DALLAS — A deal between pending unrestricted free agent defenseman John Carlson and the Washington Capitals appears imminent after the team cleared an additional $5.5 million in salary-cap room Friday night at the NHL draft in Dallas. Washington traded veteran defenseman Brooks Orpik to the Colorado Avalanche as part of a package with goaltender Philipp Grubauer in a deal that should allow the Capitals to extend Carlson this weekend.

General Manager Brian MacLellan and Rick Curran, Carlson’s agent, met Thursday night in a meeting MacLellan described as “good” with the two sides “really close.” After the 28-year-old scored 15 goals with 53 assists to lead all NHL defensemen in scoring, he’s expected to receive a maximum eight-year term with an average annual value potentially north of $8 million. That would make him the second-highest paid player on the Capitals.

“I’m certainly encouraged by the move to create the necessary cap space, but that’s all I can really say for the moment,” Curran said in a text message on Friday night.

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Carlson can start meeting with other teams — but not discussing terms or salary — on Sunday at noon and he could hit the open market on July 1, where he would be the best defenseman available. MacLellan indicated that his priority is to get Carlson under contract before either of those things happen.

“We’re going to do our best to sign John,” MacLellan said. “We’ve said it all along. We waited until the end of the year, we’ve had discussions and hopefully we can close the deal here over the next 24 hours.”

Dealing Orpik, one of the most respected players in Washington’s locker room the past four seasons, was about more than signing Carlson. MacLellan said keeping pending unrestricted free agent defenseman Michal Kempny is also a priority. The Capitals traded a third-round pick to Chicago for Kempny in February, and he seamlessly fit on Carlson’s left side in Washington’s deep playoff run to the franchise’s first Stanley Cup championship. Should the Capitals sign both players, the team would return its top nine forwards and top four blue-liners, well-positioned to defend its title.

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MacLellan said re-signing Carlson and Kempny, along with restricted free agent Tom Wilson, are Washington’s priorities, and then the Capitals have to “make some decisions after that.” Longtime center Jay Beagle is a pending unrestricted free agent, and right wing Devante Smith-Pelly, who scored seven postseason goals, is a restricted free agent this summer. Should the final year of Orpik’s contract be bought out by the Avalanche in the coming weeks, MacLellan seemed open to potentially re-signing him at a lower cost to continue playing on the team’s third pairing.

But the focus right now is all on Carlson.

“I don’t know if it’s imminent,” MacLellan said. “We’re in discussions.”

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