Japers' Rink commenter Reckless brought to my attention that the San Jose Sharks present a good team comparable to the Capitals in terms of salary cap situation (among other things), or at least to a future Caps team. The Sharks are older than the Capitals, and with all those guys on UFA contracts you really wonder how they've stayed so good and under the salary cap. It starts and ends with GM Doug Wilson, who's a master at managing the cap.
Long term deals (2 seasons or more after this one): RW Dany Heatley, C/W Patrick Marleau, C Joe Thornton, C Joe Pavelski, D Dan Boyle, W Ryane Clowe, D Marc-Edoard Vlasic, D Jason Demers (ELC), D Douglas Murray. Total, 9 players ~$41 million. The Sharks look like they have three first liners, two second liners, and their top four defensemen all signed. Is that so different from Ovechkin-Backstrom-Semin-2C-Green-Schultz-Alzner-Carlson-Poti? Their important D and the "make-around-them-better" forwards are locked up long term, so Wilson can get both guys going under market value "for a chance to win" and cheap, not-too-bad players near league minimum (a la Jeff Halpern, Eric Belanger, etc).
Granted, the Sharks do have six ELC players right now. I don't think the Capitals will have that anytime in the near future; best case, we're looking at Johansson-Kuznetsov-Orlov-Galiev-Eakin-Carlson, I'd say. But the Sharks also have some expiring UFA deals that coincide nicely with the end of Devin Setoguchi's cheap deal (he'll be an RFA after this season) and have staggered the ends of their expensive guys' contracts for the most part, just as George McPhee likes to do.
Perhaps the only player Doug Wilson has overpaid in the recent past is Evgeni Nabokov. He's been pretty good at not overpaying, and yet he doesn't seem overly cautious or overly aggressive in free agency. He's even made three blockbuster trades (Thornton, Boyle, Heatley). He just gets things done. If George McPhee can emulate Wilson and be careful with his finances, then the Capitals should be able to keep a roughly ten player core for the foreseeable future. I don't doubt GMGM can.