NHL Free Agents 2011: Washington Capitals Not Done, What Else To Expect
I guarantee it.
After trading RW Eric Fehr to the Winnipeg Jets for a draft pick and a prospect not yet ready for NHL play, the Capitals shed salary and dropped back under the salary cap. Unfortunately, DC's hockey club has less than $400,000 in salary cap space.
In other news, Karl Alzner will almost certainly be staying in the District to play hockey for at least the next year. Alzner's agent, J.P. Barry, reported to Brian McNally of the Washington Examiner that no offer sheets have been submitted to Alzner.
So, either Alzner will accept his qualifying offer and play for one year for a salary of $826,875 or his camp and the Caps' front office will chip out the details of the two-year agreement they have reportedly been talking about for months.
With Karl Alzner's future in DC being everything but certain, Caps' general manager George McPhee needs to make another move or two to get comfortably under the cap.
GMGM is not a general manager who has ever been comfortable being right under the cap, especially when a number of critical roster players are set to be free agents the next year—McPhee has to think about resigning Mike Green, John Carlson (due for a large raise) and Alex Semin next offseason, assuming all three are still playing in the Nation's Capital.
Mike Knuble, Jason Chimera, Dennis Wideman, Tomas Vokoun, Jay Beagle, DJ King and Jeff Halpern are also set to become free agents.
George McPhee will make at least one more trade before the season starts in October.
There may also still be a critical free-agent signing still up McPhee's sleeve.
After trading Fehr, the Caps—by my observation—have a lack of depth down the right side. The way things stand now, one of DJ King or Jay Beagle would have to be a regular player. While I find the former likable and deserving of more ice time than he receives and the latter's ambition and work on the forecheck admirable, a serious Stanley Cup contender needs more depth.
Let's go to the slides to take a look at what moves McPhee will possibly make as well as the state of the roster right now.
Current State of the Roster
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As of now, the Capitals are looking much grittier and more like your run-of-the-mill, battle-hardened Cup Contender than the sissy finesse team they have been in years passed.
Capital's News Network's Dave Nichols wrote an article on Saturday discussing how the roster has become grittier. Of interest were his ideas for what the bottom two lines may look like this year.
By his prediction, which I agree with, those lines will be much more intimidating and will surely be a pleasure to watch as they grind down opposing teams with hit after gruesome hit night-in and night-out.
Dave would like to see a third line consist of Brouwer-Laich-Ward and the fourth line consist of Chimera-Halpern-Hendricks.
This would definitely be exciting. However, this lineup leaves a hole in the second line on the left side. Dj King can not play second line, nor can Chris Bourque, Jay Beagle or any of the other young prospects in the Caps' system.
I am not bashing on Dave here—if you're reading this, Dave, I loved the article—I simply wanted to use this excitement most Caps fans have about the new physical lineup to point out a remaining flaw that I am absolutely positive George McPhee sees too and plans on fixing.
But before I show you the fix, let's look at the problem.
Thirteen forwards are currently under an NHL contract for the Capitals. They also have a few players on two-way contracts that, while capable of playing in the big league, are not desirable depth guys for a team serious about making a Cup run.
Here's a few lineup scenarios that I have thought up. Note, some are more realistic, based on my knowledge of Boudreau's line-matching tendencies, while others are more speculation and possibility.
Here's the most likely lineup based on lineups of the past and what has been implied by McPhee, Leonsis and Boudreau.
(King, Bourque and Perreault available to fill-in in the case of injuries.)
These are the lines combos I most expect to see out of training camp but I see a few problems with it.
First, the Caps have a real chance at having a true checking line this year—it's fairly contrary to Boudreau's style, but it could be really effective—but this lineup eliminates some of the checking-line options.
Johansson is pretty responsible defensively, especially considering his age and NHL experience, but his body checks don't exactly strike fear into the hearts of other players—his speed and offensive prowess do.
I do like Johansson and Chimera together because they are two of the fastest skaters in the league. Unfortunately, no matter how good of a playmaker MJ90 is, Chimera's hands are made of brick.
His speed is astounding and he seems to exert extremely little energy going from zero to 60 faster than your favorite roller coaster, and he's good at going to the net, but seriously, he can't hit the net or catch a break most of the time.
There is nothing I love more than seeing a hard worker earn a goal by forechecking hard but Chimera really doesn't finish often enough to be a good scoring winger for an up-and-coming playmaking star.
