Finally sitting down to write my free agency analysis from the past 30-plus hours, it’s very apparent the type of players the Capitals are seeking to fill holes in the roster, has changed. George McPhee is finally letting go of his guys and bringing in players that will make an impact, for mostly the right price.
First, the guys that left.
After all of the hoopla made about Semyon Varlamov entertaining serious (well, as serious as they could be) offers from KHL clubs in Russia, the Caps literally get the last laugh. Really, the deal that McPhee made to send Varly to the Colorado Avalanche and make the young netminder’s restricted free agency the Avs problem, is hilarious. In return, the Caps got Colorado’s first-round pick in 2012 and their second-round pick in 2012 or 2013. This can be summed up with a big, LOL.
On the first day of free agency, one of the clubs that definitely wanted to spend some cash was the Phoenix Coyotes. They offered a 2 year, $2.65 million contract to perennial fourth line center, Boyd Gordon. I get it. Gordon is a pretty good face-off guy and penalty killer. He is also a very hardworking player. After watching him for 7 years, that’s all the upside I see. The Yotes clearly overpaid.
After the Capitals picked up Marco Sturm for the stretch run to the playoffs last season, things never really got going for the veteran right-winger from Germany. The Vancouver Canucks apparently have a need for him so they offered Marco $2.25 million to enjoy British Columbia for a year. I’m not sure where he fits into the Canucks lineup but I guess they have plans for Sturm.
On the second day of NHL free agency, the Florida Panthers inked Matt Bradley to 2 year contract. Bradley is a character guy. He’ll lay his own body on the line for any of his teammates. The Caps still have that guy, he’s a better player, and his name is Matt Hendricks.
As the above players were making their departures from DC final, the Capitals were looking to fill some holes in the lineup.
The first player the Caps signed as a free agent on Friday was former Capital and Potomac, MD native, Jeff Halpern. At one year and $825,000, this move adequately fills the fourth line center spot vacated by Boyd Gordon with a veteran who also has something to play for in his hometown. I recognize and fully acknowledge some of the injury problems Halpern has had during his career. However, as a local player myself, I feel like there is some kind of hockey karma thing happening with Halpern returning to the Washington Capitals, towards the end of his career, and during a time when the Caps are considered a consistent contender.
The Capitals then went on to sign 2010 playoffs breakout player, Joel Ward, and veteran defenseman, Roman Hamrlik. Ward represents the type of player that the Caps have lacked in the last two playoff seasons. Basically, he shows up. After a 10 goal, 29 point regular season in 2010-2011, he led the Predators with 7 goals and had a point in 9 of the Preds’ 12 playoff games in 2011. On the Caps roster, he’s probably penciled in on the fourth or third lines depending on match-ups and injuries. $12 million over four years is a bit steep for me to sign Joel Ward but if he can show up on a Caps playoff roster like he did for the Predators, he might be worth the price. Roman Hamrlik signed a 2 year, $7 million deal to join the Capitals’ blue line corps. Hamrlik joins the Caps as they are looking at the possibility of Tom Poti retiring or going on long-term injured reserve, and attempting to sign up and coming restricted free agent, Karl Alzner. Again, a little pricey. However, Hamrlik is considered a very solid defenseman who can also move the puck. In Montreal, he spent some significant time on the power play and should be considered a second unit guy for the Caps.
Today, the Capitals signed a veteran goaltender to balance out the youth they have in the crease, for one year at $1.5 million. Signing Tomas Vokoun is a great move that makes so much sense at this stage in both Michal Neuvirth’s and Braden Holtby’s development as NHL tenders. Heading into Neuvirth’s second, full NHL season, the Capitals have picked up starting goaltender talent, for backup money. If Neuvy should fall into the proverbial, sophomore slump, a veteran and fellow Czech, will be there to help him on and off the ice (please listen to this from @TheGoalieGuild). At 23 and still very much a raw talent, Braden Holtby can continue to get the minutes he needs to develop as a pro, in Hershey. Combined with sending Varlamov to Colorado, this is by far the best move George McPhee has made this off-season.
The Capitals sit with about $544,872 in 2011-2012 cap space (courtesy, CapGeek.com) left with restricted free agents, Karl Alzner and Troy Brouwer waiting for offer sheets. Clearly, something has to give. The Capitals need to shed a contract or two through some trades. The obvious ones would be Mike Green at $5.25 million and Alexander Semin at $6.7 million. There may also be a combination of picks, prospects, and other players that could be offered to help clear some cap space. I’m sure George McPhee would have no problem finding suitors for Dennis Wideman, Eric Fehr, or Mike Knuble. All three are in the last year of their contracts. Assuming no one will take Tom Poti’s $2.875 million brittle groin, they might consider Jeff Schultz at $2.75 million, packaged with a pick. Oh, did I just mention trading Schultz? Sorry, the other moves have me feeling really optimistic.
The Capitals and most importantly, George McPhee, are finally shifting their focus a little. They are bringing in some veteran talent to balance out the young superstars they already have. I know it’s only July but these moves look like a philosophical change in the Caps’ war room to try to bring some real, playoffs success, this coming Spring. They’re well beyond the five year plan now.