It was 10:30 a.m. when the Washington Capitals started practice Tuesday, less than seven hours before the deadline to set a 23-man roster that is compliant with the NHL’s salary cap. Twenty-five players skated onto the ice, several of them unsure if they would still be in Washington by Wednesday.
By noon, the league’s waiver activity for the day was revealed, and the Capitals hadn’t trimmed any players off their roster through that method. At 4:30 p.m., prospect defenseman Madison Bowey was no longer listed on the team’s roster, which got Washington down to a 23-man roster with roughly $39,000 in salary cap space. Forward Alex Chiasson is still skating with the team, but because he is not under contract yet, he doesn’t count against the roster size or the salary cap.
The Capitals’ first game isn’t until Thursday, so the roster released Tuesday is still fluid and is not necessarily the same one that will be in Ottawa to face the Senators on opening night. The team has interest in signing Chiasson, which would require at least one more corresponding move to clear room on the roster. It’s also possible that Bowey, a 2013 second-round pick who is waiver exempt, is back with the team sometime in the near future as Washington continues to manage its assets.
“We’re going to make decisions one at a time,” General Manager Brian MacLellan said. “We’ll try to do what’s best for our team here going forward. I don’t know that the initial roster is the one we’ll be set with five games from now.”
On Tuesday, MacLellan said the team is “working through” a possible contract for Chiasson, who joined the team at training camp on a professional tryout after scoring 12 goals for Calgary last season. MacLellan said the Capitals have been communicating with Chiasson and his representation, and in Tuesday’s practice, Chiasson skated on Washington’s third line with center Lars Eller and winger Brett Connolly. Chiasson would be temporarily replacing Tom Wilson in that spot because the forward was suspended four games for a boarding incident during the preseason.
“I knew he was a big body and I knew he had pretty good hands, but he’s really quite a learned guy in terms of detail,” Coach Barry Trotz said of Chiasson. “He’s got a quietly really good spirit to compete, to win pucks, and obviously with that big body and strength that he has, he’s shown pretty well for sure.”
Washington avoided exposing any of its fringe players to waivers on Tuesday out of fear that another team would claim one. Forward Jakub Vrana is the only player left on the roster who is waiver exempt, and the 21-year-old is expected to play on a line with Alex Ovechkin and Evgeny Kuznetsov in the top-six forward corps on Thursday. With that in mind, if the team intends to sign Chiasson in time for him to play in Ottawa, the Capitals would have to either take the unlikely step of re-assigning Vrana or waive a player by Wednesday’s noon deadline. Perhaps Washington wanted to wait until after other teams set their 23-man rosters so that most would not have the roster or salary cap room for a waiver claim.
“We’ve got a little bit more time, so we’re going to take all that time and go from there,” Trotz said.
Forwards Tyler Graovac and Devante Smith-Pelly skated beside fourth-line center Jay Beagle in practice Tuesday, so it appears those two won the two open jobs beside Beagle and are safe from being waived for now. On the other hand, Nathan Walker and Chandler Stephenson skated as extras. With Bowey back in the American Hockey League, it appears the Capitals will start the season with a third defense pairing of Taylor Chorney and Aaron Ness, and Christian Djoos will be the extra blue-liner.
Here is Washington’s 23-man roster as it stands now:
Andre Burakovsky-Nicklas Backstrom-T.J. Oshie
Alex Ovechkin-Evgeny Kuznetsov-Jakub Vrana
Brett Connolly-Lars Eller-Tom Wilson
Tyler Graovac-Jay Beagle-Devante Smith-Pelly
Extras: Chandler Stephenson, Nathan Walker
Dmitry Orlov-Matt Niskanen
Brooks Orpik-John Carlson
Aaron Ness-Taylor Chorney
Extra: Christian Djoos