MoJo will be a bona fide second-line center much sooner than most people think, I believe. Plus, Semin needs a playmaking center, not a power-forward center.
Also, I like the idea of having Brouwer and Laich on a line together but Laich, although he is a natural center, is much better suited as a winger since he is great along the boards and is much better at getting to the net than setting up pretty plays along the half-wall.
So, let's take a look at a few other good options Boudreau has.
These line pairings solidify the top-six but leave some problems in the bottom-six. As you can see, Johansson now gets the second-line center duties that I think he earned in the postseason, end of the regular season and likely will re-earn out of training camp.
Semin would have a good center. Semin and Johansson also showed a lot of chemistry this past year when both were on their game and paired up.
This scenario also perfects the top-six since each line has a playmaker, a proven scorer and a 20-goal power forward. You cannot ask for a better top-six. Well, you could ask, but you wouldn't get one with a salary-cap controlled NHL.
The third line also gives the Caps coaching staff a brilliant checking line. This would be a severely intimidating line capable of dishing out punishment on a massive scale. Halpern should be able to play the 12 minutes of ice-time plus a night to fulfill third line duties but it would be up for him to decide how his body is aging.
Here's the issue: While Hendricks is, like Laich, a natural center, he is better suited, like Laich, as a winger. Beagle is also a natural center but, in the NHL at least, fits better as a winger since he is probably not defensively responsible and proficient enough in the faceoff circle to be a quality fourth-line center.
It could be done but it's not optimal.
Here's one last combination.
This lineup, again, solidifies the top-six, although I would prefer to see Laich on the second line over Brouwer.
This is a pretty good lineup but the one problem is, let's be honest, Laich is not a third-liner. Ted Leonsis is not going to give the guy $4.5 million a year to be a third-liner. No way, no how.
Let's take a trip over to the next slide to check out what I would call the X-factor in this roster.
The Capitals signed undrafted Swede center Mattias Sjogren of Farjestad of the Swedish Elite League to a two-year entry-level contract worth $1.8 million on June 1st.
I call this move an X-factor for multiple reasons.
First, Sjogren just had a great year in the SEL—his numbers were not too far off of Nicklas Backstrom's numbers from when he played in the SEL and were better than Marcus Johansson's SEL numbers.
Twelve other teams were reportedly interested in signing the 23-year-old center. The Capitals really seem to love Swedish centers (and Russian snipers and Canadian grinder and power-forwards).
Sjogren's agent, Cluade Lemieux reported that the Capitals followed Sjogren closely for months before signing him and were very interested right from the start.
Whether or not the fact that two country-men were already playing for the team effect Sjogren's decision, one can only guess. However, what is much more obvious is what implications lie with the fact that 12 teams besides the Capitals were interested in signing Sjogren to an NHL contract.
At the very least, Sjogren shows lots of potential for great NHL success. At best, and I have a sneaking suspicion that this may be the truth, Sjogren is ready for NHL duties right off the bat.
Perhaps he is not; perhaps Sjogren goes to play in Hershey and is simply ready for a recall in the case of injury. But, should Sjogren be capable of at least third or fourth-line NHL responsibilities, let's look at how it would benefit the Capitals.
According to a scouting report, which can be found on Japers' Rink, Sjogren is "a big and strong forward [and he] likes to play physical and has good timing in his hits."
"He is also a very creative player with fine technical skills. A decent scorer and playmaker."
The first part is a little bit more important than the second.
Sjogren, himself, stated simply that, "I like to hit." Mattias is also, as stated in his scouting report, great at finishing his hits. The Caps need a guy like this.
Having a player that is a good, technical player that can lay the body as well as contribute effectively in the offensive end is exactly what a Cup contender needs on its third or fourth line.
So, what would the lines look like if Sjogren is thrown into the mix Let's assume the top two lines are set with Ovechkin, Backstrom and Knuble on the first line and Laich, Johansson and Semin on the second line.
Now, Sjogren can play either center or right-wing. Here are the possibilities.
This looks pretty formidable. Halpern wins plenty of draws and is great on the forecheck as are Ward and Brouwer. This line could dish out punishment, block shots and setting up a solid forecheck and low cycle along the boards.
The fourth line isn't one to be taken lightly either. Let's not overlook Hendricks, which I know most Caps fans don't, as he was 27th in the league in hitting with 169 hits dished out. Considering his limited amount of ice-time, that's a lot of hits.
