Devante Smith-Pelly, who became a postseason hero and scored a crucial game-tying goal in the Washington Capitals’ Stanley Cup-clinching win, will become an unrestricted free agent on July 1 after the Capitals decided not to give the veteran forward a qualifying offer before Monday’s deadline.
Smith-Pelly signed a one-year, two-way deal with the Capitals after being bought out by the New Jersey Devils. He scored seven goals and collected 16 points in 75 games during the regular season. However, Smith-Pelly demonstrated why he has a reputation for being a big-time player in the postseason by equaling his goal total of seven in 24 postseason games as the Capitals won their first-ever Stanley Cup championship.
Smith-Pelly became a fan favorite in Washington with his grit and tough-nose playing style. Mostly part of the fourth line, his attitude of not backing down and relentless hustle also drew fans to admire him. It was his off-balance goal at the 9:52 mark of the third period that pulled the Capitals into a 3-3 tie with the Vegas Knights in Game 5 of the Stanley Cup Final. Washington went on to win the game by the score of 4-3 to clinch the championship series.
A qualifying offer would have come at around $715,000 just a slight increase from the $650,000 he made in 2017-18 and one that Smith-Pelly would have almost certainly rejected. Given his performance in the postseason, the Capitals ran a risk of going to arbitration over his salary and losing, being forced to eat a potentially hefty increase ($4.2 million according to CapFriendly) for Smith-Pelly that they may not have been able to accommodate with their small salary cap space.
The two sides will have until Sunday to iron out a deal before Smith-Pelly is free to sign with any other team. The Capitals have roughly $13.2 million of salary cap space according to CapFriendly after signing top defenseman John Carlson to an eight-year deal worth $64 million.
Washington did send qualifying offers to restricted free agents Tom Wilson, Travis Boyd, Liam O’Brien, Riley Barber and Madison Bowey. The team will retain those players’ rights as they continue to negotiate deals.
Presumably at the top of the Capitals’ list to re-sign is Wilson and their own unrestricted free agent defenseman Michal Kempny who played alongside Carlson as their top defensive pair. However, Capitals general manager Brian MacLellan has stated the team is prepared to retain Smith-Pelly.
“I think he’s become a big part of the team,” MacLellan said per Isabelle Khurshudyan of the Washington Post. “He brings good energy, he’s a good teammate, he’s well-liked. I mean, you could tell teammates really migrate toward him and like him, and then the crowd also likes him. They’re chanting ‘D-S-P’ all of the time. So it’s been fun how he’s got everybody to embrace him and his personality.”
Smith-Pelly said earlier this month there was “no real rush” to getting a deal. He has proclaimed he wants to return and help the Capitals defend their Stanley Cup, saying he feels he has “found” his spot with the Capitals after playing on four teams in seven seasons.