NHL Expansion Draft: Washington Capitals Primer
The Washington Capitals could lose one of Philipp Grubauer and Nate Schmidt in the NHL expansion draft

The Washington Capitals have some decisions to make that will not be easy. From a numbers standpoint, the 7F/3D/1G setup benefits Washington. It would allow them to protect their more borderline forwards. Those forwards feature some potential as well as depth.

Defense and goaltending could get a bit more dicey for the Capitals so let’s begin with what may be simpler.

Forward Decisions

The Capitals have a decent amount of forward depth to protect. Someone good is going to be exposed. Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom, Evgeny Kuznetsov, Andre Burakovsky, Marcus Johansson, and Lars Eller are locks. Now, Eller and Burakovsky are restricted free agents and will likely be re-signed in short order. Some have debated that Burakovsky is a bottom six forward. Despite that, reality dictates that his upside is more on the top six side.

Who among the bottom six is worth getting those exemptions?

Ultimately, we’re talking about a team that has depth to burn. It is also helpful that much of Washington’s prospect pool is exempt. This decision comes down to three players. Tom Wilson, Jay Beagle, and Brett Connolly.

Wilson is expected to be the seventh forward protected. The 2012 first round pick is showing more and more flashes of the player he could be. He arguably saved Washington from a first round elimination at the hands of Toronto. Wilson improved his penalty killing greatly. His physical play did cross the line a bit too much still but again he is just 23. There is an expectation of a higher ceiling.

At 25, Brett Connolly makes for a solid bottom six depth player who can provide offensive spurts. That is what he is, however. Furthermore, his future is uncertain after being a healthy scratch for most of the playoffs. Connolly scored 15 goals which does allow Washington options.

Jay Beagle is also possibly an odd man out because of his age (31). However. Beagle’s ability to play center on every line cannot be underestimated. Beagle kills penalties better than few centers in the league. He is top ten in face-off percentage when it comes to penalty kill and all situations.

Beagle is one of the few forwards in the league that can play with Alex Ovechkin and find ways to keep his production on an upward arc. George McPhee could be swayed by Beagle a bit considering his previous ties as a former GM of the Capitals.

What may happen…

GM Brian MacLellan has mostly easy decisions here. The toughest part is deciding does he protect Wilson or Beagle. It appears like he will put Wilson on the list. There could be a trade between now and then but not likely yet.

Defense Decisions

Matt Niskanen and John Carlson are no-brainers to protect with significant value. After that, it comes down to Dmitry Orlov who is expected to get a pay upgrade. There are some KHL rumors but those seems to be noise currently.

However, do not expect a protect on any pending free agents like Kevin Shattenkirk, etc. That goes for all free agents as that is Washington’s prerogative here. At least, defense is straight forward to a point.

If only three defensemen are exempt from Las Vegas, then it will be Nate Schmidt who gets dangled like a carrot. Schmidt has quite the upside considering his play during the playoffs. He will come cheap and Las Vegas knows this fact.

Goaltender Decisions

This is another guilt free decision as Braden Holtby is the starter and Philipp Grubauer is the backup. Also, he is a restricted free agent. He has shown to be a very good understudy and will interest Las Vegas some. It all comes down to how the Golden Knights fill their roster. Grubauer’s .928 save percentage and ability to play consistently will entice George McPhee. It just comes down to who Detroit may protect in net and what direction Las Vegas may go for its second and third goalies.

Projected protected players and their cap hits


Alex Ovechkin (M-NTC) – $9.538M through 2021

Nicklas Backstrom (M-NTC) – $6.7M through 2020

Marcus Johansson (M-NTC) – $4.583M through 2019

Andre Burakovsky – restricted free agent

Evgeni Kuznetsov – restricted free agent

Lars Eller – $3.5M through 2018

Tom Wilson – $2.M through 2018


Matt Niskanen (M-NTC) – $5.75M through 2021

John Carlson – $3.97M through 2018

Dmitri Orlov – restricted free agent


Braden Holtby – $6.1M through 2020

Top two options on who they would most likely lose

Could a trade happen is the question. However, the two most likely choices appear to be Grubauer and Schmidt. That could change as the time draws closer to the expansion draft. Beagle is our dark horse pick here and for good reason. Versatility is essential on an expansion team.

If Washington were to make a trade with Vegas to select/not select a player, who would it be and why.

I think Washington is hoping that if they lose anyone, it is a Connolly or even Schmidt. There has been a rumor or two concerning Philipp Grubauer but that carries little weight or legs. However, a Jay Beagle trade is plausible as well. The Capitals have a solid prospect pool in the wings. On the other hand, they will not risk quality for quantity here.

Follow Chris on Twitter @ChrisWasselDFS