But how about if Sjogren is good enough for third-line duties? Did I forget to mention that the Swede weighs in at 6'2" 209lbs? That's a decent amount of weight to throw around for a guy who supposedly loves to hit and is good at it.
Also, can we just marvel at how awesome it is to have signed a Swede that loves to lay the body? Swedes stereotypically aren't physically intimidating players. They normally are great at defending with poke-checks, stick-lifts, positioning and pinning players to the boards but are not known for big-hits.
I love the idea of having a player that can lay the body and also has world-reknowned Swedish hands.
Anyway, switch up Halpern and Sjogren and you have a third line that might not be as technical defensively but could potentially be more physical and also have a little bit more of a scoring touch if Sjogren's offensive abilities translate from the SEL to the NHL.
What's nice about the scenario of Sjogren being NHL ready is that the Caps would add more depth down the middle and right side and not have to move Hendricks or Laich from the wing to center.
It would also add more depth in general, and players like King and Beagle would not have to play in more games than necessary.
Last but not least, my favorite theoretical line combo.
Move Brouwer over to the right-wing—he is a righty afterall (who does he think he is, Ovie?)—and have Sjogren center him and Hendricks and you have two big-hitting right wingers, both of whom have good hands, skating with a hard-hitting center who has that Swedish finesse touch.
Unfortunately, that moves Ward down to the fourth-line as well as Halpern and Chimera.
Regardless of who matches up with whom, we can see that adding Sjogren into the lineup if he is NHL ready adds a very positive dynamic to the lineup and brings around a lot of possibilities.
Trading Jeff Schultz to Get Under the Salary Cap
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As I said in the opening slide, the Caps will sign Alzner and will need to get under the Cap. My estimate would be that Alzner would be worth about $2 million per year. However, Alzner said that there is a gap between views on Alzner's worth between Alzner's camp and the Caps front office.
Alzner and his agent stated that the gap is not large but that would make me guess that Alzner is asking for closer to the $2.5 million to $2.75 million range.
He could ask for $3 million—quite honestly, I would pay him that amount as he is definitely worth more than Tom Poti or Jeff Schultz—but if Alzner's value is baselined at $2 million, another $1 million is probably a little bit more than "a small gap."
If Alzner receives $2.5 million or more, the Caps would need to shed over $2 million in salary to get back under the cap.
Let's look at who could be traded.
Alexander Semin or Jeff Schultz.
What's that? You thought it would be a long list? I'm afraid not. These are the only two players that could realistically be traded for a few reasons.
As of a week ago, the list of players that might go was Semin, Green, Poti, Schultz or Fehr. Fehr was traded. That leaves Semin from the forwards or Green, Poti or Schultz from the backend.
Green won't be traded. The Caps brass seemed to imply that they inked UFA Roman Hamrlik to play with Mike Green. Plus, when one is made into a bobble-head for fans, one will most likely not be traded.
Also, have you seen the Caps vintage, Old-West style "Young Guns" poster? I think it's safe to say that the Caps front office sees Mike Green as a foundational part of their future. Green will not be leaving town, even with as much as some people may want his head.
Tom Poti is not a viable trade option. No team will want to trade for his $2.875 million per year contract when he may not even be able to continue playing hockey in the NHL. Either Poti returns to health and plays in DC, gets put on long-term IR or retires.
Jeff Schultz seems to be the likeliest candidate for a trade. Schultz is capable of being a top-four defender for another team but the Caps simply have too much top-four talent for Schultz to get the kind of playing time he needs to keep improving.
Schultzie is not All-Star material, but he can eat up a good amount of minutes, is very positionally sound and is one of the best and most underrated shot-blockers in the league. He blocked 138 shots last year, good for 39th in the league.
Those are decent numbers alone but consider that Schultz was barely even in the top-150 in TOI/G with an average of under 20 minutes per game.
Schultz is your typical stay-at-home defenseman. While he wasn't the partner the Green needed, he is a highly valuable player. He may not be a No. 1 or No. 2 guy but he is definitely top-four talent, and his prowess on the penalty kill is very valuable.
The one problem Schultz has is that he does not like to lay the body. However, it is said that defensemen take longer to develop and taller players take even longer. Schultz is a tall defenseman—all I have to say to all you Schultz-haters is give him time. Schultz shows more and more improvement every year.
