Bargain Free Agents Washington Capitals Should Chase in 2014 Offseason
After a disappointing finish to the 2013-14 season and the subsequent firings of both general manager George McPhee and head coach Adam Oates, there will undoubtedly be changes made to the Washington Capitals' lineup this summer.
For now, we'll have to wait until a new management team's installed to know exactly what direction this team plans to go in and which current key cogs will be a part of that mission.
The biggest decisions will surround the futures of high-priced cornerstones such as Alex Ovechkin, Mike Green, Nicklas Backstrom and Brooks Laich—though only Laich and Green would appear to have a realistic chance at being shipped out—but either way, there are holes to fill within this roster.
Dustin Penner and Mikhail Grabovski are the only two impending unrestricted free agents of note, and assuming they leave in July, here's a look at a handful of bargains the Caps should be monitoring once the market opens for business.
A little while back, I wrote about why Willie Mitchell would be a great addition to the Caps. Though he isn't quite the defensive presence he once was, I still believe the veteran stay-at-homer can bring value to Washington.
Mitchell has made $3.5 million a season since signing with the Los Angeles Kings in 2010, but after missing all of 2012-13 and having just turned 37, he isn't likely to get that much annually at this point in his career.
But for a Capitals team that struggled mightily in the defensive zone and has a clear need for a physical, battle-tested rearguard, Mitchell would be a nice addition.
It wouldn't be unreasonable for the Caps to offer the former Vancouver Canucks assistant captain a two-year deal worth $2.5 million a season.
He'd not only provide stability on the back end, but also show Washington's kids the way.
If Grabovski leaves, the Capitals will need to look for a center to replace some of the scoring punch he provided. For the right price, a proven two-way pivot like Dave Bolland would be an ideal acquisition.
A year ago, if Bolland had been an unrestricted free agent, the two-time Stanley Cup champ would've likely commanded well over $5 million a season. However, his injury problems may drive his open-market value down after suiting up for just 58 games over the last two seasons.
Changes are certain to be coming in Toronto, so Bolland may be allowed to walk as a free agent. If that's the case, the Capitals have to be in the mix for his services.
However, as Terry Koshan of The Toronto Sun recently discussed, Bolland and his representatives appear to have a pretty strong case to ask for a long-term deal that would probably be out of the Caps' range:
When negotiations broke off, Bolland reportedly was seeking upward of $40 million over seven or eight years.
While that kind of contract is unlikely to happen in Toronto, Bolland isn’t being unreasonable to seek a deal in the neighbourhood of what David Clarkson is getting from the Leafs. In fact, since Clarkson, who has zero Stanley Cup rings to Bolland’s two, is going to have a salary-cap hit of $5.25-million US for the next six seasons — a contract, that for one season at least, has haunted the Leafs — then certainly Bolland should expect as much, if not a shade more.
If the 27-year-old doesn't get the lucrative offers he expects, maybe he'd be willing to take a shorter deal worth $3.5-4.5 million a year to earn his next contract, as Grabovski did in 2013-14.
Now three seasons removed since the last of his three 20-goal campaigns in the NHL, Devin Setoguchi has quietly become something of a reclamation project for whatever team picks him up this summer.
A 31-goal, 65-point scorer during only his second NHL season in 2008-09, the 27-year-old Setoguchi has the hands and skill to be a quality secondary offensive threat.
After watching his power-play time get cut in half in 2013-14, his production hit a new low with 27 points in 75 games—the same total he posted in 48 contests in 2012-13.
So, given his decline in output, Setoguchi will have to take a cut in pay from the $3-plus million he was previously earning. If he's available for one or two years at $2 million per season, he's a worthy investment.
Playing alongside a speedy and skilled pivot such as Marcus Johansson or even Evgeny Kuznetsov, Setoguchi has the potential to revitalize his career as a top-six forward because the tools are still there.
As we've seen with players such as Joel Ward in 2011, Ryan Malone in 2008, Dustin Penner in 2007 and countless others, lesser-known forwards who produce in the postseason prior to hitting free agency consistently attract unreasonably high contract offers.
While it's too early to label Benoit Pouliot as a success story of the 2014 Stanley Cup playoffs, Dave Caldwell of The Wall Street Journal suggests the former No. 4 overall pick has made a strong case to get a raise on the $1.3 million he's making with the Rangers this season:
Considered early on to be a marginal player, maybe even expendable, he scored 15 goals in 80 games, seven on the power play. His line, which included Derick Brassard and Mats Zuccarello, produced for the team.
That line has only improved in the Stanley Cup playoffs, collecting seven goals and seven assists entering Friday's Game 5 against Pittsburgh. Pouliot scored the winner in Game 7 of the Rangers' first-round series against Philadelphia.
In total, Pouliot sits second on the Rangers with eight points in 14 postseason tilts after potting a career-high 36 points in the regular season during his first year with the Rangers.
However, given that the 27-year-old has zero 40-point seasons on his resume and is now suiting up with his fifth NHL team since entering the league in 2007, he could probably be had for somewhere around $2 million a season.
If that's the case, Washington has to be putting in a call to the lanky winger's agent—especially if he continues to put up impressive numbers during the Rangers' surprising playoff run.
Contract information courtesy of CapGeek.com.
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