Today’s the day. We’ve all dreaded it. Unless you’re a fan of a horrible team and are jumping ship (wink) to the Seattle Kraken, today your favourite team is losing a player for absolutely nothing. Of course, some teams will be making side deals and other kinds of behind-the-scenes moves with Seattle GM, Ron Francis, but most of the players that head to the Emerald City will be acquired via five-finger discount.
There have been many discussions as to who the Washington Capitals would expose and, with that news having been revealed last Sunday of who is protected by the team and who isn’t, it’s now a matter of who they will lose.
Obviously, everyone unfamiliar with the situation was a little cross-eyed when they saw Alex Ovechkin on this list of exposed players. If anyone thinks the Caps are actually just giving up and throwing away Alex Ovechkin – as in the guy with 700+ goals, the most points and games played in franchise history, the Conn Smythe winner of the only Capitals team to win a Stanley Cup and the captain of the team – then your head is on backwards.
However, there were some realistic surprises on both of these lists as to who couldn’t be picked and who could be picked. For starters, the Capitals protecting Daniel Sprong and Trevor van Riemsdyk weren’t exactly slam dunk, home run decisions. I, personally, had the Caps protecting Conor Sheary over Sprong just based on how I felt the organization viewed the two players. And TVR? It’s clearly a financial decision, but I can honestly say I didn’t see that coming at all.
Now, with both of these lists out, the consensus is that the only real options the Kraken could take are the following players: Vitek Vanecek, Brenden Dillon, Justin Schultz, Conor Sheary, and Nick Jensen.
First of all, having five players with a legitimate potential of being picked is rare, no? I mean, I can’t think of another team off the top of my head with that many viable candidates. It’s almost like the team is good? No, that can’t be it. Not if Caps Twitter is to be believed. But in all seriousness, I would hate to see any of these guys go. I always admit that I am extremely biased when it comes to the Capitals, but I feel all of these players brought lots of value to the team this year and losing them for nothing would suck eggs. I understand that it has to be done and that some salaries just need to come off the books, but still.
Since these lists have come out, I have surprisingly seen a lot of people on Caps Twitter beg Seattle to take certain “bad” players out of that list of five…? I can’t point out a bad player on that list of five, so that’s pretty wild that people are begging for us to lose them for absolutely nothing. The truth is, like I said, it will suck to lose any one of these players because they were all solid for the Capitals. So, in classic biased fashion, I want to explain how tonight will suck no matter how it goes – even if we shed some money (which I know needs to happen).
So let’s start with the big one I’ve seen: Brenden Dillon. You wanna talk about bias? This is my best friend we’re talking about. Lots and lots of Caps fans want him gone because he is bad. Am I missing something? Oh wait….no, no I’m not at all. Now look, I’m no analytics junkie (we have a Stat Guy for that), but this seems pretty good to me.
People jump on him because he isn’t a mobile, offensive defensemen. He is a physical, defensive defenseman. When a mistake is made on his end and it goes in the back of the net, it’s more noticeable than when he has his stick in the right lane or angles a guy off the right way. Not to mention, the guy was usually playing the defensive role on the top pairing so he was playing a ton of minutes which, inevitably, leads to more potential for mistakes. Winning teams need a guy like that (see Brooks Orpik for reference) and Dilly’s value goes right over a lot of Caps’ fans heads because big guy hit but no score much goal.
Next up on D is Justin Schultz. I get it; The guy dealt with some injuries this past season which, obviously, made it a little tougher for him to play to his absolute best. But there were stretches this season where Schultz was lights out for this team. Aside from John Carlson and occasionally Dmitry Orlov, Schultz was the only other defender who could generate legitimate offense. He had 27 points in 46 games which means, if he played a full 82-game season, he would have put up 48 points. That, my friends, is phenomenal. I understand there were some underlying numbers that critique his defense, but I attempted to be intelligent and realized that his Expected Goals-Against was 10.7, which was by far the lowest of his career. Is that stat important? No clue, but it seems good to me. Do with that what you will and, again, direct your attention back to Stat Guy Blake for those kinds of stats.
