“Right now, I don’t know,” Oshie said on Friday. “Right now, I feel like still a part of the team. … Right now, I’m a Capital, and I feel like that’s where I’ll be. If something changes, it changes.”
Justin Williams, Daniel Winnik, Karl Alzner and Kevin Shattenkirk are Washington’s other pending unrestricted free agents, and like Oshie, all expressed a desire to return next season. That realistically won’t happen, and while the Capitals may like all of those players, MacLellan will have some tough choices to make. Washington didn’t have any wiggle room with the salary cap this season, and because Oshie is coming off a career year with 33 goals and 56 points, finding a way to keep him with the terms and average annual value he’s expected to command could be MacLellan’s biggest challenge this offseason.
Oshie is 30, and while he averaged a career-high 0.82 of a point per game, his shooting percentage was inflated at 23.1 percent, the highest in the league and arguably unsustainable. He missed 14 games this season with a shoulder injury and then a concussion. If he were to test the open market, he could fetch significantly more than the $4.5 million salary he made this past season. Last summer, 28-year-old right wing Kyle Okposo signed a seven-year, $42 million contract with the Buffalo Sabres, and he was coming off a 22-goal season. David Backes was 32 when he signed his five-year, $30 million contract with the Boston Bruins, and his last 30-plus-goal season was in 2010-11.
Asked if there was any interest in testing free agency on July 1, Oshie admitted there was “a little bit,” but just two days after the Capitals’ season ended in a Game 7 against the Pittsburgh Penguins in the second round of the playoffs, he seemed unsure of his future.
“I don’t like change too much, so honestly, I thought about this more probably last summer than I did this season,” Oshie said. “It was such a fun, exciting year that I never sat and really thought about free agency. I still, over the last day and a half, haven’t thought about it too much.”
MacLellan traded for Oshie two years ago to give stars Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom a top-line complement on the right side. Oshie figured any player could be successful alongside those two, but that spot in the lineup was a revolving door in the past. In the season before Oshie’s arrival, Ovechkin and Backstrom had played with nine wingers on the first line. Oshie, who was on the top power play and also killed penalties, became the team’s first 30-goal scorer other than Ovechkin since the 2009-10 season.
“I think T.J.’s a big part of our hockey team,” Trotz said. “He’s what you look for in a Washington Capital. You talk about someone who’s passionate, T.J.’s passionate. Someone who plays with joy, he plays with joy. Someone who’s got creativity in his game, T.J. has that. Someone who’s got a lot of competitive spirit in his game, T.J. has that. Can he play and be a productive player for us? T.J. can do that. All those things he’s saying is all the things that we’re saying. I think Mac and him will probably discuss that, and hopefully we get something done.”
This two-year stint in Washington also served as a sort of career revitalization for Oshie. After seven seasons playing with the Blues, he said he rediscovered the creativity in his offensive game with the Capitals. “We’ve talked over the years, and he’s expressed how much he enjoys playing here,” said Shattenkirk, who previously played with Oshie in St. Louis.
“Obviously, he’s gotten much more opportunity here,” Shattenkirk continued. “He’s had the freedom to do the things that he’s so good at. That’s the best thing about Osh is that he’s such a remarkable player that you have to give him a long leash because he can pull things off that not many guys can. And I think the reason he’s kind of found that freedom is because the players here make plays. You’re allowed to make plays offensively and take risks.”
The on-ice fit is not the only thing Oshie will factor into his next contract. His family made Washington a home with his oldest daughter, Lyla, making friends with other players’ children. During the season, he tried not to give the future too much thought. Now, he and the Capitals both have to consider what they may be willing to compromise to keep Oshie in Washington.
“This group of guys, organization, coaches, it’s been a great fit for me,” he said. “It’s been a great fit for my family. So, I’d like to come back, yeah.”