Blueprint for Washington Capitals to Ace the Free-Agency Period

Robert WoodCorrespondent IJuly 5, 2013

Blueprint for Washington Capitals to Ace the Free-Agency Period

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    The NHL free-agency period begins on Friday at noon ET. 

    What must the Washington Capitals do to navigate this portion of the offseason? 

    Should they make a big splash by signing a coveted free agent? Or should they concentrate on re-signing their own free agents? 

    Here is a blueprint for the Washington Capitals to ace the free-agency period. 

4. Erase the Past

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    As part of the new collective bargaining agreement signed by the NHL and the NHLPA in January, NHL teams will be allowed a maximum of two compliance buyouts by a predetermined date during this offseason and the next one as well, according to Ryan Dadoun of ProHockeyTalk.com.

    Here is an accurate, albeit opinionated, description of the compliance buyout, compliments of Brian Cazeneuve of Sports Illustrated

    The compliance buyout is the giant eraser that NHL teams have at their disposal to smudge those mistakes that didn't really happen. It's the large broom, the handi wipe, the easy button, the key on the right corner of the keyboard that says, "Delete over-priced bad judgment." Oh, how the rest of life would be so much easier if we could all apply this to stock selections, paper cuts and traffic accidents. Call the compliance buyout hockey's giant "Oops" provision. It gives clubs two strikes, a pair of chances to hit the reset buttons on their most regrettable (and forgettable) contracts. Maybe a player doesn't ever reach his potential or live up that one magical season in his walk year with a previous team. Or maybe it just wasn't the smartest move in the world to sign an arthritic 50-year-old to a 20-year contract based on his All-Star season from the 80s.

    The Capitals have decided to use one of their compliance buyouts on Jeff Schultz (pictured), according to Katie Carrera of The Washington Post. This move eliminates an underperforming player from the roster and does not count against the salary cap.

    Definitely a win-win. 

3. Protect What Is Yours

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    The Capitals have a few restricted free agents on their roster this offseason. A couple of them are viewed as treasured assets by opposing teams. 

    In case his enemies were approaching, general manager George McPhee sent a shot across the bow with this statement to Katie Carrera of The Washington Post:

    We would always match. We’re not going to allow other clubs to determine who’s in our lineup or who’s not in our lineup. We would match and adjust in another way. 

    Since then, the Capitals have tendered qualifying offers to five restricted free agents. Most notable among them are Karl Alzner (pictured), Marcus Johansson and Tomas Kundratek. 

    Other teams may attempt to plunder these prizes, but most know that it will be a losing battle. 

2. Know Thy Self

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    For the Capitals to be successful this offseason, they must know their limitations.

    John Feinstein of The Washington Post defined them on July 3:

    McPhee doesn’t laugh a lot when the subject is hockey. He knows full well— as does his increasingly impatient owner, Ted Leonsis — that the Caps who skated heads down off the ice on May 13, after that embarrassing Game 7 loss, are almost certainly not good enough to unseat the Chicago Blackhawks as Cup champions next June. The Caps are good — but not quite good enough. So, what can McPhee do to change that? In terms of the coming free agent market, probably not very much. Instead, he will be forced to rely on something few hockey fans in this town want to hear about at this moment: patience.

    For Capitals fans, patience must be two-fold.

    First, they must watch as other teams make the big free-agent signings.

    Case in point, the Philadelphia Flyers signed veteran center Vincent Lecavalier (pictured) to a five-year deal worth $22.5 million, according to Dave Isaac of USA Today. Lecavalier had been targeted by the Capitals, along with "everybody" in the NHL, according to Adam Gretz of CBS Sports.

    More importantly, Caps fans must wait...and wait...and continue to wait...for the arrival of top prospect Evgeny Kuznetsov.

    This long-awaited milestone has become even more highly anticipated with the departure of prized prospect Filip Forsberg as well as the lack of any blue chip prospects taken in the 2013 NHL draft, even when considering best-case scenarios

    But if McPhee is not patient, he will hurt the Capitals in the future without helping them in the present. 

1. Face the Music

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    As the Capitals enter the free-agency period, they will have to make some tough decisions involving two prominent veterans. With such a small amount of available cap space, the Capitals will probably have to let one of these two players walk, if not both.

    The more popular the player, the less popular the move. But the Capitals will make these negotiation processes even more excruciating if they allow communication to break down. 

    First up: Mike Ribeiro.

    It is now painfully clear that the Capitals will not offer him the five-year contract extension he requested, thus allowing him to test the market. This decision did not go over well with Ribeiro's wife and mother of his three school-age children.

    She tweeted "there's nothing like being uprooted from your home for a year for absolutely no apparent reason" and that she was "pissed beyond belief," as reported by Greg Wyshynksi of Yahoo! Sports. That controversial tweet has since been deleted, but Ribeiro's wife reaffirmed her stance with another one: 

    McPhee had another difficult decision to make on Matt Hendricks (pictured). John Feinstein of The Washington Post did an excellent job of summarizing what Hendricks means to the Caps:

    The other key player who is certainly gone is forward Matt Hendricks, whose loss will be felt in ways that can’t be measured statistically. Hendricks was one of the team’s true leaders, a guy willing to start a fight to light a fire under his teammates and someone who the other players looked to for leadership in the locker room. 

    But McPhee's handling of the Hendricks' negotiations reveal a pattern of poor communication. The Capitals did not contact Hendricks or his agent about any possible contract talks since late in the regular season. Hendricks' agent, Michael Wulkan, told Katie Carrera of The Washington Post how this process has affected his client: "I don’t think we were ever close. I think it was disappointing at the beginning and now it’s more excitement. He just wants to feel wanted."

    McPhee needs to learn from both of these negotiations to avoid alienating free agents in the future. Otherwise, he may never sign or re-sign another free agent in his tenure with the Washington Capitals.