The Latest News and Rumors Surrounding the Washington Capitals and Free Agency

Dave UngarCorrespondent IIIJuly 13, 2013

The Latest News and Rumors Surrounding the Washington Capitals and Free Agency

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    Earlier this week I wrote an article that took a look at the beginning of free agency for the Washington Capitals.

    If you read that article, then you already know how disappointing the beginning of free agency has been for the Caps, in my opinion anyway.

    Has anything changed in the past few days?

    Yes and no.

    There is no shortage of things to talk about and debate as far as the Caps and free agency is concerned.

    One issue that keeps coming up is whether general manager George McPhee truly believes the Caps will be a good team next year or whether he is trying to convince all of us they will be because the Capitals just don't have the cap space to be able to make many moves in free agency.

    Remember that it was just a few days ago when McPhee essentially announced that the Caps would probably not be doing much of anything through free agency. This drew collective groans from many of the Caps' most passionate fans and supporters.

    Current members of the Caps also seem to be less than sold on the idea that the Caps should just stand pat and go with what they have.

    For instance, Karl Alzner, who just signed a four-year, $11.2 million extension, thinks there are several free agents still available who could help the Caps "tremendously."

    Meanwhile, there has been news relating to the Caps' best prospect, Evgeny Kuznetsov and lost amidst all of this is the fact that the Caps' Development Camp is also going on where a couple of names known to many Caps' fans have been making their case to be on the starting roster this season.

    Interestingly, much of this is all interconnected—even if it does not appear that way at first.

    To try and piece together whether the Caps will make any sort of move in free agency, here is the latest news and rumors as to this rather involved issue.

Is Mikhail Grabovski Still in Play?

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    Of all the remaining free agents, the one name most closely associated with the Capitals appears to be Mikhail Grabovski.

    Momentum for this possibility picked up just before free agency began when the Toronto Maple Leafs bought out the final four years of Grabovski's contract.

    To say Grabovski was not happy about being bought out would be a mammoth understatement. In an interview he gave to TSN via thestar.com, Grabovski did not pull any punches as to how he felt about head coach Randy Carlyle and how he had mismanaged Grabovski:

    Of course I feel (expletive) sad . . . I played (expletive) five years here. I’m supposed to feel upset about that. I loved it (here). . . . Toronto fans are the best fans in the world.

    I play in the (expletive) KHL, I make lots of ( expletive) points and what’s going to happen. . . . He (Carlyle) makes me (expletive) play on the fourth line and he put me in the playoffs on the fourth line and third line again.

    Yeah, I don’t score goals. I need to work more about that. I know that. But if you feel support from your coach . . . I don’t feel any support from this (expletive) idiot.

    Wow! Don't hold back Mikhail...tell us how you really feel.

    The question now remains whether Grabovski would be a good fit in D.C. as a replacement for Mike Ribeiro.

    I believe so. You can't really use last season as a measuring stick. Grabovski did not see eye to eye with Carlyle (obviously) and there is a lot of evidence out there that Carlye actually did mismanage Grabovski.

    Japer's Rink has posted a very good article explaining why Grabovski to the Caps makes sense. This article points out that Grabovski just came off the two best seasons of his career in 2010-11 and 2011-12, where he scored 29 and 23 goals respectively.

    His numbers also match up quite well with the man he would replace: Ribeiro.

    But is there any traction to the idea of Grabovski coming to the Caps?

    Perhaps there is.

    Hockeybuzz.com ran a podcast on July 11 discussing how the Caps and the Winnipeg Jets appear to be the leaders to land Grabovski with the Caps seemingly making more sense. You can listen to the podcast here (just make sure it is podcast No. 400).

    Many of the points the two guys talk about make a lot of sense. Grabovski would fit in well with the team. But would his attitude mesh well with head coach Adam Oates?

    The other issue is, of course, money. If the Caps signed Grabovski they might not have the money necessary to sign Marcus Johansson.

    Then again, if the Caps sign Grabovski, does MoJo then become expendable? If Grabovski is the new second line center, then it gives the Caps the flexibility to move Brooks Laich, Troy Brouwer or Martin Erat up to play wing on the top line.

    It may not be a perfect fit but the Caps have a bigger need at center than they do as far as wingers are concerned.

    I have a feeling that despite George McPhee's representations to the contrary, we will see Grabovski in D.C. before the beginning of the 2013-14 season.

     

The Evgeny Kuznetsov Factor

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    A big reason why the Caps might have no choice but to make a deal for Mikhail Grabovski is due to the lingering uncertainty over when—or if—Evgeny Kuznetsov might arrive in the nations' capital.

    Those who have been following the Kuznetsov saga since he was drafted in 2010 are well familiar with the chronology—and the frustration.

    In the early part of 2012, Kuznetsov announced he would be staying in Russia for two more seasons. This meant his arrival in D.C. would not happen until 2014 and many Caps' fans and faithful got understandably nervous they might not ever see the talented Russian center.

    Earlier this year though, the hope of Caps' fans were buoyed when Kuznetsov stated that he would come and play for the Caps after the 2014 Olympics in Sochi.

    Yes, it would still be 2014—but at least it gave us a sort of time frame in which to work.

    Well, in the words of Lee Corso, "Not so fast my friend!"

    As reported by NBC Sports Pro Hockey Talk, general manager George McPhee does not expect Kuznetsov to come to the Caps until late next season and, quite possibly, not until the 2014-15 season.

