Eric Belanger: What His Signing Means To the Washington Capitals

Ryan DavenportContributor IAugust 12, 2010

WASHINGTON DC, DC - APRIL 23:  Eric Belanger #18 of the Washington Capitals skates against the Montreal Canadiens in Game Five of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals during the 2010 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at the Verizon Center on April 23, 2010 in Washington, DC. The Habs defeated the Caps 2-1.Washington leads the best of seven series 3 games to 2.  (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)
Jim McIsaac/Getty Images

With the reported signing of centerman Eric Belanger, the Washington Capitals seem to have completed their free agency signings for the 2010 offseason.

The deal, said to be for one year at just under $1.9 million, seems to be a fair deal for a player of his caliber, but is somewhat surprising due to the fact that the Capitals still lack a bona fide second line center.

Belanger has been a serviceable third line center, who can be counted on for good penalty killing, great faceoff numbers and 30-40 points.

However, what Belanger is not, is a second line centerman on a good team.  His offensive skills are limited, and he is best suited for a checking line role, so the Capitals haven't really addressed their biggest need.

If the last few Stanley Cup Champion teams have taught us anything, it's that strength up the middle is critical in the playoffs.

Pittsburgh won with a 1-2-3 punch of Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Jordan Staal.  Chicago bested a tough Philadelphia Flyers squad with pivots Jonathan Toews, Patrick Sharp, Dave Bolland and John Madden.

The 'Caps currently boast superstar Nicklas Backstrom, Eric Belanger, David Steckel, Boyd Gordon and a batch of currently unproven prospects. 

If the Capitals are to contend with the elite teams in the NHL in the playoffs, they need to add an offensive center, or pray that one emerges from within.

Brooks Laich and Tomas Fleischmann are both listed as centers at times, but are best suited as wingers.  This signing solidifies the third line, but leaves a hole in the second line. 

Unless a prospect overachieves or the Capitals make another move, they may fail to keep up come April, May and June.