Grading Washington Capitals' 2014 Free-Agent Signings After Day 1

Ryan DavenportContributor IJuly 1, 2014

Grading Washington Capitals' 2014 Free-Agent Signings After Day 1

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    Just over a month into his tenure as the general manager of the Washington Capitals, Brian MacLellan wasted no time in making a big splash on the NHL's free-agent market. 

    Not long after the market opened at noon ET, many, such as NBC Sports' Joe Yerdon, reported that former Carolina backup goalie Justin Peters had inked a two-year deal with the Caps to provide depth behind Braden Holtby. 

    But the first truly big news of the day was when word came out from The Canadian Press (via TSN) that the Caps had landed longtime Pittsburgh rearguard and two-time U.S. Olympian Brooks Orpik for five years at $27.5 million. 

    And MacLellan wasn't done there. CBS Sports' Chris Peters reported that Washington had won the Matt Niskanen sweepstakes, giving the Caps two of the most coveted defensemen available this summer.  

    After what has been one of the busiest NHL free-agency markets in recent memory, here are grades for each of MacLellan's Day 1 signings.

Justin Peters

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    After dealing away one-time starter Michal Neuvirth late in 2013-14, it wasn't surprising to see MacLellan jump at the opportunity to sign a solid No. 2 early in the free-agency period. 

    And in signing former Carolina backup Justin Peters, the Caps have added an option for the periods in which Holtby struggles.

    In addition, the arrival of the 27-year-old Peters takes pressure off of Philipp Grubauer, who otherwise would've been forced into his first season of full-time NHL duty. 

    Peters recorded a respectable 2.50 goals-against average and a .919 save percentage in 21 appearances this season, and at an annual price of $900,000 over two years, there's nothing wrong with this acquisition. 

    He was 7-9-4 for a rather dismal Hurricanes squad. However, in coach Barry Trotz's defensive system, one has to think Peters will put up even better numbers, though he'll face a push from Grubauer for relief duty. 

    Grade: B+ 

    Ideally, the Caps would've gone out and gotten a proven veteran like Jonas Hiller or even Martin Brodeur to provide Holtby with legitimate competition for the No. 1 job. That being said, Peters has upside, and if Trotz is able to coax his new charges into playing a more conservative game, he'll be a very serviceable backup.

Brooks Orpik

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    After yet another season of constant defensive struggles, the Capitals entered the summer in dire need of experience and depth on the back end. 

    So from a purely hockey perspective, Washington's decision to sign former Pittsburgh Penguins cornerstone Brooks Orpik was undoubtedly an intelligent one, as the two-time U.S. Olympic stalwart is the type of physical top-four presence that fills a void on the blue line. 

    However, Orpik will soon be 34 years old and seems to be feeling the effects of his bruising style—the Boston College product has failed to play in at least 75 of his team's games since 2008-09. 

    While he's an upgrade from what the Caps previously iced defensively, Orpik has seen his playing time decrease in each of the past three seasons. Also, at $5.5 million for five years, he's getting paid more than clearly superior rearguards like Jay Bouwmeester, Brent Seabrook, Marc Staal and Ryan McDonagh. 

    It's a bold move, and if it's one that helps Washington advance to the conference finals for the first time since 1998, no one will complain. 

    But if not, the value and term the Caps gave an aging stay-at-home defenseman will be difficult to justify down the road. 

    Grade: C+ 

    No one can deny this deal makes the Caps a more difficult team to play against, which is a quality that cannot be discounted in the Metropolitan Division. Nonetheless, it's a lot of money for a guy who was deemed expendable by an underachieving team. 

Matt Niskanen

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    Later in the day, MacLellan made possibly the biggest move of the day by inking 27-year-old Matt Niskanen to a seven-year deal worth $40.25 million. 

    The signing represented the second time in less than three hours that the Caps acquired a former top-four Penguins defenseman, and, as arguably the most sought after player at his position on the market, Niskanen is a significant upgrade to Trotz's defensive core. 

    Of course, given that Niskanen's career-high 46 points came during a contract year, there's no guarantee he'll be the offensive force he was in 2013-14. 

    Nonetheless, after playing nearly three minutes of power-play time and 45 seconds of shorthanded duty per game last season, Niskanen's proven he's capable of playing in every situation on a good team, and he could pair with Orpik to complete an impressive top four. 

    Obviously, this is a lot of money for a supposed offensive blueliner who has reached 10 goals or 40 points just once, but there's no question the Minnesota native will be a valuable addition to what should be a vastly improved defense. 

    In terms of annual salary, Niskanen's isn't absurd. His $5.75 million hit is comparable to those of Keith Yandle, Tobias Enstrom, Matt Carle and Brent Burns, and few would argue he's any less valuable than more than two of those four defensemen. 

    Grade: B

    This would be higher if MacLellan hadn't committed seven years to a player who is coming off of by far his best NHL campaign, particularly after overspending on Orpik. That being said, Niskanen was a hot commodity for a reason, and if it took offering too much term in order to pry him away from a bitter rival, it's hard not to like this move.