Forward Nathan Walker is no longer a member of the Washington Capitals organization. After the team waived him on Thursday afternoon, he was claimed by the Edmonton Oilers in the 24-hour window that he was available. If Edmonton tries to send Walker down to its American Hockey League affiliate at any point this season, Washington will have an opportunity to get him back.
The Capitals’ decision to waive Walker boiled down to them not considering him one of their top 14 forwards, and as the team gets healthier, Washington has to clear roster and salary cap space. The coaching staff didn’t trust Walker to kill penalties, and with no special teams role, his ceiling on the team was as a fourth-line, energy player. He played in just seven games, and the Capitals were 2-4-1 when he was in the lineup.
Washington had hoped to get him more ice time by sending him to the AHL, but that required exposing him to waivers. For an Edmonton team that surprisingly has the second-fewest wins in the Western Conference, Walker’s speedy skating was likely appealing.
“He needs to play because he’s not getting any better,” Coach Barry Trotz said. “He’s a player that, I think it was the right thing to do, to get him down, and hopefully he gets a consistent opportunity in Edmonton. If he does and he makes it, that’s fantastic. If he doesn’t, then we have an opportunity to reclaim him. But that’s what waivers are there for. . . .
“Everyone knows Walks is a terrific young man, but he needs to play and needs to develop. His game is not there yet, and he has to continue to develop. He can’t do it not playing.”
This season started as a feel-good story for him, a fan-favorite because he became the first Australian to play in the NHL. He then scored in his season debut, staying in the lineup for the next game against the Tampa Bay Lightning. That was the last time he played two games in a row, never quite getting into a rhythm as Coach Barry Trotz wanted Walker to improve his play along the boards and other little details.
Meanwhile, veteran Alex Chiasson solidified a role on the penalty kill, which helped establish him as a lineup regular, and when Chandler Stephenson scored two goals and four assists in the 10 games after he was called up in late October, Walker was pushed even further down the depth chart. Washington drafted him in the third round in the 2014 NHL draft, and losing a prospect for nothing isn’t ideal for any organization.
But forward Andre Burakovsky is on schedule to play sometime in the next three weeks after he had surgery on his left thumb last month. Once Burakovsky is healthy, the Capitals will be out of long-term injured reserve salary-cap relief because his $3 million cap hit will be back on the books. Even with Walker no longer on the team, Washington will have to clear roughly another $90,000 in salary-cap space once Burakovsky is healthy. That means another forward might be waived soon.
“What do we do when Burt comes back?” Trotz said. “There was going to be movement. That’s part of the whole process. Chandler Stephenson was on waivers, and that’s not going to happen now. You have to make the decisions for your organization at the time.”