He's also an incredibly smart person and his intelligence transfers to the rink for a great, intuitive hockey awareness.
I think it would be best for Schultz's career to be traded and study under a veteran defensive blue-liner.
He also carries a $2.75 million per year salary—if Alzner gets a contract in the same neighborhood, trading Schultz would keep the Caps under the $64.3 million salary cap. McPhee and the Caps would be uncomfortably close to the league cap but they would be under.
So, who could be a trade partner?
I did some research and none of the Caps' normal trading partners nor any of the teams in the bottom-ten of defensive statistic last year seem like good partners.
A lot of teams addressed their defensive corps fairly well already this offseason and the ones that haven't fixed up their blue-lines yet don't really have any players worth getting in return or any players they would likely be willing to give up.
The Calgary Flames did, however, strike me as possible trading partners. Their GA/G was 19th in the league at 2.80, their PK percentage ranked 21st at a weak 81.2 percent, and they were in the bottom-five in win percentage when being outshot whereas they were a good bit above .500 when outshooting their opponent.
These are all stats that could improve if a player like Jeff Schultz were to be added to the roster.
Who does Calgary have to give up? Calgary only has 13 forwards on the roster at the moment and two are on injure-reserve. So, maybe the Flames aren't willing to give anyone up at the moment, but they still have plenty of time to sign some free-agents as well as their prospect pool to recruit from.
Of interest are Tom Kostopoulos and Tim Jackman. Kostopoulos had eight goals and 18 points through 76 games last season. He also laid 122 hits and played an average of over 12:00 per game. In addition, Kostopoulos is a proven playoff performer.
He excelled in the OHL Playoffs prior to being drafted, was a monster in the Calder Cup Playoffs for the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins in 2004 and lit the lamp a few times in his few NHL postseason games.
He also only gets paid a little bit over $900,000 a year and only has one year remaining on his contract. He could be a pretty attractive trade item along with a third and fourth-round draft-pick.
Tim Jackman was good for 10 goals and 23 points and played in all 82 contests this past year while laying the body 133 times. He only played 9:49 a game but also played an average of 45 seconds on the PP a game. Jackman also has only one year left on his contract, worth only $550,000.
Both Kostopoulos and Jackman and righties and could be another option beside Jay Beagle to replace former Caps RW Matt Bradley, who will be playing for the Florida Capitals next year. Oops, that's the Florida Panthers.
Trading Alexander Semin to Get Under the Salary Cap
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Here's why trading Semin makes sense: he takes a lot of salary off the books, he would bring a high return and he is a finesse player on a team that is restructuring to play grittier hockey.
Here's why trading Semin would be a terrible idea: without Semin the Caps don't have two true scoring-lines and, although he would bring a lot of return, he probably wouldn't bring as much return as a 40-goal scorer is worth because of his reputation for disappearing in the postseason as well as for being fragile and inconsistent.
Let's be real, though. Most of these problems are misperceptions, not totally true or skewed. For those who want to criticize Semin for his supposed postseason disappearing act, I say go watch the highlights from the Caps' postseason this year.
Semin completely turned around his performance this year. He scored the overtime game-winner in Game 1 against the New York Rangers. How many people remember that it was also Semin that put the puck in the crease for Ovie to jab in the game-tying goal?
Semin looked absolutely phenomenal this postseason. Not only did he produce, but he was also going to the net—hard. One of Semin's biggest criticisms is that he is soft-nosed.
Semin consistently crashed the net this last postseason and proved to the world that a single postseason of weak play (in the 2010 Playoffs) does not determine a player's future playoff success.
The Russian phenom may be a more finesse-oriented player, but he is by far the most rawly talented player in the world, and he is actually willing to work on his game and improve.
As for Semin's streakiness and inconsistency, give him proper line-mates. I know it has been said countless times, but Semin has never had a true playmaking center to complement him and set him up.
He got to play with Matthieu Perreault a number of times during the 2010-2011 season. When Perreault, who is a very streaky performer himself, was playing well and producing, Semin was on fire. Semin also played with Marcus Johansson with minimal regularity.
MoJo is developing well but during this last season, he was not at a level of play capable of being a second-line center for a 40-goal scorer.
And let's face it—Brooks Laich isn't a playmaker.
What remains to be seen is whether or not other GMs will believe what the media has said about Semin or not.
