Early Look at Good Free-Agent Fits for the Washington Capitals This Offseason

Dave Ungar@@DaveUngar68Correspondent IIIApril 18, 2013

Early Look at Good Free-Agent Fits for the Washington Capitals This Offseason

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    The most pivotal time of the season for the Washington Capitals has arrived. It has been a season of slow starts and a startling turnaround. While the Caps and their fans are squarely focused on the present, it never hurts to look a bit to the future and see where the team and organization might be heading.

    As for the present, the Caps are in control of their own destiny. After dominating their Southeast Division rivals to rise to the top of the division, the Caps now prepare to take on the best of the very tough Northeast Division with their playoff hopes hanging in the balance. So far, so good as the Caps routed the Toronto Maple Leafs 5-1 Tuesday night to run their current winning streak to eight games.

    With a four-point lead over the second-place Winnipeg Jets—with just five games remaining—the Caps look to be in good shape.

    As for the future, this is an area I have started to explore already. Earlier this week, I wrote an article exploring which members of the Caps might not be with the team next season. In that article, I predicted that Michal Neuvirth, Mike Ribeiro, Tom Poti and Wojtek Wolski would not be with the Caps when the 2013-2014 season begins.

    This article is then the natural follow-up to the prior article. Here, I will take a very early look at some potential free-agent targets the Caps might go after in the offseason.

    For those who wish to follow along with my logic—whether you agree with me or think I am nuts—I suggest going over to CapGeek.com. This is the best site I have found for information relating to teams' salary caps, what free agents are available, whether they are restricted free agents (RFA) or unrestricted free agents (UFA) and so forth.

    CapGeek also has a fun tool you can use to add upcoming free agents to your favorite team to see how their inclusion affects things like cap space.

    With that as a backdrop, the Caps are expected to have $10,233,483 in cap space next season. For the purpose of this entire article, let's assume the Caps re-sign Eric Fehr, Marcus Johansson, Matt Hendricks, Karl Alzner and Tomas Kundratek. As you can see from this chart, the Caps' cap space would dip to $6,027,983.

    Of course, if the Caps then go and release a few players, some cap space opens up. For instance, if the Caps were to cut or demote Jeff Schultz, then their cap space would open up to about $6,952,983. Let's say they release someone like Jason Chimera, who has not had the best of seasons. Then their cap space would go to $7,877,983.

    For the sake of this article, let's operate off the assumption that the Caps will have about $6 million in  cap space available to them. They would rank about 23rd in the NHL as far as available cap space is concerned. That means the Caps will have to be somewhat frugal and very selective this offseason, unless they have a few trades up their sleeves.

    With all that data thrown at you, let's go and take a look at some possible free-agent targets for the Caps this offseason.

Ryan McDonagh

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    Let's start by looking at a RFA whom I personally feel the Caps should really think about taking a run at this offseason—Ryan McDonagh.

    How sweet would it be to snatch McDonagh from the New York Rangers?

    Statistically, McDonagh does not do any one thing that stands out head and shoulders above other defensemen in the NHL.

    He is nowhere near as effective a shot-blocker as John Carlson. Carlson ranks second in the NHL with 111 blocks, while McDonagh ranks 44th with 72 blocks.

    He is nowhere near the two-way defender that Mike Green is, nor is he as much of a threat to score. Green is second among NHL defensemen with 10 goals; McDonagh ranks 48th with four goals.

    What McDonagh does bring, however, is a very balanced game as an excellent all-around defender. He does score on occasion, and he is pretty good as far as distributing the puck. He has 11 assists so far this season, and his 15 points has him ranked 49th among NHL defensemen.

    No, none of that might particularly impress you. What is more impressive, though, is how McDonagh logs a ton of ice time and does not make mistakes. McDonagh currently has a plus-six rating. That is pretty solid. Even more impressive, though, is that McDonagh logs about 24 minutes, 25 seconds of ice time per game.

    Of the current Caps defenders, only Green averages more ice time per game at 25:06.

