Which Washington Capitals Free Agents Should Stay and Which Should Go?
With their offseason in full swing, the Washington Capitals can now focus on re-signing a small handful of free agents.
Keep in mind, however, that Washington has a cap payroll of $58,641,517, seventh-highest among NHL Salary Cap Payrolls for the 2013-14 season. As a result, the Capitals only have $5,658,483 of cap space with which to re-sign these free agents, not to mention possible free agents from other teams. That leaves the team with some decisions to make.
Here is a list of which Washington Capitals free agents should stay and which should go. Each player is listed with his position, and the type of free-agent status (restricted or unrestricted) that applies to his contract.
Note: All data courtesy of CapGeek.com unless noted otherwise.
Mike Ribeiro C: Unrestricted
Mike Ribeiro finally filled the Capitals' need for a second-line center during the 2012-13 season.
However, Ribeiro was also second on the Capitals with 53 penalty minutes, 20 of which came on two misconduct penalties. Plus, he placed third with a faceoff percentage of 44.8 among the Capitals three faceoff leaders, in terms of total faceoffs (NHL.com).
Most glaring was Ribeiro's performance in the postseason. Ribeiro was a point-per-game producer in the regular season, yet he had only two points in the playoffs. True, the one goal he scored was an overtime game-winner. But that does not change the fact that he had as many goals as misconduct penalties in the playoffs.
Regarding the fiduciary aspect of this decision, Ribeiro counted $5,000,000 against the Washington salary cap in 2012-13. The team would have to pay him at least that much to keep other suitors at bay. More important to Ribeiro is the length of the contract, as he told Stephen Whyno of The Washington Times:
If I can stay in the city and retire here, it’s more about the kids. I don’t want to move them too many times. School, they’re going into high school now, so if I can stay here until they, or stay in the city until they go to college, that’s my focus. It has to be four or five years.
Katie Carrera of The Washington Post recently weighed the pros and cons of the Capitals re-signing Mike Ribeiro, and she considered all the factors:
Is it realistic to expect that type of point-per-game production from Ribeiro in a full season for the next several years? Probably not. And when Ribeiro’s not producing, it draws more attention to the liabilities in his game – namely faceoff struggles (44.8 percent in the regular season) and a propensity for unnecessary penalties. While he gave the Capitals the established one-two punch down the middle that they needed in the previous three seasons, whether he fits here long term will be one of the most significant decisions McPhee must make this summer.
When you consider Ribeiro's drawbacks along with the other prominent free agents that Washington needs to consider re-signing, then general manager George McPhee's decision seemingly gets much easier.
Of course, Evgeny Kuznetsov must keep his latest promise to the Capitals, or the team will once again be searching for a second-line center before the 2014-15 season begins (RussianMachineNeverBreaks.com).
Marcus Johansson LW: Restricted
Marcus Johansson could be a possible replacement for Mike Ribeiro at center. Johansson has played the position before, and his 46.0 faceoff percentage on 87 draws was better than that of Ribeiro in 505 draws during the 2012-13 season (NHL.com).
But Johansson is more valuable as a left wing. This season, he began to show that in earnest.
The 22-year-old had six goals and 16 assists for 22 points in 34 games. Johansson added a goal and an assist in seven playoff games.
Perhaps his most valuable contribution was to create space for linemate Alex Ovechkin, as defenses had to respect Johansson's speed. Johansson was placed on the first line with Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom halfway through the season, and Ovechkin proceeded to score 23 goals in the final 23 games of the season.
No matter what position Marcus Johansson eventually plays, the Capitals need his speed and his goal-scoring ability. The Capitals cannot afford to let this youngster walk, even though Johansson is in line for a pay raise from the 2012-13 season, when his salary and cap hit were both equal to $900,000.
Matt Hendricks LW: Unrestricted
The Washington Capitals could use about two dozen clones of Matt Hendricks. But they only have access to the original version. So they need to re-sign him at all costs.
The invaluable Hendricks did a little bit of everything for the Capitals during the 2012-13 season. That started with scoring five goals, good for ninth-best among Capitals forwards (NHL.com).
Hendricks was third on the team with 93 hits and registered 31 blocked shots, second among the team's forwards. His faceoff percentage of 56.8 was best on the team, minimum 200 total faceoffs. As a penalty killer, Hendricks was second among forwards in short-handed time on ice with 83:32 (NHL.com).
GM George McPhee should set aside enough money to re-sign Matt Hendricks, who counted $825,000 against the Washington salary cap in 2012-13. While doing so, McPhee should give the 31-year-old a well-deserved pay raise from his current salary of $800,000.
To vastly improve his hockey team, however, McPhee could simply allocate sufficient funds for the development of a Matt Hendricks cloning machine.
Karl Alzner D: Unrestricted
Karl Alzner is a top-pair, stay-at-home, shutdown defender that the Washington Capitals cannot do without.
The British Columbia native had a goal and four assists for five points in 48 games played, while committing seven minor penalties.
The 24-year-old counted $1,285,000 against the Capitals' salary cap, while earning $1,270,000. If the new contracts of fellow defenders Mike Green and John Carlson are any indication, Alzner is due for a huge pay raise.
According to those who believe NHL defenders who excel at defense are more valuable than NHL defenders who excel at offense, Alzner should earn at least the average of the 2013-14 salaries for Green and Carlson. In case you're wondering, that would be $5,025,000. Sounds fair to me.
Other Free Agents
Aside from the core group of four free agents that were major contributors in 2013, the Capitals also had three free agents who provided only minor contributions to the team. This trio consisted of Tom Poti, Wojtek Wolski and Joey Crabb.
A five-year veteran of the Capitals, Tom Poti completed his comeback from injury simply by donning a sweater on opening night. For his efforts, he was nominated for the Masterton Trophy. But the 36-year-old defenseman played in only 16 games total, with a measly two assists on his ledger. Poti has chosen not to re-sign with the Capitals, saying "it's time to move on." (ProHockeyTalk)
Wojtek Wolski had four goals and five assists for nine points in a total of 27 games for the Capitals in 2013. But with limited opportunities in Washington, Wolski has decided to play hockey closer to his native Poland, according to the KHL's official Twitter account:
Transaction News: Torpedo signs Wojtek Wolski. In parts of 451 GP in the NHL, the 26-year-old has registered 99G and 168A.— KHL_Hockey (@KHL_hockey) May 20, 2013
And then there's Joey Crabb.
The 30-year-old played 26 games in the regular season, with two goals and no assists.
Crabb was waived, then assigned to the Hershey Bears after clearing waivers on March 23 (The Washington Post). He scored six goals in 11 regular season games in Hershey, and scored five goals in five games in the Calder Cup Playoffs.
But Wilson got a sweater in Game 5, Game 6 and Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals, and the 19-year-old acquitted himself well. Meanwhile the veteran Crabb, who made $950,000 in 2013 and counted the same against the cap, was forced to watch from the stands.
In light of Wilson's satisfactory play in the first three games of his NHL career, Crabb may be the odd man out on the Capitals' depth chart at right wing.