The Washington Capitals were one of 30 NHL teams to submit their list of protected players for the Las Vegas expansion draft by 5 p.m. Saturday. The league will release those lists at 10 a.m. Sunday, but according to a person familiar with the Capitals’ list, here is who Washington chose to exempt from the expansion draft:
- F Alex Ovechkin
- F Nicklas Backstrom
- F Evgeny Kuznetsov
- F Andre Burakovsky
- F Marcus Johansson
- F Lars Eller
- F Tom Wilson
- D Matt Niskanen
- D John Carlson
- D Dmitry Orlov
- G Braden Holtby
Las Vegas will announce its expansion draft selections Wednesday night.
As Capitals General Manager Brian MacLellan indicated last month, Washington opted for protecting seven forwards, three defensemen and one goaltender rather than going with any eight skaters and one goaltender. Earlier this week, the team traded a fifth-round pick to the Minnesota Wild for center Tyler Graovac. Because he’s under contract through 2017-18 and played more than 40 games last season, Washington was able to expose him and protect Eller, the team’s third-line center, to meet the requirement of exposing two forwards under contract through next season with the necessary NHL experience.
The most notable players exposed were defenseman Nate Schmidt, goaltender Philipp Grubauer and forwards Brett Connolly and Jay Beagle. Schmidt is a restricted free agent, but the 25-year-old is expected to have a top-four role on Washington’s blue line next season. Young, puck-moving defensemen are assets in the NHL, often taking years to develop and coming at a premium cost in free agency, which is why Schmidt could be an appealing option for the Golden Knights. The Capitals could negotiate a side deal with Vegas General Manager George McPhee, perhaps trading a pick or a prospect to the Golden Knights for McPhee to avoid selecting Schmidt. It’s unclear if Washington will do that.
McPhee was previously the general manager of the Capitals, and his familiarity with the organization could lead him to selecting Grubauer. McPhee, along with goaltending coach Dave Prior, also with Vegas, drafted Grubauer in 2010, and the 25-year-old was one of the league’s best backup goaltenders in 2016-17. In 25 appearances, Grubauer had a .926 save percentage and a 2.04 goals against average. He’s a restricted free agent, and Washington has already tendered him a qualifying offer, thus making him exposed in the expansion draft.
Players with two years or less of professional hockey experience are automatically exempt from the expansion draft, so the Capitals aren’t at risk of losing most of their top prospects. From the time the lists are revealed at 10 a.m. on Sunday, the Golden Knights will have a 72-hour window to negotiate with the pending restricted and unrestricted free agents left unprotected, and if a player is signed in that time, that counts as Vegas’s pick from a team. The Golden Knights can only select one player from each of the 30 teams.
Washington did not protect any of its five pending unrestricted free agents — T.J. Oshie, Justin Williams, Daniel Winnik, Karl Alzner and Kevin Shattenkirk, likely because it doesn’t make sense for the Capitals to waste a protection on a player who could hit the open market July 1. Washington can still re-sign any of those players after the expansion draft June 21.
As of 3 p.m. on Saturday, the league is in a trade freeze, with teams only allowed to make trades with Vegas until Thursday at 8 a.m. It’s expected that the Golden Knights will select some players in the expansion draft with the express purpose of trading them to another team to build up their stock of draft picks and young prospects.