NHL Free Agency: Why the Washington Capitals Shouldn't Pursue a Top-6 Forward

Michael Prunka@MichaelPrunkaCorrespondent IFebruary 13, 2013

The Washington Capitals’ offseason acquisitions have been paying off big-time, but that shouldn’t tempt the club to make a hot-shot decision to try and resolve their recent troubles.

With 17 points in 13 games, Mike Ribeiro leads the Capitals in scoring. Yes, that’s right—he’s outscoring the likes of Nicklas Backstrom and captain Alexander Ovechkin.

Wojtek Wolski’s numbers haven’t been impressive, but the young winger has plenty of upside. Given that Washington is his fifth home in about two seasons, a steeper learning curve is expected. With time, he could be a perfect fit on the second line.

Just because these newcomers are succeeding doesn’t necessarily mean trading for another top-six forward or pursuing a free agent this summer is the best way to go. The Capitals have some great assets on their depth lines and in their prospect pool. The players on the third and fourth lines are valuable now while their prospects will be important in the future.

To get a legitimate top-six forward via trade would require the Capitals to give up more of these assets than the new player would be worth.

The Capitals will have just over $20 million in cap space at the end of this season, according to CapGeek. However, that’s before re-signing the likes of Ribeiro, Wolski, Michal Neuvirth, Braden Holtby, Karl Alzner, Matt Hendricks and John Erskine.

With all the free agents that Washington will be trying to retain and the $5.9 million drop in the salary cap next season, they won’t have much room to work with when it comes to competing in free agency.

Based on who has the lowest current salary, one of the few top-six wingers the Capitals could make a move for in free agency is David Clarkson. Even though Clarkson’s salary is only $3 million this season, the New Jersey Devils will bend over backwards to not lose another top scorer—putting Clarkson out of reach for Washington.

With the amount of talent the Capitals have ready to debut within the coming seasons, it’s hard to imagine why they would even make a play for one of the top UFAs.

Evgeny Kuznetsov, the team’s highly touted first-round pick from 2010, will hopefully make his debut within the next season or two. The young Russian would be perfect opposite Ovechkin with Backstrom centering the line.

At 6’1” and 176 pounds, Kuznetsov would be the smallest player on the line. Yet, with the 6’1”, 210 pound Backstrom and 6’3”, 230 pound Ovechkin on the same line, being on the small side is forgivable.

In fact, adding a smaller player to that line could force Backstrom and Ovechkin to take on more power forward-like roles, thus adding a new dimension to their game.

If Kuznetsov is anything like former teammate Vladimir Tarasenko, his scoring finesse will make him a welcome addition to about any team’s top-six.

The Capitals have plenty of talent among their top-six forwards already, with more talent waiting to debut. Why should they panic and chase after a UFA this summer when what they’re looking for is already right there in their system?


Michael Prunka is a Bleacher Report Featured Columnist. Stay up to date with him by liking his Facebook page and following him on Twitter.


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