Washington had extended a qualifying offer to Kuznetsov worth at least $945,000, or 105 percent of his previous salary. Molliver declined comment when asked about the contract’s proposed value, but it’s believed that Kuznetsov could receive a significant raise, possibly tipping over the $3 million mark. At his end-of-season news conference, General Manager Brian MacLellan said he considered the team’s hole at second-line center to be filled.
Moliver did not expect the Capitals to file for club-elected arbitration by Monday’s 5 p.m. deadline. The discussed bridge-deal would ensure Kuznetsov remains restricted in free agency upon expiration, since by that time he will neither have played seven NHL seasons nor be 27 years old. A long-term contract was initially addressed, but talks soon focused elsewhere, Moliver said.
“We just need to come to an agreement,” Moliver said. “Hopefully we’ll get it done shortly.”
Speaking recently after the Capitals signed Williams, MacLellan identified re-signing Johansson, Kuznetsov and goaltender Braden Holtby as high on the agenda, which has been his position since the offseason began. In acquiring Williams and Oshie, MacLellan said, the Capitals relied on contract estimations to project where their restricted free agents will eventually fall.
“Our main focus has been on the RFAs all along and it continues to be a priority for us,” MacLellan said. “Holtby, Kuznetsov and Johansson are priorities.”
The 23-year-old had 37 points during his first full NHL season and grew into a reliable two-way anchor by the playoffs, a far cry from his fourth-line stint early in the fall. Coach Barry Trotz tethered Kuznetsov to forward Troy Brouwer for much of the year, keeping them together while other pieces in the lineup jumbled. They skated apart during the playoffs, with Kuznetsov enjoying a top-line stint between Alex Ovechkin and Joel Ward, and he finished with seven points in 14 postseason games, tied for fourth on the team.
But with Brouwer’s trade to St. Louis and the signing of Justin Williams, Kuznetsov will have new linemates for 2015-16, or at least a new right winger. Either Marcus Johansson, another restricted free agent, or Andre Burakovsky are expected to work on Kuznetsov’s left. MacLellan said his initial thought was using the 33-year-old Williams as an older influence for Kuznetsov and Burakovsky.