Predicting Which Washington Capitals Will Leave in the Offseason
With the type of season it has been for the Washington Capitals, one has to wonder what the Caps' roster might look like next season.
Some things are a foregone conclusion. We know Alexander Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom and Braden Holtby will be in D.C. next season. Beyond those three, though, there is a bit more uncertainty.
We do know that Filip Forsberg won't be coming to Washington. As most Caps fans know by now, at the trade deadline the Caps acquired Martin Erat, and minor league prospect Michael Latta, from the Nashville Predators, but they paid a heavy price to do so as they traded Forsberg to the Preds to complete the deal (via The Washington Post).
Erat is one of many members of the Caps whose future is not exactly etched in stone. Who else might be leaving D.C. to take their talents elsewhere?
It is helpful to look at the Caps' upcoming free agents to get a better handle on this. A list of the Caps' upcoming restricted free agents (RFA) can be found here, and a list of their upcoming unrestricted free agents (UFA) can be found here.
When looking at both listings, several names stand out as as being highly likely to be back in D.C. next season. On the RFA side of the fence, I can't see Karl Alzner or Marcus Johansson going anywhere. Alzner is one of the anchors for the Caps defense, and he has been getting paired up with Mike Green on the Caps' top defensive line.
Johansson, meanwhile, has eight points in his past seven games and has been playing much better. Much of that has to do with his being paired on the Caps' top line with Ovechkin and Backstrom. Still, MoJo has shown what an essential part of the team he is. The penalty he drew in overtime against the Tampa Bay Lightning on Saturday turned out to be the key moment that won the game for the Caps.
I fully expect both Alzner and MoJo to get qualifying offers from the Caps and to remain in D.C. next season.
As to UFAs, that is a much tougher nut to crack. Any of them could be back or none of them. In all likelihood most will be back—but not all of them.
So which Caps players will be leaving this offseason? Here are my predictions as to four players who will be elsewhere next year.
Of the Caps' upcoming RFAs, the one I expect to be moving on will be Michal Neuvirth. It certainly won't be because he is not a talented goaltender. Far from that actually. It will be more because Neuvirth should be starting somewhere; that opportunity is not going to happen in Washington, and the Caps' management knows it.
For a brief period of time this season, it seemed that Neuvirth might actually become the Caps' No. 1 goalie. Early in the season, Braden Holtby was struggling, and head coach Adam Oates turned to Neuvirth to right the Caps' rapidly sinking ship.
From January 24 to February 7, Neuvirth actually played more than Holtby. But he was only marginally successful with a 1-4-1 record. Against the Pittsburgh Penguins on February 7, Neuvirth allowed two goals, was pulled and his season has never been the same.
He has played in only five games since that time as Holtby has firmly established himself as the Caps' goalie of the present and future. Beyond that, though, the Caps discovered they had some depth in goal that did not involve Holtby or Neuvirth.
Philipp Grubauer came in to relive an ineffective Holtby in Philadelphia on February 27 and stopped all 14 shots he faced in a 4-1 loss to the Flyers. Grubauer would then get his first NHL start on March 9 against the New York Islanders and played pretty well until the Caps' penalty kill sabotaged him.
Gurbauer would stop 40 of 45 shots he faced that night as the Islanders prevailed, 5-2.
Nevertheless, Grubauer showed a lot of potential in the two games in which he played—enough that general manager George McPhee might not want to extend a qualifying offer to Neuvirth. Even if a qualifying offer is made, if another team gets Neuvirth to sign an offer sheet, the terms might be a bit too rich for McPhee's liking.
On the season, Neuvirth has a record of 4-5-1 with a 2.81 goals-against average and a .905 save percentage. There is no denying that he looked very strong in his last two starts, particularly in the 3-2 win over Montreal on April 9.
Neuvirth is good enough that there are several teams likely to offer him a contract once free agency opens up. At times this season, Neuvirth has shown that he has all the skills necessary to garner strong consideration for him being the starting goaltender for a different team.
But it is not going to happen in Washington, not with Holtby playing as well as he has all season. I just can't see Neuvirth being back in D.C. next season. He has played well at times, but with a young talent like Grubauer waiting in the wings, Neuvirth will likely be considered expendable in the offseason.
Once the playoffs are done, I believe Neuvirth will be moving on.
It will be a sad day in D.C. when it happens, but I believe Mike Ribeiro will not be a member of the Washington Capitals next season.
There is no disputing just what an impact Ribeiro has had on the Caps this season and just how important a member of the team he has been this year. In fact, early in the season, when the wheels were literally coming off of the Caps' wagon, Ribs was just about the only consistent player on whom the team could rely.
Ribeiro was having such a good season that his name was constantly being mentioned as someone who could be on the move at the trade deadline. For a good week or so prior to the trade deadline, there was much debate over whether the Caps would trade him or whether they would sign him to a contract extension and, in doing so, prevent Ribeiro from becoming an UFA.
As the trade deadline drew closer, the situation with Ribeiro got murkier. In an interview with Katie Carrera of The Washington Post, Ribeiro let it be known that he was looking for a long-term deal. He did not feel a two- or three-year deal was long-term enough.
