eighth member of the Capitals – four forwards, three defensemen and a goaltender – whose salary cap hit is north of the $5 million mark. Each of those eight players is under contract for at least two more seasons, with the deals of Nicklas Backstrom and Braden Holtby coming off the books first, at the end of the 2019-20 season.
Keeping that eight-player core intact gives the Capitals the opportunity to compete for another Stanley Cup championship in the next two seasons. It took 44 years for the Caps’ first Cup championship, and management clearly realizes that this core might be able to do it again, especially now that it’s done so for the first time.
With Sunday’s signing of Carlson, the Caps have accomplished the top task on their offseason to-do list. With Carlson taken care of, MacLellan will now turn his attention toward extensions for soon-to-be UFA defenseman Michal Kempny and soon-to-be RFA right wing Tom Wilson. The Caps made an offer to Kempny over the weekend, and once they get Kempny and Wilson sorted out, they can continue to address a list of pending free agents that includes RFA forwards Travis Boyd and Devante Smith-Pelly and defenseman Madison Bowey as well as UFA forwards Jay Beagle and Alex Chiasson and defenseman Jakub Jerabek.
If the Caps are able to get Kempny and Wilson to sign on the line which is dotted, they will have retained each of the top nine forwards, top four defensemen and starting goaltender from their Stanley Cup championship team, and they would likely have a few million dollars to work with in settling the remainder of the roster between now and Oct. 3 when they open the 2018-19 season at home against the Boston Bruins.
The Carlson signing leaves Washington with roughly $13.2 million with which to sign its remaining free agents and/or bring in some new blood from outside the organization when free agency gets underway in a week, on July 1.