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Capitals GM turns attention to re-signing their RFAs

by Dan Rosen / NHL.com

Washington Capitals general manager Brian MacLellan felt he improved his team by signing right wing Justin Williams to a two-year contract on Wednesday and trading for forward T.J. Oshie on Thursday.

But MacLellan's focus also remained on getting Washington's three restricted free agents -- goalie Braden Holtby and forwards Evgeny Kuznetsov and Marcus Johansson -- under contract to ensure that the Capitals have a chance to be a Stanley Cup contender next season.

They have approximately $14 million in NHL salary-cap space to re-sign the three restricted free agents.

"Holtby, Kuznetsov and Johansson are priorities," MacLellan said.

There's no doubt in Washington about Holtby's ability to be a No. 1 goalie on a contender. He went 41-20-10 with a 2.22 goals-against average, .923 save percentage, and nine shutouts in an NHL-high 73 appearances last season.

Holtby, 26 in September, is coming off a contract that had a $1.85 million salary-cap charge. He'll get a significant raise, and MacLellan said he's interested in signing him to a long-term contract.

"He did a great job last year," MacLellan said. "We like the person. We like the fit with our team. We've been hoping for a term deal. We'll go beyond the RFA years if it makes sense to the hockey team and allows us to win. That's what we communicated with his agent throughout this whole process."

Kuznetsov, 23, appears to be the answer to the annual question in Washington about who would be the No. 2 center behind Nicklas Backstrom. Kuznetsov solidified himself in that role late last season, when he had 13 points in his final 17 regular-season games and seven points, including five goals, in 14 games in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. He finished the season with 37 points in 80 games.

Johansson, 25 in October, has toggled between the top-six and bottom-six forwards in Washington for the past five seasons. He had NHL career highs in goals (20) and points (47) in 82 games last season.

Oshie was acquired from the St. Louis Blues for forward Troy Brouwer, a goalie prospect and a draft pick, a trade that had little effect on this season's salary cap.

"I feel good about the [cap] cushion," MacLellan said. "I think we have enough to sign our guys."

What it does mean, though, is MacLellan doesn't expect to re-sign unrestricted free agent right wing Joel Ward, who had 34 points in 82 games last season.

"I would not rule it out; it's probably more unlikely," MacLellan said. "We've made some pretty solid efforts to try to bring Joel back. We've been in communication with his representation pretty much throughout the last few days and probably before that."

MacLellan didn't sound as pessimistic about the potential return of unrestricted free agent center Eric Fehr, who had an NHL career-high 19 goals last season. He said he spoke with Fehr's representation once Wednesday.

Fehr is coming off a two-year contract that counted for $1.5 million against the Capitals' cap.

"We're going to continue to talk to him," MacLellan said. "We don't know what's going to happen over the next period here, but we'll continue to monitor where he's at and what he's looking for contract-wise."

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