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NHL Draft: Grubauer trade comes with big benefit for Capitals

A quiet opening round of the NHL Draft saw only one significant trade, but moving Philipp Grubauer and Brooks Oprik can pay dividends for the Capitals.

DALLAS – It would be inaccurate to say that not much happened on Day 1 of the 2018 draft from a trade perspective. Quite to the contrary, in fact. There might have been only one deal involving players, but when you consider where the dominos fell after the deal, it was an enormous one.

Because the Washington Capitals’ decision to send backup goalie Philipp Grubauer and defenseman Brooks Orpik to the Colorado Avalanche for the 47th overall pick all but assures that star defenseman John Carlson will be back in Washington, likely on an eight-year deal that will pay him somewhere in the neighborhood of $64 million. The Capitals essentially had the option of swapping picks with the New York Islanders, which would have put them at No. 12 in the first round, or making a deal to clear cap space to sign Carlson and they opted for the latter.

“We’re getting closer,” Capitals GM Brian MacLellan said of talks with Carlson. “We’re going to do our best to sign John. We’ve said it all along. We’re close and hopefully we can close the deal here over the next 24 hours.”

Carlson’s agent, Rick Curran, was pleased to hear MacLellan’s optimistic tone, saying that talks between the two sides have been productive. He said the Capitals are well aware of what Carlson is seeking in a deal and that dropping some salary was imperative for the Capitals to get a deal done with their defenseman.

“It’s in (MacLellan’s) hands,” Curran said in an interview with THN.com. “He knows where we’re at and the fact is that discussions have been pretty well exhausted from both sides. I can only tell you that he knows what our position is and if he’s suggesting that a deal can be done in that time frame, I would be delighted.”

By making the deal, the Capitals save $5.5 million on Orpik’s contract, while MacLellan reckoned that as a restricted free agent, Grubauer would have come in somewhere in the $1.5 million range on a two-year deal. Pheonix Copley, who carries a $650,000 cap hit, will have every chance to be the backup goalie next season, with 2015 first-rounder Ilya Samsonov getting the starting job in the minors. And in even more good news for the Capitals, Avalanche GM Joe Sakic suggested that he might buy Orpik out of the final year of his deal, which would allow the Capitals to sign Orpik at a much more team-friendly cap figure.

“I think it’s legal,” MacLellan joked. “We’re open to that, depending on how much room and how much salary it would take. We want to put him on that third pair again. You don’t like trading away good people, but it’s what we had to do to move forward with the team.”

The deal leaves the Capitals with $58.3 million devoted to 15 players. That leaves them with about $21.2 million to fill out their roster, but that will get eaten up quickly. They still have to sign restricted free agents and key playoff contributors Tom Wilson and Devante-Smith Pelley to deals (and they have the option to take Smith-Pelley to arbitration if they choose) and MacLellan would really like to be able to sign UFA Michal Kempny, who was acquired at the deadline for a third-round pick and had his value skyrocket by playing so well in the playoffs and meshing on a defense pairing with Carlson.

Same surname, different spelling, but the big trade involving Ottawa Senators superstar defenseman Erik Karlsson did not materialize. In fact, GMs reported it was eerily quiet on the trade front most of the day. “It was a very quiet day on the phone,” said Ottawa Senators GM Pierre Dorion. “Made a lot of calls on the phones and many calls the GM would say, ‘Hey, you’re my first call today.’ ”

There were other deals involving picks. After saying that his reputation for trading down was not well earned, Toronto Maple Leafs GM Kyle Dubas dealt the 25th overall pick to the St. Louis Blues in exchange for the 29th and 76th overall draft. It appeared to work out well for the Leafs, who were still able to select Rasmus Sandin of the Soo Greyhounds with the pick, a player who had been speculated to be a prospect of interest for the Leafs. The Senators, meanwhile, dealt the 22nd overall pick, their second of the first round, to the New York Rangers for the 26th and 48th picks.

“Very quiet,” said Canadiens GM Marc Bergevin. “I don’t know why.”

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