TORONTO — The Washington Capitals had a planned visit to the Hockey Hall of Fame after practice Wednesday, an event in which they would donate a Stanley Cup ring to a display featuring those of past winners and mark an unofficial end to Washington’s championship chapter from a season ago. Instead, the end came just a little sooner, by way of a surprise roster move in the middle of the team’s practice.
In what was likely to be a precursor to another move ahead of Monday’s trade deadline, the Capitals placed winger Devante Smith-Pelly on waivers, clearing $1 million in salary cap space in the process. Best known for his playoff heroics for the Capitals last year, Smith-Pelly was informed that he was being waived during the practice. A Toronto native, he had his father watching from the stands.
The decision to place Smith-Pelly on waivers was a reversal from the team’s plan when the day began, and it probably signals the importance of carving out some room beneath the league’s salary limit.
When the practice started at 11 a.m., the team had decided to waive winger Dmitrij Jaskin, clearing his $1.1 million cap hit. Jaskin wasn’t on the ice as a result, but every other player was, including Smith-Pelly. The reason for the change isn’t clear, but what’s obvious is that as the Capitals try to finalize their roster to make another Stanley Cup run, they needed to immediately start the process of clearing $1 million of salary cap room for an impending deal, even if it meant bidding farewell to a player who had a significant role in their first championship.
“There is lots going on right now," Coach Todd Reirden said. "We’re always trying to improve our team and the direction we’re going and get better. There are lots of moving parts right now in a number of different spots.”
It’s possible that after word got out of Washington’s plans to waive Jaskin at noon, General Manager Brian MacLellan got a more enticing offer for him — he has played better than his two goals and six assists in 36 games would suggest — perhaps from a club low in the waiver order that believed it may not have an opportunity to claim him. Asked about the change in who was waived, Reirden said, “That is a little bit of what is going on behind the scenes here, and that is something that we’ll keep obviously between ourselves at this point, especially with the amount of stuff that’s going on in the league right now.”
Teams will have until noon Thursday to claim Smith-Pelly, and should he clear waivers, the Capitals can assign him to their American Hockey League affiliate, the Hershey Bears. His contract expires at the end of this season, and this could mark the bizarre end to an otherwise memorable tenure in Washington. Most notably, he scored seven goals in the Capitals’ postseason run to the Stanley Cup last season, including the game-tying goal in the Stanley Cup-clinching Game 5 against the Vegas Golden Knights.
But Smith-Pelly has four goals and four assists in 54 games this season, and the team held him out of the bulk of its preseason games because he failed to meet certain conditioning standards. A season ago, Smith-Pelly produced 16 points, including seven goals, across 75 regular season games.
“It’s always tough to tell a player that, and that’s part of the business, especially for someone that’s in a situation like we are, pushed to the cap and trying to make our team better,” Reirden said. “Obviously, he was a big part of our team’s success last year.”
Clearing Smith-Pelly’s $1 million cap hit off the roster will give Washington a little more room to maneuver if the team wants to acquire someone by Monday. With Smith-Pelly still on the roster, the Capitals had the maximum 23 players and only $957,000 in salary cap space to work with, according to salary cap tracking site CapFriendly.com. MacLellan said this month that he is looking to swap one forward for another, and he is believed to be looking for someone who could play in Washington’s middle six, meaning on the second or third line. The money won’t be cleared until noon Thursday, at which point the Capitals could have a trade lined up.
The news of the day put a slight damper on the team’s visit to the Hall of Fame, where after the Capitals had one last celebration of their group from last season, they had to accept that not everyone will be around for another try this year.
“It sucks, obviously,” forward Tom Wilson said. “It’s a tough business sometimes that way. He’s been a huge part of this team, obviously. I’ve grown up with him. He’s a good friend. It’s obviously new and lots of moving parts and stuff. I haven’t really digested it yet.”
This story was updated from a previous version.
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