Washington Capitals defenseman Christian Djoos was awarded a one-year, $1.25 million contract by an arbitrator on Wednesday.
A key contributor in the Capitals’ 2018 Stanley Cup run, Djoos was previously on a two-year deal with an average annual value of $650,000 before it expired. He was extended a $715,000 qualifying offer from the team in June but declined.
For arbitration, the Capitals requested $800,000, while Djoos’s representation filed for $1.9 million, according to a person with knowledge of the situation. The arbitrator opted for a number that was close to the $1.35 million midpoint of those two asks.
Djoos, who struggled last season and missed two months with compartment syndrome in his thigh, is expected to be the Capitals’ sixth or seventh defenseman on a roster that had 13 forwards, six defensemen and two goalies under contract before the team re-signed Djoos on Wednesday.
Djoos, 24, is only the second player to earn an arbitration ruling this offseason. An arbitrator awarded Winnipeg Jets forward Andrew Copp a two-year, $4.56 million contract on Tuesday. The Capitals had to accept the arbitrator’s decision on Djoos because the annual average value was less than $4,397,832 — the “walk away” minimum for arbitration in 2019 — according to CapFriendly.
However, Djoos’s ruling puts the Capitals in a bind. With only $935,000 in salary cap space after they re-signed top-six forward Jakub Vrana to a two-year, $6.7 million deal, the Capitals will be pushed over the salary cap by the arbitration ruling and will have to make a change in their projected roster for the upcoming season to fit under the cap.
Teams are allowed to go 10 percent over the salary cap until the last day of training camp, so no changes will have to be made immediately.
Even if forward Chandler Stephenson — who is scheduled to have his arbitration hearing on Aug. 1 — does not make the team during training camp and gets sent to the American Hockey League, the Capitals would still be over the salary cap with Djoos’s ruling. Stephenson was on a two-year contract with an annual average value of $650,000.
Some possibilities to fit under the cap could include the Capitals looking to trade Djoos, or another player, since they have a strong pool of young defensemen.
Another could include squeezing out defenseman Jonas Siegenthaler — who replaced Djoos in the playoffs last season after Djoos was unable to skate up to his abilities after his injury. Siegenthaler, 22, is waivers-exempt so the team could send him down to the minors without any risk of losing him in favor of someone cheaper on the roster, such as defenseman Tyler Lewington, who carries a $675,000 salary.
Or, if Stephenson and forward Travis Boyd don’t make the roster in favor of forward Liam O’Brien or Shane Gersich, the team would be able to save money since both O’Brien and Gersich make the league minimum of $700,000. Another scenario, although unlikely, could be to swap goaltender Pheonix Copley with Vitek Vanecek or Ilya Samsonov, but that would leave the Capitals’ backup to goaltender Braden Holtby exposed on the waivers.
Isabelle Khurshudyan contributed to this report.