Washington Capitals: 8 Defensemen the Caps Need to Target to Replace Mike Green
As the Washington Capitals close in on the final 20 games of the 2011-12 NHL Season, one of the biggest reasons the team has been overwhelmingly disappointing thus far has obviously been the absence of defenseman Mike Green.
Green, a two-time Norris Trophy finalist and former 30-goal scorer is one of the best offensive blueliners in the game, and more importantly, makes the Caps a different team entirely when he's in the lineup.
Unfortunately, injuries to both his groin and ankle have caused Green to miss all but 10 games so far this year, and in his absence, the Capitals have struggled to even remain in the playoff picture in the Eastern Conference.
While General Manager George McPhee obviously hopes that Green will be back at somewhere close to full strength for the final push towards the postseason, the club must know better than to count on Green to be healthy, because it's been more than a year since he's been able to play on a consistent basis.
Regardless of whether or not Green is able to play big minutes for the Caps at any point this spring, McPhee will have a difficult decision in front of him this summer, as Green will be a restricted free agent. Assuming McPhee decides to try and retain Dennis Wideman, who has been the team's best defenseman this year, moving Green will likely become a top priority.
If he does ultimately ship Green out to free up cap space for a player who can contribute on a more consistent basis, here's a look at eight defensemen who could be available, and should be targeted by McPhee.
8. Dennis Wideman
This is an obvious one, as Dennis Wideman has been Mike Green's replacement all season, and has performed well as the team's powerplay quarterback and primary puck rusher from the back end.
After earning the first All-Star selection of his career, Wideman will undoubtedly be one of the most sought after free agents on the market this summer, which is why it's critical that McPhee find a way to retain him if the team does indeed part ways with Green.
Wideman may not be as dynamic as Green on the rush, but considering how much durable he's been, McPhee would be playing it safe by opting to keep Wideman over Green this summer.
7. Brad Stuart
The Detroit Red Wings have a penchant for successfully turning underachieving players into valuable pieces of championship caliber teams, and Brad Stuart is a textbook example of that.
After the Wings acquired Stuart in 2008, he grew into a solid top-four rearguard on one of the league's best teams, and he has all the tools to fulfill a similar role for the Caps. Unfortunately, in order to pry Stuart away from Detroit, they'll likely have to overpay the 32-year old, and Stuart still won't come close to replacing the offense the Capitals would lose with the departure of Mike Green.
However, if the Caps can keep Wideman in the fold, Stuart would be a nice addition to the team's top-four, and he'd look especially good playing with an offensive defenseman such as youngster Dmitri Orlov.
6. Matt Gilroy
Though Matt Gilroy hasn't been the offensive force that some projected he would be when he signed with the New York Rangers on the heels of his Hobey Baker win in 2010, he still has the potential to be a solid top-four defenseman, and he'd be a low-risk, high-reward venture for McPhee to pursue.
After taking a one-year, $1 million contract with the Lightning last summer, Gilroy has played reasonably well with Tampa Bay, and he could be attained for around the same price tag come July 1st.
If the Capitals can retain Dennis Wideman, or sign a defense-first defenseman this summer, Gilroy could be an intriguing option for the Capitals.
5. Dmitri Kulikov
Though Dmitri Kulikov, like Mike Green, is a restricted free agent as of July 1st, he would be an intriguing target for the Capitals, especially as part of a package in return for the rights to Green.
Like Green, Kulikov is a solid puck mover, and he should come at a much lower price which will be important to a Capitals team that has a number of players already signed to relatively expensive deals. After a 26-point breakout season in 2010-11, Kulikov has emerged as a top defenseman on a vastly improved Florida Panthers team.
If the Panthers are looking to improve their roster once again this offseason, it's conceivable to think that he could be acquired in exchange for a two-time First Team All-Star in Mike Green.
4. Johnny Oduya
If the Capitals are able to keep Dennis Wideman, Johnny Oduya would be a worthwhile option for McPhee to look into on the unrestricted free agent market, as Washington could certainly use a stay-at-home defenseman to give the team more stability on the back end.
Oduya would bring a conservative veteran presence to a Washington defense corps that features three defenseman with less than six seasons of NHL experience under their belts combined, in addition to a much needed physical presence.
Oduya will likely be available considering the fact that Winnipeg already has big bucks allocated to defensemen Dustin Byfuglien, Ron Hansey and Tobias Enstrom, and it will cost Washington much less than it would to retain Mike Green.
3. Zach Bogosian
Last summer, the Jets were rumored to be shopping Zach Bogosian, primarily because he hasn't quite lived up to the lofty expectations the organization had for the 21-year-old.
This year, the Capitals could try to acquire the former third overall pick, potentially as part of a package in return for the rights to Mike Green, which would immediately provide Washington with a dynamic puck rusher to replace their top offensive blueliner.
At $2.5 million a season, replacing Green with Bogosian could save the Capitals upwards of $3 million annually, freeing up more cap space to keep Wideman or chase another free agent on the market.
2. Matt Carle
If the Capitals do end up dealing Mike Green's rights prior to July 1st, one of the team's top targets among this year's crop of unrestricted free agents should be seven-year veteran Matt Carle of the Philadelphia Flyers.
Carle, a 28-year-old two-way defenseman, has blossomed since arriving in Philadelphia, and is well on his way to the third 40-point performance of his young career. While he won't provide the offensive spark that Green does, he's a mobile rearguard who is more than capable of playing the point on the Caps' second power-play unit, as indicated by his three tallies with the man advantage so far this season.
Coming off of a four-year deal with an annual cap hit of under $3.5 million a season, Carle will likely cost the Capitals at least $1 million less than Green would, and he's missed only two games over the last three seasons combined.
Seeing as the Flyers have roughly $6 million in cap space heading into the offseason with Carle, Jaromir Jagr and Jakub Voracek all set to become free agents, it's hard to see how the team will be able to keep all three. Philadelphia's blue line is stacked with talent, and at least on paper, the Flyers would appear more desperate for the offensive talents of Voracek and Jagr than Carle, even though the Alaska native leads the team in ice time in 2011-12.
If the Flyers are unable to retain the services of Carle, the Caps should be among the first teams to put a call in to Kurt Overhardt, Carle's agent on July 1st.
1. Ryan Suter
As potentially the most highly sought after unrestricted free agent on the market this summer, Ryan Suter will have no shortage of interested suitors come July 1st, but few contending teams will be able to offer him the type of contract he appears to be in search of.
Recent reports out of Nashville indicate that Suter will not be negotiating an extension before the end of the season, which puts Nashville Predators General Manager David Poile in a difficult situation, as he risks losing one of the league's top defenseman for nothing on July 1st.
If Poile isn't able to come to terms with Suter before unrestricted free agency opens, the Capitals should at least inquire about his availability, because adding a blueliner of his caliber would make Washington a much more difficult team to play against.
Suter is the physical presence the Caps still seem to lack on the back end, and he'd also be able to assume Green's spot on the team's top power-play unit, though he may end up commanding a cap hit of over $6 million a season.
Though it's a risky proposition, if Nashville is unable to sign Suter, George McPhee could try to deal for his rights prior to July 1st, giving the Caps a head start on inking the 2012 All-Star to a long term contract that would ensure that Washington has a true number one defenseman for the considerable future.