How Each Offseason Addition and Departure Will Affect Washington Capitals
As expected, the Washington Capitals are in the midst of one of the busiest offseasons in franchise history, both on the ice and behind the bench.
We saw Barry Trotz and Brian MacLellan arrive in lieu of Ted Leonsis' decision to part ways with Adam Oates and George McPhee, and with new hockey minds in place, it seemed inevitable that drastic changes to the roster were to follow.
MacLellan wasted no time during the opening few hours after 12 p.m. ET on July 1 in making his first bold statements as Washington's new general manager, spending nearly a combined $70 million on a trio of free agents.
But, in addition to the arrivals of the new recruits, the Caps have also lost a handful of prominent names, so whether this roster is markedly better than the one that missed the playoffs in 2013-14 remains unclear.
Either way, MacLellan does deserve credit for taking initiative and addressing the holes he saw in the lineup, and here's a look at how each move will impact the team going forward.
All salary cap information has been provided by Cap Geek.
Jaroslav Halak Out, Justin Peters in
Obviously, the moves didn't pan out, and as a result, Halak was dealt to the Islanders and subsequently signed a long-term deal with the club.
With Halak gone, the Caps will once again rely on Braden Holtby to carry the load in goal, who has yet to develop the consistency needed to be an impact No. 1 goalie in the regular season.
Holtby's paltry 2.85 goals against average and .915 save percentage in 2013-14 were by far the worst of his career, and though he was often let down by a porous defense, the 24-year-old simply wasn't good enough to keep the Caps in contention.
That's why Halak was brought in, so now that he's gone, MacLellan has to be banking on Holtby looking once again like the revelation that posted sparkling stats of 1.95 GAA and .935 SV percentage as a postseason rookie in 2011-12, and not the pedestrian stopper we saw in 2013-14.
So after flipping Halak, MacLellan went out and signed former Carolina backup Justin Peters to spell Holtby when needed. Nonetheless, despite Peters' upper hand in experience (22-31-8-3 in 68 career games) one has to imagine that promising young Philipp Grubauer will be getting at least 5-10 starts as well.
Let's get this out of the way right off the bat: Brooks Orpik remains a serviceable top-four rearguard, and he brings valuable experience to the table, but the Caps certainly overpaid for the two-time U.S. Olympian.
And as NBC Sports' Mike Halford discussed, the Caps aren't ignorant to the fact that MacLellan has been a lightning rod for criticism since giving the 33-year-old blueliner a five-year deal worth $27.5 million.
Some of it's certainly merited, because Orpik's not a top-pairing guy at this point in his career (and really hasn't been for a while), as he saw his ice time cut significantly between 2011-12 and this past season.
Furthermore, according to Extra Skater, Orpik has had his short-handed usage drop drastically over the last two postseasons, though one has to expect that trend will change immediately in Washington.
That being said, regardless of his cap hit, Orpik's the nasty stay-at-home defenseman the Caps have longed for on the back end, and the addition of a 6'2" physical presence will be welcomed by Holtby in particular.
Mikhail Grabovski and Dustin Penner
Mikhail Grabovski arrived in D.C. to be the team's No. 2 center last August, but after the signings of Orpik and Niskanen, it would have been difficult for MacLellan to make room for the 30-year-old pivot at an agreeable price and term.
Though it seemed possible that Grabovski, who played a key role in the Capitals offense in all situations until his nasty leg injury, could return to Washington and would take a discount to return, the Islanders' offer was too rich to refuse.
And it drew the ire of former NHL star Jeremy Roenick, as reported by USA Today's Mike Brehm, as Garth Snow doled out $20 million over four years to a pivot coming off a serious injury and has a total of 51 points in 106 games since the 2012 NHL lockout.
While the Caps will undoubtedly miss Grabovski's explosiveness and versatility down the middle, if Evgeny Kuznetsov and Marcus Johansson continue to develop, MacLellan was wise not to offer anywhere close to $5 million a year to a relatively replaceable part.
In Penner, the Caps are losing a proven veteran with two Stanley Cups and a 60-point season to his name, but assuming he wants to return to the Western Conference where he's played his whole career, the affable power forward's stay in Washington will turn out to be a short one.
But with bruising forwards that provide a secondary scoring punch in Troy Brouwer, Joel Ward and potentially Tom Wilson, Penner was deemed expendable.
After overpaying for Orpik, MacLellan made the biggest splash of the day by handing former Penguin Matt Niskanen a seven-year deal worth $42.025 million, and as CSN Washington's Chuck Gormley recently reported, Trotz is extremely excited about the combination of the two additions:
I get a lot of messages from my counterparts saying, ‘Now you’ve got five really good defensemen and you can do a lot of things, especially when you connect that back end with those forwards. The hockey people have given me real positive messages.
In Niskanen, the Caps will get a legitimate top-four option, but given that Mike Green and John Carlson are both offensive-minded right-handers, there could be a logjam on the right side defensively.
Assuming Green's either moved or allowed to walk once his contract expires this summer, this makes a ton of sense, as Orpik, Niskanen, Carlson and Karl Alzner would combine to form a formidable, yet versatile top two pairings.
Niskanen's got value at both ends, and while his 10 goals and 46 points with the Pens in 2013-14 are by far career-best numbers, given that his power play usage, per Extra Skater, and quality of competition were the highest of his career as well, maybe the 27-year-old can replicate his recent level of excellence.
No, Niskanen's not worth $5.75 million a season when considering his annual cap hit is higher than those of perennial standouts like Duncan Keith, Oliver Ekman-Larsson, Ryan McDonagh and Jay Bouwmeester, and just below Brent Seabrook's $5.8 million hit. But if he and Orpik can help shore up the blue line and help the Caps reach the Eastern Conference Finals or further, this deal won't look so unreasonable.
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