    As far as shifts per game, McDonagh ranks 22nd in the NHL among defensemen with 29. This would, by far, make him the leader on the Caps. Carlson currently has the most shifts per game for Caps defenders with 26.1.

    So, the benefit of adding McDonagh—who is only 23 and is just going to get better—to the Caps is apparent. McDonagh is a young, balanced defenseman who would be able to chew up some serious minutes, add some depth to the Caps defense and, quite simply, make the Caps defense quite a bit better.

    If the Caps make the moves discussed in the opening slide, they could still sign McDonagh to a three-year, $2.6 million deal, and they would still have about $5 million in cap space left over, according to calculations over at CapGeek.com.

    With an average yearly salary of $875,000, the Caps would not even owe the Rangers draft picks to make a deal like this based on the terms of the new CBA (via Wikipedia). Even if the Caps have to offer McDonagh more money, they do have eight picks in the upcoming draft. So if draft-pick compensation is an issue, then the Caps do have some flexibility.

    In all likelihood, it will take a better offer than $875,000 per year—and probably a much better offer than that—to pry McDonagh away from the Rangers. The point is, however, that the Caps would have the cap space and available draft picks to make a move toward solidifying their defense with, arguably, the best defensive RFA who will be available and in the Caps' price range.

    And they would weaken a new divisional rival in the process.

    It is a move I really hope general manager George McPhee at least contemplates once free agency opens up.

Pascal Dupuis

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    While we are on the subject of the Caps raiding future divisional rivals, how about the prospect of snatching one of the most productive scorers from, arguably, the Caps' biggest rival, the Pittsburgh Penguins.

    Pascal Dupuis will be an UFA next season, and the Caps could do a lot worse than making a serious run at the 34-year-old winger.

    Like it or not, the Pens are loaded this season with lots of scoring threats up and down the lineup. Nevertheless, Dupuis is second on the Pens in goals with 20, which also has Dupuis ranked seventh in the NHL overall. That's not too bad at all for a guy supposedly past his prime.

    Dupuis also plays a tremendously responsible style of game. He has a plus-28 rating for the season, which is second best in the NHL.

    Dupuis is also not afraid to shoot the puck. He's no Alexander Ovechkin. But he still ranks 27th in the entire NHL with 125 shots on goal so far this season.

    Beyond that though, Dupuis is a proven winner and a Stanley Cup champion to boot. If the Caps are going to continue to progress and be a threat to win the Stanley Cup year in and year out, then a player like Dupuis is just what the Caps need. He might not be as young as springtime any longer, but his performance this season clearly demonstrates that Dupuis is still a top-six forward who can still be enormously productive.

    As far as the realities of signing Dupuis, there is a reasonable chance of a deal happening. If the Caps were to offer Dupuis a two-year deal worth $3 million, they would still have about $4 million in cap space left. It would probably cost more than that to lure Dupuis away from Pittsburgh. Still, the Caps would have the cap space available to sweeten the deal some, though I do not think anything more than a three-year deal would make much sense.

    With Dupuis signed, though, you could be looking at a top line of Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom and Dupuis. That would be formidable, to say the very least. It would be the kind of signing that would create immediate and significant depth for the Caps as they continue to try and capture that elusive Stanley Cup.

    Dupuis is another player George McPhee needs to take a serious look at this offseason.

Tyler Bozak

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    The Caps have to face the very real possibility that they will lose Mike Ribeiro after this season. Ribeiro will be an UFA, and with the Caps neither having signed Ribs to an extension or traded him prior to the trade deadline, the odds are that Ribeiro will likely be taking his talents elsewhere next season.

    If that happens, then the Caps will be back in the market for a second-line center, and a prime candidate to replace Ribeiro would be Tyler Bozak, currently of the Toronto Maple Leafs.

    Bozak will be an UFA this summer, and in certain respects, he could represent a bit of an upgrade over Ribeiro. A big advantage is his age. Bozak is only 27, whereas Ribeiro is 33. While the Caps might be a bit reluctant to offer Ribs a long-term deal, they would likely not have similar reservations about Bozak.

