2013 NHL Free Agency: Tempting Players Washington Capitals Must Avoid

Dave Ungar@@DaveUngar68Correspondent IIIJuly 6, 2013

2013 NHL Free Agency: Tempting Players Washington Capitals Must Avoid

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    It is the first day of the NHL free-agency period, and the Washington Capitals are already taking it on the chin rather badly.

    NHL.com reported earlier that Mike Ribeiro, one of the most consistent and solid performers for the Caps this past season, has signed a four-year, $22 million deal with the Phoenix Coyotes.

    In other words, the Caps find themselves right back in the market for a second-line center after having just a one-year reprieve from the search that has gone on for several years now.

    But the hits keep on coming.

    NHL.com also reported that fan favorite Matt Hendricks is on his way to Nashville, along with Viktor Stalberg and Matt Cullen. Hendricks has apparently signed a four-year contract.

    To make matters worse, one of the best free-agent centers available—and a man who could have been an excellent replacement for Ribeiro—Tyler Bozak re-signed with the Toronto Maple Leafs for five years and $21 million.

    As for other viable second-line center options, another former Caps rival took away one of the better options when the Tampa Bay Lightning signed Valtteri Filppula to a five-year, $25 million contract.

    It has not been a good day to be a Caps fan. Free agents are flying off of the shelves quicker than canned goods did in the early scenes of World War Z. As far as the Caps are concerned, though, they are only losing key people and not gaining any back.

    With Ribeiro leaving, Bozak staying in Toronto and Filppula going to Tampa, the temptation will now be to panic and to sign someone—anyone—who can make up for what the team has lost.

    Despite the frenzy of activity already, there are still some free agents out there who will look very tempting to a Caps team that has to be reeling a bit today. Despite the temptation, though, the Caps would be wise to avoid some of them.

    Here are three free agents the Caps should probably avoid as free-agency moves.

Derek Roy

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    With Mike Ribeiro deciding to take his talents to the desert, expect there to be a lot of talk about the Caps going after Derek Roy.

    Roy would probably come cheaper than other options, but he might not be the best choice.

    Roy would absolutely be able to come in and fill the gap Ribeiro has just left, as far as a second-line center is concerned. Still, there are reasons to be concerned about Roy, no matter how tempting—and affordable—he might end up being.

    My big criticism with the Caps right now is that they are not doing enough to make the team more physical. The Caps are moving to a division with the likes of Pittsburgh, both New York teams, Philadelphia, New Jersey, Carolina and an improving Columbus team.

    The finesse style of hockey the Caps used to dominate the Southeast division will not work anymore.

    So how does a 5'9", 184-pound, 30-year-old center help the Caps become a better team? The honest answer is that he really does not.

    True enough, at 6'0" and 177 pounds, Ribeiro was not exactly the answer either. But when you compare Roy's stats to Ribeiro's this past season, there is no question who the better player was.

    Between the Stars and Canucks, Roy had seven goals, 21 assists and a plus-four rating; Ribeiro had 13 goals, 36 assists and a minus-four rating.

    This also raises another concern as far as Roy is concerned: He has not really put up truly good numbers in a few seasons. Roy has not had a 20-goal season since the 2009-10 season with the Buffalo Sabres.

    In all fairness, Roy has been slowed by injuries the past few seasons (another reason to be a bit wary of signing him), and he only played in 35 games during the 2010-11 season because of this. But during the 2011-12 season, Roy played in 80 games for the Sabres and only had 17 goals.

    His relatively meager numbers this year for the Dallas Stars and Vancouver Canucks are not exactly confidence instilling.

    Compare Roy to someone the Caps missed out on like Valtteri Filppula. Filppula had also been somewhat disappointing, but he is 6'0", 195 pounds and a tad younger than Roy.

    Roy had the better numbers, but Flippula had been healthier the past few seasons. Both men represented a risk vs. reward sort of scenario.

    None of it mattered, though, as Roy remains unsigned and Flippula signed on with the Tampa Bay Lightning for five years and $25 million. As such, the Caps might not have any options other than Roy as far as a second-line center is concerned.

    No one can question Roy's heart, and he is a tremendous competitor. But his lack of size in a very physical new division combined with his declining numbers make him a free agent for the Caps to avoid.

Ryan Whitney

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    On paper, Ryan Whitney would seem like a perfect fit for what the Caps need to do on defense.

