Wednesday was not the typical end-of-year “breakdown day” for Washington Capitals center Jay Beagle.
“Usually, I stand before you miserable and barely holding it together,” Beagle told reporters. “Today, obviously, is a great day. It’s all laughs and smiles. This feels like I want to do this again for sure.”
Whether Beagle will be given the chance to do this again with Washington is a different question. The soon-to-be 33-year-old center is one of several pending free agents who don’t know if they will return to the 2018 Stanley Cup champions next season.
The free agency period begins July 1, but teams can negotiate with their unrestricted free agents (UFAs) to come to an extension or new deal before then. Defenseman John Carlson will be the highest-paid of the Capitals’ five UFAs, a list that also includes Beagle, defensemen Michal Kempny and Jakub Jerabek and forward Alex Chiasson.
General manager Brian MacLellan said Wednesday that he and Carlson’s agent agreed earlier this year to hold off negotiating a new contract until after the season was over.
“We’re going to be limited to a certain extent to what we can offer, but hopefully we can find a spot that satisfies both parties,” MacLellan said.
Carlson, 28, will be a sought-after defenseman if he hits the market. He led all NHL defensemen in points in both the regular season (68) and Stanley Cup Playoffs (20), setting a number of franchise records along the way.
The Capitals’ 2008 first-round draft pick has made his home in the Washington area, and his wife gave birth to their second son, Rudy, earlier this spring.
“I’ve lived here every summer since I’ve been here,” Carlson said. “This is my home base and obviously the guys that I’ve been around, the experiences we’ve had. I love the area, and this is all I know.”
He declined to answer whether the future of head coach Barry Trotz — also a pending free agent — would be a major factor in his decision.
“That’s a tough, loaded question,” Carlson said, smiling.
MacLellan also told reporters the team wanted to bring back Kempny, who was paired with Carlson ever since the Capitals traded for him in February.
Those priorities might mean Beagle, a fan favorite, has to wait his turn. Beagle said he hasn’t talked with MacLellan about a new contract yet.
“I think you kind of have to wait and see what happens with a couple of the big guys there,” Beagle said. “This team has a lot of decisions to make, and I don’t want to be a burden or anything on Mac. I’ll wait for him to contact me, and we’ll go from there. I’m hopeful I’ll be back.”
Then there are the Capitals’ five restricted free agents (RFAs): forwards Tom Wilson, Devante Smith-Pelly and Travis Boyd, goalie Philipp Grubauer and defenseman Madison Bowey.
RFAs are players older than the “entry-level” designation but younger than 27 years old and with less than seven years’ worth of NHL experience. If the Capitals make a qualifying offer to an RFA and another team submits an offer sheet after July 1, the Capitals must decide whether to match that offer sheet or lose the player and receive a draft pick as compensation.
Wilson, who played most of the season on the first line with Alex Ovechkin and Evgeny Kuznetsov, is the biggest name on the Capitals’ list.
“At some point, there’s going to be an element of business to what’s going on. I don’t really want to think about it now,” Wilson said. “I haven’t even talked to my agent. … This year, no one can ever take this from you. It’s a family in that room now. Whatever happens with guys going forward, you’re always going to have that memory, you’re always going to be able to come back. I love it here. It feels like home.”
An interesting player to watch will be Smith-Pelly, a journeyman who seemed to cement his home in Washington with a seven-goal playoff performance and three straight games with a goal in the Stanley Cup Final. Chants of “DSP” rained down from the hundreds of Capitals fans who attended Game 5 in Las Vegas long after the game ended. Smith-Pelly also attracted a long line of autograph-seekers at the Gaithersburg, Md. Dick’s Sporting Goods this week.
Meanwhile, Grubauer, who went 15-10-3 in 28 starts during the regular season, might not be Braden Holtby’s backup much longer. MacLellan knows the German wants to be a No. 1 starter somewhere, and though he doesn’t feel pressure to make a trade, he implied he’d take Grubauer’s desires into consideration.
“I just think he’s at the point where he wants his own team and he wants to be the guy that is running the show for his own team, and I respect that,” MacLellan said.
Grubauer said he and his agent haven’t yet met with the team about his future.
“I tried to play my game, tried to be consistent the last couple years and win some games and get some points, and hopefully teams and other people saw that,” Grubauer said. “That was my goal, to be a No. 1 starter.”