Apparently, there was truth to that as, according to Renaud Lavoie via SBNation.com, Ribeiro rejected a three-year contract extension from the Caps just before the trade deadline.
The trade deadline then came and went and Ribeiro remained a Capital—but without any sort of contract extension.
As such, there is probably no way for the Caps to now avoid Ribeiro going to free agency once the season ends. If Ribeiro is serious about wanting, at a minimum, a four-year deal, then I just do not see the Caps offering him that. Sure, if Ribs wins the Conn Smythe trophy and leads the Caps to the Stanley Cup, then all bets are off.
Barring that, though, I just don't see the Caps offering Ribs more than a three-year deal. I can see them offering him more money, but not more time.
Ribeiro has had a good enough season that he is absolutely going to get some solid offers from other teams. He is currently third on the Caps in goals with 12, second in assists with 29 and third on the team in points with 41.
There are many teams that could use an excellent second-line center with numbers like that, and some of them might be willing to make a long-term commitment to Ribeiro. I think one or more teams will make him an offer that the Caps will not be willing to match, and I expect to see Ribeiro elsewhere once the 2013-14 season begins.
Most Caps fans will likely have some mixed feelings about this, but Tom Poti is another UFA that I do not believe will be back in D.C. next season.
Similar to Ribeiro, it will be sad to see Poti leave. Poti has been a member of the Caps since the 2007-08 season, which just so happens to be when the Caps returned to the playoffs for the first time after a four-year absence. Perhaps not so coincidentally, the Caps have not missed the playoffs since then.
Poti has always been an excellent defender for the Caps and as solid a player as the Caps could find on their blue line.
For the 2009-10 season, Poti enjoyed his best season with the Caps. Of course, the 2009-10 regular season was a high-water mark for the Caps in general and Poti reaped the benefits of the Caps President's Trophy-winning season.
He played in 70 games that season. He had four goals, 20 assists and a career-high efficiency rating with a plus-26. During the Caps' shocking upset loss to the Montreal Canadiens in the playoffs, Poti played as well as any of the Caps' defenders as he had four assists and a plus-nine rating.
Poti, however, has not been the same since then.
He would sustain a recurrent and problematic groin injury and would only play in 21 games during the 2010-11 season. During the time he did play, he was clearly not the same. It was apparent that there was a major problem with Poti.
He would miss all of the 2011-12 season, and for all intents and purposes, it looked as though his career was over. Against the odds, though, Poti was back in the lineup for the Caps when the shortened 2013 season began.
He would play in 16 games during the 2013 season, but on March 17, he re-aggravated an upper-body injury (via SBNation.com). In reality, Poti had been dealing with neck and back injuries all season.
Poti has not played since March 17, and with the Caps defensive lines having stabilized quite a bit, there just would not appear to be a future for him in Washington.
He has played an integral role in the Caps defense for many years now, but there is just no real place for him on the Caps any longer. His injury history is obviously going to make it very unlikely that he will receive any sort of offer from the Caps, and other teams might not be much more willing to make any sort of offer.
Not only will Poti not be back in D.C. next season, but the career of one of the more likable members of the Caps defense might, unfortunately, be coming to an end.
The last player to look at as likely leaving the Capitals this offseason is, interestingly enough, one of the few free agents the Caps actually went after last season.
The Caps did not make a ton of moves in free agency last offseason. Signing Wojtek Wolski to a one-year, $600,000 deal was, however, one of the few moves the team did make (via Washington Post).
Wolski was not being brought to D.C. to light the world on fire with his scoring touch. He had never been what one might consider a prolific goal scorer. The only 20-goal season he ever had was during the 2006-07 season when he was a member of the Colorado Avalanche—he scored 22 goals, had 28 assists and had his only 50-point season.
He started off the season fairly strong but then cooled off considerably. Along the way was an 11-game scoreless drought that ultimately resulted in his being a healthy scratch in the Caps' 3-0 win over the Winnipeg Jets on March 2.
Wolski was eventually brought back for the game on March 5 against the Boston Bruins, and he scored a huge game-tying goal that capped a furious comeback by the Caps from a three-goal deficit. He followed up that effort with a goal and two assists against the Florida Panthers.
Since that game, though, Wolski has done next to nothing. He has only played in six of the Caps' subsequent 20 games, and he has not really been dealing with injury, so he has been a healthy scratch quite a bit.
In the six games in which he has played since his three-point effort against the Panthers, Wolski has only one assist.
It is hard to get a real read on what the Caps plan to do with him once the season ends. I think that when you look at the other UFAs the Caps have, Wolski is probably one of the ones who will most likely be turned loose.
True, the Caps might lose out on guys like Joey Crabb, Matt Hendricks, Aaron Volpatti or Eric Fehr. I suspect, however, that the Caps will make a significant effort to re-sign Hendricks and Fehr and, in all likelihood, Volpatti as well. Crabb is a tougher call to make.
As for Wolski, though, the relative lack of playing time he has been getting leads me to believe that the Caps will not make too much of an effort to keep him in Washington next season.
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