    Is there a chance we see Kuznetsov after the Olympics, like he said we would? Sure.

    Then again, if he is really getting millions to play at home—tax free no less—we might not ever see our center of the future.

    Kuznetsov has all the potential and talent to be the Caps' second line center. His stats this past season while playing for Traktor Chelyabinsk of the KHL demonstrate this. He had 19 goals and 25 assists in 51 games during the regular season.

    In 25 playoff games, Kuznetsov had five goals and six assists, including one in the KHL Championship where Traktor fell in six games to Dynamo Moscow.

    At worst, he would be the Caps' third line center were he to arrive in Washington when training camp starts (which we already know will not be happening).

    As it stands now, the best case scenario would have Kuznetsov arriving stateside with roughly a month or so to go in the regular season. By then, the Caps' fate could be sealed—or they could be fighting for their lives.

    If McPhee was hedging his bets and hoping that the Caps could be in a position to make the playoffs just in time for Kuznetsov to arrive and carry the team, then it sure sounds like he needs to reconsider that strategy.

    Kuznetsov might not arrive until the beginning of the 2014-15 season, if he arrives at all. There is no magic solution to the Caps' depth issues at center.

    With Kuznetsov likely remaining in Russia until at least the beginning of the 2014-15 season, I think this makes the Caps' going after Grabovski almost mandatory.

The Latest from Development Camp

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    If George McPhee is correct, then the future of the Capitals has been on full display this past week at the Caps' Development Camp.

    Almost all of the Caps' top prospects—with the exception of Evgeny Kuznetsov of course—have spent the past week at the Kettler Capitals Iceplex honing their craft and trying to make a case, possibly, for a roster spot this fall.

    Players such as the 23rd overall pick in the 2013 NHL draft, Andre Burakovsky, and the 53rd overall pick, Madison Bowey, have been participating at the Development Camp this past week.

    It is rather fascinating to read the thoughts of players such as Bowey, Riley Barber and Sam Anas. Much of this information can be viewed on the Caps webpage at this link. Included on that page are highlights from Development Camp of Burakovsky, Barber and Connor Carrick.

    It is great experience for those young players. But most eyes are keenly fixed upon two players more so than others: Tom Wilson and Michael Latta.

    Wilson, the No. 16 overall pick in the 2012 NHL draft, played in three games against the New York Rangers in the playoffs and was rather impressive.

    He now wants to stay in Washington and not go back to the Plymouth Whalers of the OHL.

    NHL.com ran a good article on Wilson recently recapping his rise to, perhaps, becoming a full-time member of the Caps. This little snippet from that article demonstrates that, perhaps, Wilson has simply outgrown the OHL and is ready to take a major next step:

    A case can be made that the 6-foot-4, 217-pound power forward has outgrown the OHL, where in 60 games last season (regular season and playoffs), Wilson had 32 goals, 75 points and 145 penalty minutes. He was voted the best body checker in the OHL Western Conference for the second straight season in a coaches' poll.

    This echoes what I have said previously, namely that there is nothing more Wilson can gain from playing in the OHL and he is too young to play in the AHL.

    That basically leaves the Caps as the only viable option. I strongly suspect that McPhee is watching Wilson very closely to see how he is progressing. If Wilson is NHL ready, it gives McPhee some flexibility as to what, if anything, he wants to do with free agency moving forward.

    As is customary for McPhee, he is taking a practical approach to all of this. As he said in the NHL.com article:

    You have to do what's best for a player's development and that's a decision we'll make in September. We'll have enough flexibility on the [salary] cap and with our roster to keep him or not keep him. As I've always said, we try to let them make the decisions for us. ... So we'll see what it looks like in September. If he's ready to play, he stays. If he's not, he goes.

    Despite all of that, I have a feeling that McPhee already knows whether he is keeping Wilson or sending him back to the OHL. Based on everything I have read and heard, Wilson has looked impressive at Development Camp so far.

    As for Latta, he knows full well that with Matt Hendricks' departure, there is void to fill on the Caps. Latta seems to be the one who wants to assume that role.

    In an interview Latta gave to Katie Carrera of The Washington Post, the young center showed that he recognizes the unique opportunity he has:

    As a young, right-handed centerman that kind of plays a role similar to Hendricks, I see him leave and I’m sure Caps fans are upset and I heard nothing but good things about him, but he leaves and maybe that opens up a spot for me. You never know. It’s nice for myself, personally and selfishly that he’s gone, so we’ll see. Hopefully I can do what he did and earn a spot here.

    Most Caps' fans were very fond of Hendricks and hated to see him leave. But Latta offers a dimension to his scoring game that Hendricks, arguably, did not have.

    If you look at what Latta did after he was traded to the Caps, it has to give you hope. He played in 14 games for Hershey, was the third line center and scored three goals. The general consensus was that he was a hard worker, very determined and eager to make a name for himself.

    There is a ton of potential with Latta. Somewhat ironically, he very well could be a much better acquisition than Martin Erat, who was also acquired in the infamous Filip Forsberg trade.

    I suspect that even though a decision on Latta won't be made until after training camp in September, McPhee has to watching him closely, maybe even more so than Wilson. The Caps have a little bit of depth on the wings but practically none at center.

    If Latta looks like he will be NHL ready come September, it again gives McPhee more options as far as any decisions he might be making as to Mikhail Grabovski or any other free agents.

    Though it flew under the radar some, the Caps Development Camp may have been one of the most important things going on with the Washington Capitals this past week.