The issue is that, of all the players available, Schultz makes the most at $4million per season. Therefore, it makes sense financially that the Capitals would expose them, though I’m positive his value isn’t lost on them.
Finally on D, we have Nick Jensen. Now, of all the defenseman, he is, at least on paper, the easiest to replace. He’s a bottom-pair defender. You can get those anywhere and for cheap. However, Jensen continued what he started in the playoff series against the New York Islanders in 2020 and has turned into a supremely valuable defensive defenseman. He will never play on a top pairing and he knows that. Jensen just plays his role so well and has turned into a major asset for Washington. Again, I don’t know advanced stats that well, but Jensen’s name is among the top of the list in a lot of defensive stats among defensemen in the NHL. He was amazing this season, and especially with Zdeno Chara as they were, at times, the Caps’ best D pairing. Losing him would be devastating to the Capitals’ D corps since he was a stallion for them this year and I think most fans are realizing that, thankfully.
On forward, there’s Conor Sheary. When the Capitals signed Sheary, I went bananas. They got him at league minimum and I, and I’m sure many others, knew how good this guy was. He proved it instantly. He put up 14 goals and 22 points in 53 games. You know I love an 82-game pace stat, and he would’ve had 21 goals and 34 points in 82 games for league min. I’ll take that allllllllll day. That’s why they re-signed him to a two-year, $3million extension in April. #JustWhatASigning. I think, unanimously, everyone agrees they don’t want to see Sheary go anywhere as well.
It’s kind of funny how the two unanimous decisions for guys that people don’t want to leave are a Sheary, a regular third-line winger, and Jensen, a regular third-pairing defender. I understand their value, of course, it’s just funny to me. It sort of sums up Capitals fans to me. Hate the good players, love the average ones. But hey, I love ’em too.
Finally, we have Vitek. This guy, aside from Dilly, is the guy I’ve seen people say they want gone the most. In a sense, I get it. He is clearly the backup to Ilya Samsonov because he doesn’t have the same potential. But hello, does anyone remember when this guy took over the net for the Capitals and went on a run when Sammy had COVID? He was a rookie and was thrown right to the wolves and, although there were bumps along the way, he stood strong all season and did what was asked. He wasn’t perfect, but did you expect an Andrei Vasilevskiy or a Carey Price? No, he was a rookie getting his start in the NHL while playing in the toughest division in hockey. He even had to start in the playoffs because Sammy decided to lick city buses with Kuznetsov or whatever they did to get back on the COVID protocol list again.
I get it, “he won’t even be the starter this season so who cares?”, but he was a complete warrior through the whole season, and someone I think will be a legit goalie in the NHL. I would also refer to him as a piece that would suck to lose for nothing.
I understand that everyone wants their team to be better and that, in order to do that, it’s essential that money is saved where it can be to make the team better for cheaper. What people ignore is that these guys are actual people and hockey players, not just a contract. These people brought a lot of value to our favourite team this past season and I think it sucks we have to lose any of them at all. It is a business, of course, and an Expansion Draft is a rare occasion, but it’s just disappointing to see people saying “take this guy, he sucks!” or “I hope we lose this guy,” because, for starters, they’re elite players and calling them bad just makes you look ridiculous. But also because, as fans, we should have some bias towards our team and the players on it.
So, to treat them like chess pieces who need to be moved in order to win may be one perspective to view it from, we should also acknowledge that we aren’t in the front office. We’re lazy hockey fans who drink beer and cheer for a team with these unreal players on it. It’s worth it to show them some appreciation and acknowledgment for the pleasure they’ve brought us. The team overachieved and each one of these guys had something to do with that. It’s not a bad thing to enjoy the players on your team. Hell, one of them is my best friend.