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Jay Beagle is nearing a return, but he can’t be activated until cap room is cleared

(AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)

Jay Beagle was back in a familiar color on Tuesday, shedding his gray non-contact jersey for a white one. It was another step toward the return of Beagle, who broke his left hand in late December, and Capitals Coach Barry Trotz said he’s expected to travel with the team to Chicago for Sunday’s game, potentially playing by then.

“Just on the backstretch, and it feels good,” Beagle said. “This is the easy part of the recovery and healing and getting back into it. You can see the finish line, so that’s the best part.”

But while Beagle is getting closer and closer to being ready, Washington isn’t. With the trade for defenseman Mike Weber, the Capitals made a corresponding move to clear the necessary cap room, retroactively moving Beagle to long-term injured reserve. Beagle can be activated at any time, but before that happens, Washington will need to clear about $360,000 of annual cap space, according to

The Capitals have the maximum 23 players on their roster, but the limit disappears after the trade deadline at 3 p.m. on Feb. 29. It’s unclear who Washington will move off the roster, as a relatively small amount of cap room needs to be cleared. There could be another trade coming before Monday, or a player could be simply waived. With two extra forwards and two extra defensemen, cutting down the roster slightly makes sense considering Trotz’s hesitation to carry too many players.

“I just think that if you have too many extras, it slows your practice down,” he said on Tuesday afternoon. “It takes away from your group. I think most teams try to keep their corps to probably four lines, a couple extra forwards and an extra [defenseman].”

Trotz said Beagle is seeing a doctor on Wednesday or Thursday to receive final clearance. Beagle can’t completely close his hand yet, and he hasn’t taken a faceoff in practice, but the hand he broke isn’t his dominant one. He said he’s worked on timing with faceoffs, but actually practicing them would be the last step.

Before the injury, Beagle had six goals and six assists as the third-line center, his dream job. With Marcus Johansson flourishing in that role, Beagle understands he’s unlikely to reclaim that role, and Trotz has said he’ll start on the fourth line when he returns.

“When JoJo played center, I saw a side that we hadn’t seen in a while,” Beagle said. “I think it just made us more deep. It made us that much stronger, and unfortunately, that means probably that I’ve got to fit in somewhere else, but for the good of the team, it’s great to see. I’ve always tried to be a guy who will play anywhere Coach puts me, and the main goal is to win. You want your team to be the best that they can be, and if that means fitting in a different role or a different line or a different spot, then that’s what you do.”