    Statistically, losing Ribeiro but gaining Bozak would appear to be a move backwards for the Caps. This season, Bozak has 12 goals, the same as Ribeiro. But he only has 14 assists, a far cry fewer than Ribeiro's 31. Ribeiro has a healthy lead in points over Bozak (43-26), but Bozak has a better efficiency rating at only a minus-two, as compared to Ribeiro's minus-five.

    Beyond that, though, Bozak does a lot of things that would fit in well with the Caps. He is rather good on the power play and is currently tied for second on the Leafs in power-play goals with four. That is only two behind Ribeiro's current total of six power-play goals.

    Bozak also gets a lot of ice time, currently logging 20:16 per game. That is a full two minutes more than Ribeiro gets per game.

    Bozak is also much better than Ribeiro at faceoffs. Bozak has been winning 53.1 percent of his draws, while Ribeiro is only winning 44.2 percent of the time.

    So, perhaps losing Ribeiro and gaining Bozak would not be such a step back after all.

    From a cap standpoint, signing Bozak would represent a bigger hit. If he was signed to a two-year, $3 million deal, the Caps' cap space would drop to about $4.5 million. Of course, the Caps can play with that number a bit by offering a longer deal or even offering more money for a shorter deal.

    However they approach it, the Caps have the cap space available to make a run at Bozak. If Ribeiro is, in fact, lost this offseason, then trying to acquire Bozak would be a shrewd move on the part of general manager George McPhee.

Michael Ryder

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    Many Washington Capitals fans get hung up on age a bit too much, in my opinion. The Caps have had a definite youth movement over the past four to five years, and bringing in veteran leadership—such as Jason Arnott or Scott Walker—has not worked out so well. The addition of Mike Ribeiro this season has bucked that trend to a great extent.

    Having experienced and productive players on the team is never a bad thing. That is why I am so high on the possibility of signing Pascal Dupuis. Well, another slightly older forward having a pretty good season who will be an UFA next year is Michael Ryder of the Montreal Canadiens.

    Ryder is one of those players who does many things well. He is one of the main reasons for the surprising success of the Habs this season, as Montreal tries to hold off the Boston Bruins and claim the Northeast Division crown—and the No. 2 seed in the Eastern Conference as well.

    Do you want goals? Ryder leads the Habs with 16. How about assists? Ryder is third on the Habs with 18. He is also third on the Canadiens in points with 34. He is an excellent scorer who is somewhat underrated as far as the power play is concerned. Ryder currently ranks fifth in the NHL in power-play goals with eight.

    Ryder is also as clutch as they come. In this shortened 2013 season, Ryder has scored the game-winning goal five times. That is good enough for third in the NHL.

    While Ryder has played a significant role in Montreal's rise to prominence, remember that he started the season with the Dallas Stars. It was at the end of February that the Stars traded Ryder to Montreal in exchange for Erik Cole (per ESPN).

    As ESPN.com's Pierre LeBrun noted when the deal went down, the move of two forwards with similar stats was seen to be one about freeing up cap space for Montreal. Whether the Habs use that cap space to try and re-sign Ryder remains to be seen.

    In Ryder, the Caps would acquire a forward who has scored at least 20 goals five times in his previous eight seasons. What is also enticing about Ryder is that he is a proven winner in the playoffs. When he was a member of the Boston Bruins during their run to the Stanley Cup in 2011, Ryder was third on the team with eight goals (including two game-winning goals) and fourth in points with 17.

    That sort of playoff experience and performance is exactly what the Caps would need to finally capture a Cup of their own.

    Admittedly, signing Ryder would be the biggest cap hit that we have explored so far and would not leave the Caps much room with which to work. If Ryder was signed to a two-year, $7 million deal, the Caps' available cap space would drop to roughly $2.5 million.

    Without question, that is a big hit. However, if the Caps want to win a Stanley Cup, then signing a player like Ryder is a move they have to consider making.