There are lots of rumors going around about Caps trades and they revolve around Jeff Schultz and Alex Semin—primarily Alex Semin.
However, after Fehr was traded, I doubt that Semin is being shopped around. At this point, I would be legitimately surprised if Semin were to be traded.
Johansson may well be ready to be Semin's setup-man this next year and after Semin showed lots of growth in maturity during the last few months of the season and during the playoffs, I think the young Russian is worth keeping around.
At the beginning of this season, Semin was on a steady pace for 65 goals. I tracked his stats for weeks and his production rate stayed pretty steady around a projected 65-goal season. I knew it wasn't to be, but that's what this guy is capable of.
Let's just see how much damage he can do this year. If he steps his game up a wee-bit consistency-wise and takes a few—or a lot—less hooking penalties then I guarantee that he will be one of the most valued players in the NHL.
Semin could make a great trade option—teams such as Toronto and the Islanders are rumored to be interested but George McPhee is tight-lipped as ever—as he would be a great offensive force on any team he played for but I say he stays.
Jeff Schultz is the most likely candidate for a trade at this point.
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Finnish right-winger Antti Miettinen is one of the best players left on this year's unrestricted free-agency market.
He's a player that could come at a price but might be worth it. I don't really see this signing happening as the Caps are in need of depth, role-playing guys, not second or third-line scorers.
Still, if the Caps were to move a guy like Semin or move any other players and needed to fill a hole, Miettinen is the kind of guy that could fit into Washington's new roster very well.
Through 73 games during the 2010-2011 season, Miettinen posted 16 goals and 19 assists for 35 points. He had eight tallies on the man-advantage and recorded four game-winners but also laid 109 hits.
A guy who scores some power-play goals, a few game-winners and dishes out a fair amount of hits in normally the kind of guy you can count on to really lay it on the line when it matters.
Miettinen can also play in all situations as he is good for over one minute of short-handed ice-time and almost three minutes on the powerplay.
I don't see it happening, but say that Semin is traded, Miettinen would be a great signing to add grit without losing a horrendous amount of offensive production.
However, unless a big-name trade is made, don't expect Miettinen and his $2 million plus a year to come to the nation's capital.
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John Madden is a very real option for the Caps. There have already been some rumors here on Bleacher Report that John Madden could be headed to DC and would be a great fit.
Are they true? I don't know, but Madden is exactly the kind of player the Caps still need.
Madden is, more than anything else, a lockerroom leader and veteran to mentor younger players.
The Ontario native is 38 years old and already in the twilight of his career, but he could still be useful to a team for another year or two.
Last season he potted 12 biscuits and was a setup-man 13 times. He had one goal on each of the powerplay and the penalty-kill. He plays a lot of time short-handed (just under two-and-a-half minutes) but just 20 seconds a game on the extra-man unit.
As a defensive-player, Madden is a good shot-blocking forward and amassed more than handful of takeaways and shots blocked last year with 44 and 59, respectively.
What is really enticing about the left-handed center is that he has won three Stanley Cups. He won two with the New Jersey Devils and was on the Blackhawks Cup-winning team in 2010.
He put up a lot of points during the Devils 2003 Cup Run but has not posted a lot of numbers in postseasons since. Regardless, he is still a difference maker.
After being shipped out of Chicago to shed salary after winning the Cup, Madden played in Minnesota this last year, but they are not a contender and perhaps Madden is looking for a home in a city that is looking to take the Cup this year.
He comes cheap for what be brings to the table—$1 million or less. After making $1 million last year, he is probably due for less because of his age. Hopefully (for whatever team he ends up signing with) he's still got 10 goals a year in him.
One million dollars is a cheap price to pay for what John Madden brings to a team.
The Caps would find it well worth the while to invest in him.
Keep Your Eyes Peeled and Your Ears Opened
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Be sure to check in as often as you can for more news and opinions on the Caps as things keep developing this off-season.
McPhee is sure to have a few more critical decisions in his agenda book so don't blink.
Things should be calm this week as the Caps' Development Camp will be going on all week and the Caps brass will be focusing their energy on observing all the prospects this week. No moves will likely be made until George McPhee and the rest of the front office can determine where some of the younger players will be this next year.
I'll be at Development Camp all week taking notes so be sure to look for my articles previewing what I see out there!
Leave comments with what you think of the line-combinations, any other possible moves you think McPhee might make, any possible trade partners the Caps have and anything else you wish to say.