The Capitals now have 25 players on their roster, and they have until 5 p.m. Tuesday to set their opening-night roster of no more than 23 players. Along with Djoos, Washington also waived forwards Michael Sgarbossa and Liam O’Brien and reassigned prospect Shane Gersich. All three players spent all of last year in the AHL.
Djoos suffered compartment syndrome in his left thigh halfway through last season, and he struggled in his return to the lineup after missing two months of the season. A seventh-round pick in 2012, Djoos has appeared in 108 games for the Capitals, scoring four goals with 20 assists while averaging 13:50 per game. Though he’s considered undersized for an NHL defenseman at 6 feet and 169 pounds, Washington was fond of the offensive upside he provided with how he efficiently moved the puck up the ice.
But Djoos’s salary cap hit, a one-year, $1.25 million contract awarded in arbitration, is what spelled the end of his time with the Capitals. If Djoos were to clear waivers, the max buried cap hit is $1.075 million, so $175,000 of his contract still would count toward the cap. Roster projections that included Djoos had the team significantly over the NHL’s $81.5 million salary cap ceiling, so cutting him will help remedy that.
In a wide-ranging interview at The Washington Post on Monday, General Manager Brian MacLellan said impressive training camps from prospect defenseman Martin Fehervary and winger Chandler Stephenson, whom the Capitals opted against waiving, also left Djoos as the odd man out.
“We like the player and we like the person," MacLellan said. “It’s just the salary situation didn’t fit where we’re at right now.”
Washington will get temporary salary cap relief with center Evgeny Kuznetsov’s $7.8 million hit coming off the books during the three games that he’s suspended for inappropriate conduct to start the season. But once Kuznetsov is activated Oct. 8, the Capitals might be forced into more roster decisions.
Further complicating matters for the team, top-four defenseman Michal Kempny is still recovering from a torn left hamstring that required surgery in April, and he’s expected to miss at least the season-opener in St. Louis. That means Washington probably will have to start the season with eight defensemen, and because Kempny’s absence isn’t expected to be long-term, the Capitals are not inclined to place him on long-term injured reserve. That would free up his $2.5 million cap hit while he’s sidelined, but he’d be required to miss at least 10 games.
Washington might choose to start him on regular injured reserve, which wouldn’t give the team any salary cap relief, but it would free his roster spot and force him to miss just two games. The Capitals have defensemen Jonas Siegenthaler, Tyler Lewington and Fehervary still on the roster, and Coach Todd Reirden has indicated that either Siegenthaler or Fehervary will take Kempny’s place on a top pairing with John Carlson. Fehervary, drafted by the Capitals in the second round a year ago, is this season’s training camp surprise, poised to potentially make his NHL debut at just 19 years old.
“I think it’s important that he gets games,” MacLellan said. “He’s earned games this year. I don’t know that we’re committed to keeping him full-time, but we’ll see how he develops here. We want to do what’s best for him. We want to expose him to it, but we also want to make sure he’s going to have success.”
Washington also still has three goaltenders on the roster with Pheonix Copley and prospect Ilya Samsonov both still options to serve as Braden Holtby’s understudy. Asked if the team could start the season with three goalies, MacLellan said the team “will just play it out day by day.” In the forward ranks, Stephenson and Travis Boyd, two players once thought to be on the outside looking in to crack the lineup, have survived this latest round of cuts. Both players would require exposure to waivers to be sent down to the AHL, but one of them is expected to fill in at center during Kuznetsov’s suspension.
“I’m pleasantly surprised with Stephenson’s camp,” MacLellan said. “He came in and probably exceeded expectations from the season he had last year, so that’s been a big positive for us coming out of training camp.”