Depth Players Washington Capitals Should Chase in Free Agency
It’s already been an eventful offseason for the Washington Capitals, as the team will enter the 2014-15 season with both a new head coach and general manager for the first time since 1997.
And while it’d be surprising to see seismic changes made to the lineup via free agency, as CSN Washington’s Chuck Gormley reported, Brian MacLellan is certainly going to be looking to bolster Barry Trotz’s roster following the 2014 NHL draft.
In the NHL, and for every other major North American sports league for that matter, having the personnel in place to identify underrated talent is critical, particularly since the dawn of the salary cap era.
Assuming the Capitals intend on continuing forward with its current core of elite talents in two-time reigning Rocket Richard Trophy recipient Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom, John Carlson, Karl Alzner and the oft-maligned Mike Green, MacLellan will likely have to build via the draft and through the periphery of the free agent market.
As a result, expect George McPhee’s longtime sidekick to chase depth players with experience and, most importantly, the potential to contribute in clutch situations.
Here’s a look at a few of the players that MacLellan and his staff should be targeting this summer.
As NHL.com reported, Chicago will not be re-signing veteran pivot Michal Handzus, and the 6’5” Slovakian will be available on the open market.
For a team like Washington in need of an injection of quality down the middle, being able to bring in a guy who is just over a year removed from playing a substantial role on a Stanley Cup champion squad would add grit, confidence and a winning pedigree to a roster that often appears to lack all three.
Though the 37-year-old notched a paltry 16 points in 2013-14, he showed he can still contribute during the 2013 postseason—the three-time Olympian posted three goals and 11 points while anchoring the Blackhawks’ checking line.
Given his age and declining production, MacLellan might be able to get Handzus for somewhere around $2 million, and assuming they’ve still got cap space, there’d be a lot to like about inking him to a one-year deal.
A couple of years ago it would’ve seemed almost unbelievable that a promising young scorer like Setoguchi was soon to become an expendable part on three different teams in four seasons.
But after posting career-high totals of 31 goals and 65 points with the Sharks in 2008-09, the 27-year-old has failed to hit 25 goals or 50 points since.
And now, with Setoguchi coming off a season to forget in Winnipeg that saw him post just 27 points, one has to believe he’ll be lucky to get a contract worth even half of the $3 million he earned in 2013-14.
Setoguchi may be worth taking a low-risk gamble on if he can be signed for $1 million. With playmakers like Nicklas Backstrom, Marcus Johansson and Evgeny Kuznetsov in the fold and just one top-flight sniper in Ovechkin, this could be the perfect situation for the former No. 8 overall pick.
It’s no secret that the Capitals are looking to add some depth in net, and after NHL.com reported that Anaheim will not be offering former All-Star Jonas Hiller a new contract, the Swiss Olympian should soon find his way onto MacLellan’s radar.
Yes, Hiller would provide Holtby with the same staunch competition that Jaroslav Halak did last season, but maybe that’s not such a bad thing.
Hiller, unlike previous veteran goaltending acquisitions who were clearly in decline such as Tomas Vokoun and Jose Theodore, has posted quality numbers over the past four seasons with the Ducks.
But with a need for depth up front on the back end, Anaheim has clearly opted to go with former U.S. World Junior hero John Gibson as the franchise’s goalie of the future and present, pushing Hiller out the door.
While Holtby would probably still get the weight of the starts unless he's unexpectedly unseated, Hiller would still give the Caps one of the team’s deepest tandems in the league—which isn’t something Washington has been able to lay claim to for quite some time.
No, Saku Koivu isn’t the same player that was a standout captain for the Montreal Canadiens for a decade, but that doesn’t mean the 39-year-old can’t bring value to the table for the Caps.
In the same way that Sergei Fedorov was a calming veteran presence during his time with the Caps from 2008-10, Koivu has the pedigree and leadership qualities to inspire confidence in his teammates.
A two-time All-Star, Koivu still has the skills to contribute when needed, and if he’s up for grabs at one year and somewhere in the neighborhood of $1-1.5 million, he’s worth taking a flier on.
With no current top-six defensemen over the age of 30, the Capitals clearly need a shot of experience on the blue line, and adding current L.A. King Matt Greene would do just that.
It’s still very much a possibility that the reigning Stanley Cup champs will end up re-signing their assistant captain to an extension, but if he hits the open market on July 1, the Caps need to be in the mix for the 31-year-old.
Coming off a deal that paid Greene an average of just under $3 million a season, he won’t be the cheapest option available, but one has to imagine what a steadying stay-at-home partner could do for Mike Green’s game.
Greene is not going to get the same attention that Matt Niskanen or Brooks Orpik will, but for Washington, the two-time Stanley Cup champion could be just as valuable.
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