The Washington Capitals tendered a qualifying offer to restricted free agent forward Andre Burakovsky, the team announced Tuesday afternoon. Doing so means the team will retain Burakovsky’s negotiating rights, keeping him in Washington’s plans for now despite trade speculation over the past nine months.
Burakovsky’s salary last season was $3.25 million, so his qualifying offer has to match that. That’s considered a slight overpay for a player whose production has leveled off over the past two seasons. The 24-year-old had 12 goals and 13 assists in 76 regular season games last season after posting identical numbers during the 2017-18 campaign, when he played just 56 games.
The Capitals also tendered qualifying offers to restricted free agent forwards Jakub Vrana and Chandler Stephenson and defenseman Christian Djoos as well as prospects Colby Williams and Vitek Vanecek. The notable player non-tendered was 26-year-old forward Dmitrij Jaskin, who had two goals and six assists in 37 games last season. He can become an unrestricted free agent Monday.
Washington is expected to face some salary cap constraints — the upper limit for next season has been set at $81.5 million — so there was some uncertainty whether the Capitals would want to commit $3.25 million to Burakovsky. General Manager Brian MacLellan said last week that other teams had inquired about the 2013 first-round pick’s availability, but he opted not to deal Burakovsky during the draft in Vancouver this past weekend.
“We like the player,” MacLellan said Thursday. “There's been some inconsistencies there, but when he's on his game, he's a good player. We'd like to keep him around, but obviously his name is out there a little bit, so we do talk to some teams about him. But we're not going to move him unless we get something we're comfortable with back.”
MacLellan made similar comments around the trade deadline in February, when it looked as if Burakovsky could be moved. But after he had just five goals and four assists in his first 41 games of the season, he put up seven goals and nine assists in his final 35 games. MacLellan described Burakovsky’s season as “frustrating,” and that could fit for his career, too. He has been streaky throughout his five years in the league, alternating between showing bursts of the speed and skill that made him an impressive prospect and prolonged slumps that can make him a lineup liability. He was a healthy scratch in six games last season.
Washington’s decision to keep Burakovsky makes it even more unlikely that the team will be able to re-sign pending unrestricted free agent forward Brett Connolly, who had 22 goals and 24 assists last season. The Capitals intend to circle back with the 27-year-old after he has explored his options with other teams this week. But with Vrana, who had 24 goals and 23 assists in the final year of his entry-level contract, expected to command a salary cap hit around $4 million on a bridge deal — it could be a little south of that because he doesn’t have the leverage of arbitration rights — Washington will be hard-pressed to find the cap space for Connolly after his career season.
That could clear a path for Burakovsky to move into Connolly’s third-line right wing spot, beside center Lars Eller, and potentially get on the second power-play unit. A steadier role with more responsibility could correlate with more consistency for Burakovsky, and winger Carl Hagelin, recently re-signed to a four-year, $11 million deal, is projected to be on the left side of Eller. That would round out Washington’s top-nine forward corps, so its free agent attention over the next week probably will be centered on the fourth line.
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