CHICAGO — The Washington Capitals have made their first splash of the summer, and it involves keeping a key part of their team from the past two seasons. Before the first round of the NHL Draft started Friday night, Washington re-signed right wing T.J. Oshie to an eight-year, $46 million deal that will carry an annual salary cap hit of $5.75 million.
The 33-goal scorer was scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent July 1. This deal will run until Oshie is 38. According to CapFriendly.com, Oshie’s deal includes a modified no-trade clause in all eight years. In the first four years, Oshie has a 15-team list of places he can’t be traded to, and in the final four years, it’s a 10-team list. Oshie said “there’s a very slim chance” he’ll be going through this free agency process again, indicating he could finish his career with the Capitals.
“Term was something we were very interested in,” Oshie said. “… Security is one thing. I’ve played on a couple one-year deals before this, and just the certainty of having the security and not having to worry about it, just play your game and working on winning games instead of getting points or getting goals. It’s nice to just approach the game to win.”
Washington was the only team that could offer Oshie a term as long as eight years. The length of the deal was what drove down the annual value to keep the salary cap hit reasonable enough for the Capitals to still re-sign their other restricted free agents, including Evgeny Kuznetsov and Dmitry Orlov, who could receive long-term deals. General Manager Brian MacLellan said he expects the team likely will not re-sign any of its other four unrestricted free agents: Justin Williams, Daniel Winnik, Karl Alzner and Kevin Shattenkirk, but Washington will qualify its five restricted free agents to retain their negotiating rights.
The team is also in need of a top-four defenseman after Nate Schmidt was swiped by the Vegas Golden Knights in the expansion draft. Oshie’s new cap hit, coupled with the expected pay raises for restricted free agents, will have Washington facing salary cap constraints, so the Capitals’ options to fill that role externally could be limited.
“We have a job opening,” MacLellan said. “We don’t have a plan. We’re going to look at young guys, look at free agents, maybe the trade market. We’ll pursue all avenues and see what we can come up with.”
The structure of Oshie’s deal pays him $8 million in total compensation ($4 million in salary and a $4 million signing bonus) in the first year, but that drops down to $5 million and $4 million, respectively, in the final two years of the contract. The could make Oshie easier to trade at that point, some protection for Washington in case Oshie’s skills deteriorate with age and the cap hit no longer matches his production. MacLellan mentioned players such as Joe Thornton, Patrick Marleau, Zach Parise and Ryan Suter as examples of players continuing to be productive late in their careers, though Parise and Suter, both with the Minnesota Wild, are still only 32.
“You never know,” MacLellan said. “[Oshie] really works at his game. He’s a good athlete. There’s guys playing in the game now who are 38, 39 years old.”
Oshie tied captain Alex Ovechkin for the team lead in goal-scoring, and he also had the league’s highest shooting percentage at 23.1. The Capitals acquired Oshie from St. Louis before the 2015-16 season, sending forward Troy Brouwer, goaltender prospect Pheonix Copley and a draft pick to the Blues.
In the two years since, Oshie has scored 107 points and twice set career marks in goals. He has spent the majority of those two seasons as the right wing complement to Ovechkin and center Nicklas Backstrom. The season before his arrival, Ovechkin and Backstrom shuffled through nine different right wingers on their line; Oshie offered stability.
“I feel like my game almost got freed up,” Oshie said. “It was a new opportunity for me to kind of take back a little bit more of that offensive side of the game. Luckily, I’m a right shot, so I fit in pretty well on the power play. I feel like we’ve had a lot of chemistry going with Ovi and Nick. I mean, you can almost put anyone out there with those two guys and they’re going to put points on the board.
“Just all around, I felt so comfortable and so welcomed in Washington. Honestly, I felt freed up to go out there and play the game that I wanted to play, and I think it fit in well with the team structure.”