    At 6'4" and 209 pounds, Whitney has the size and strength to play the very physical style of hockey I fully expect the Caps will need to play if they hope to survive in their new division.

    He has the build and the body that, to be honest, has eluded the Caps for many years now.

    So, it sounds like a natural fit for Washington and Whitney should get a long look from general manager George McPhee and the rest of Washington's management...right?

    Not exactly.

    Whitney is one of those guys who could pay huge dividends. The problem is that if you look at his body of work the past four seasons he has been in Edmonton, the evidence that he can be a top-four defender—despite his playing top-four minutes—is really not there.

    Granted, the Oilers have been pretty awful during Whitney's tenure there, and there is only so much one man can do.

    Nevertheless, the Caps would be nuts if they did not have some serious reservations about making a run at Whitney.

    Durability has to be a huge concern. The most games Whitney has played in a season since he has been in Edmonton was 51 games during the 2011-12 season. In fact, since he played in 76 games for the Pittsburgh Penguins during the 2007-08 season, Whitney has averaged just 36 games played per season.

    To be fair, Whitney played in 34 games during last year's lockout-shortened affair, so perhaps, he is getting healthy at the right time.

    From a production standpoint, during his four years in Edmonton, Whitney scored just 12 goals, had 59 assists, 71 points and a minus-three rating. Those are all OK numbers, but are they good enough for the Caps to allocate what limited cap space they have on a player like Whitney?

    Another concern I have about Whitney is while he has the size and strength to play a very physical style of hockey, he actually does not play that type of game. Last season, Whitney had only 16 hits.

    Compare that to the Oilers' team leader in hits, Ladislav Smid's 151, and the problem becomes apparent.

    Whitney is also not that great of a shot-blocker. He only had 55 a year ago. Compare that to the Caps' John Carlson, who was third in the NHL with 123, and, again, the problem emerges.

    To succeed in their new division, the Caps will need a physical blueliner who will lay some big checks, block shots at key moments and be productive at both ends of the ice.

    Based on everything I have looked at, Whitney is not that man.

Jaromir Jagr

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    Would the second time be the charm as far as Jaromir Jagr and the Washington Capitals are concerned?

    It seems like a century ago that Jagr was supposed to be the man who would finally lead the Caps to the Stanley Cup.

    In reality, it was barely a decade ago, the 2001-02 season to be exact.

    So many people like to characterize Jagr's time in D.C. as a bust and a disappointment. The reality is that in two and one-half seasons with the Caps, Jagr tallied 83 goals, added 118 assists and racked up 201 points.

    Those are hardly disappointing numbers at all.

    Adding Jagr to a team that is going to be hurting for leadership and offense seems like a good move for the Caps. Imagine a line with Jagr and Alexander Ovechkin for a moment. That would be a formidable combination—or so it would seem.

    As logical a move as it might seem to make, one has to look at what Jagr still brings to the table. The man is 41 years old. He certainly is nearing the end of a remarkable Hall of Fame career.

    Jagr has 681 goals and is ranked 10th all time in this category in NHL history. He has 1,007 assists, which has him ranked 12th all time.

    There is no denying that Jagr is one of the best ever. But is he worth the investment now?

    Since he returned from his three-plus-year hiatus in the Czech Republic, Jagr has been solid, but not spectacular.

    In 2011-12 with the Philadelphia Flyers, Jagr failed to score 20 goals for the first time in his career.

    This past season with the Dallas Stars and Boston Bruins, Jagr was on pace to score 27 goals so his numbers did come up some.

    And it would be naive to not recognize Jagr's inspired performance during the Bruins' run to the Stanley Cup Final. Nevertheless, Jagr failed to score a goal during the entire Bruins playoff run, although he did have 10 assists.

    Obviously, if Jagr returned to the Caps he would come back on a one-year deal—and therein lies a problem.

    The Caps have such limited cap space to use that spending it on a Hall of Fame right winger, pretty much at the end of his tremendous career, and ignoring the glaring need the team now has as far as finding a suitable second-line center—well that would be some pretty poor management on the part of general manager George McPhee.

    Of course, as the first day of free agency comes to a close, it would be very hard not to give McPhee a big fat F as far as grades go.

    Still, as tempting as it might be to give Jagr a second chance in Washington and see if his experience can make a difference, the Caps would be better off spending their limited money elsewhere.