2010 NHL Offseason Free Agency Preview: Washington Capitals

Mark Jones@@CanesReportSenior Analyst IMay 24, 2010

WASHINGTON - JANUARY 15:  Shaone Morrisonn #26 of the Washington Capitals skates down the ice against the Toronto Maple Leafs at the Verizon Center on January 15, 2010 in Washington, DC.  (Photo by Greg Fiume/Getty Images)
Greg Fiume/Getty Images

With just a few weeks left in the 2010 NHL playoffs and 26 teams already looking towards the 2010 summer offseason and free agency market, the buzz for much of the league has been reduced to mostly rumors.

But that doesn't mean the contract discussions aren't heating up around the league, and the "needs and wants" lists aren't already being compiled. With a large number of UFA's and RFA's coming to the last few months of their contracts with teams around the league, the July free agency market may not be crowded with superstars, but it is most definitely crowded with solid players.

In the Eastern Conference's Southeast Division, which only fielded one playoff team, Washington, who was shockingly eliminated in Round 1 by an upstart Montreal squad, the talks have been looking towards mid-summer for quite a while now.

While there aren't any major stars on the verge of a massive free-for-all free agency battle, it would still be quite an understatement to say the Southeast Division's five teams don't have much to deal with over the next four months.

The Atlanta Thrashers, Carolina Hurricanes, Florida Panthers, Tampa Bay Lightning and Washington Capitals, the five teams in the division, are prepared to deal with a whopping combined 45 unrestricted free agents (UFAs) and 33 restricted free agents (RFAs) this summer from their NHL and AHL squads. Those numbers are certainly enough to raise a few eyebrows...and get a couple general managers racking up the cell phone minutes.

So, as we inch closer to July and into contract discussions of teams eliminated from the playoffs, it's time to take a look at who's worthy of staying, which positions need help, and who's available to fit their liking for each of the five Southeastern Division teams.

Today, we'll examine the Washington Capitals position as they come off a Presidents' Trophy-winning 2009-'10 campaign. However, with their early first round exit, their regular season success doesn't appear to have done much to settle down the controversy in the nation's capital. Who will leave, and who might replace them? That's going to be a tough question to answer.

May 23 Edition: Washington Capitals Offseason Preview

2010 Season: 121 points (first in Southeast Division, first in Eastern Conference)

Notable UFAs: D Shaone Morrisonn (age 26), D Joe Corvo (33), G Jose Theodore (32), C Eric Belanger (31), C Brendan Morrison (33), C Boyd Gordon

Notable RFAs: D Jeff Shultz (23), RW Eric Fehr (23), C Tomas Fleishmann (25)

Just by glancing over the Capitals' UFA and RFA lists, it's pretty obvious that the Capitals are going to have to make some decisions on the blue line, and we might see a fairly new group of defenseman starting next autumn. But there's one name that may not show up on the "expiring contracts list", but is most definitely the biggest name on the market for Washington: Alexander Semin.

With top-grouping linemates Alexander Ovechkin and Niclas Backstrom both now locked into mega-contracts paying them $6 and $9 million per season through 2020 and 2021, respectively, if the Capitals are going to make a major change this offseason, Semin seems to be the one to go.

And a major move it would be. Semin, who has 163 points in just 135 games over the past two seasons combined, is scheduled to be paid an impressive $6 million in 2010-2011, the final season of a three-year contract. However, with the Capitals scratching their heads over why their star-studded NHL squad isn't winning championships, it looks like he just might have to go.

But, this move isn't quite as simple as it looks. First, the Capitals need to decide if he's going to be a package deal, be traded by himself, where is his plane ticket headed, and who they can get in exchange.

The best bet would a place like Boston, Buffalo, New Jersey, or Calgary - a team that made, or was in contention for, the playoffs over the past couple seasons, but hasn't quite gotten enough jump to go all the way.

And what a jump Semin can provide. But, in exchange, the Capitals could also get help where they need it. From Boston, either Tim Thomas or Tuukka Rask could likely be acquired in exchange, along with some other players/picks, and would provide a massive boost to Washington's unpredictable netminding unit. From the Sabres, Devils, or Flames, the loot would likely be defensive strength and grit.

All three would be able to deliver greatly in that regard. Calgary's Jay Bouwmeester or Ian White, along with perhaps backup goaltender Vesa Toskala, could make for an interesting deal, or maybe a package deal from the Sabres or Devils.

Anyhow, no matter who is brought in, it's certain for the moment that the Capitals badly need help on the back end.

Even with 24-year-old Mike Green, who's contract doesn't expire until two more seasons from now, topping every list imaginable of scoring defenseman, the Capitals are still having issues at defense. However, that may be more fathomable than most would originally believe: Green may have led all NHL defensemen in points two consecutive seasons, but he's no superstar at actually playing defense, and even if he was, one guy doesn't make a team.

Defenseman Joe Corvo was brought in at the trade deadline from Carolina to try to sure up this group, and many at the time considered it a good attempt to do so. However, although Corvo had settled in well with the Hurricanes since his arrival from Ottawa in early 2008, he struggled mightily with the Caps', earning just eight points and a miserable minus-6 rating in 25 games (regular season and playoffs combined).

Corvo's struggles have ended up contributing more to a Capitals defense comprised of five major players...none of whom appear to be safe. With Green perhaps as the only one with only a small chance of being deported, UFAs Corvo and Shaone Morrisonn (pictured), RFA Jeff Shultz, and overpaid, over-the-hill Tom Poti ($3.5 million this season for a measly four goals and 20 assists) all might not be in the U.S. capital next year.

With around $42.5 million already distributed in salary for next year to players still under contract (although that includes the $8.5 million comprised of Green and Poti alone), it appears $14 million is all that is left to be spent on new contracts for all positions. That makes soon-to-be 33-year-old Corvo's $2.75 million per season contract look too big to keep.

Although the departure of Corvo will make it seem as if the Caps' gave Brian Pothier, a second round pick, and prospect Oskar Osala away to the 'Canes for a handful of extra change, it's important to remember that similarly aged, similarly priced D-man Brian Pothier would have suffered the same fate had he stayed.

But, after a long break, back to the complex issue of where, when and if Alex Semin is going to be on the Capitals side of a blockbuster trade this summer. Say if the Capitals resign Morrisonn (although his near-$2 million contract is also a little high), Jurcina, and Shultz, that leaves them with those three, Green, Poti (maybe), John Carlson, Tyler Sloane and John Erskine...

You might be able to say that's a group that could use some help, that is if the Capitals are looking to win a Stanley Cup with it, as depth isn't always everything.

Thankfully, if the Capitals could tack on Semin and Poti to a trade offer, they would not only free up nearly $10 million in salary cap space, but could get a big boatload of talent from just about every single NHL team. A boatload of talent that would probably include more than enough top-end talent to turn the Capitals defense into a unit as good as their offense.

Even if a trade isn't going to give the Caps' what they want, the free agent market is also worth a try, as players like Atlanta's Pavel Kubina, New Jersey's Paul Martin or Buffalo's Henrik Tallinder.

Almost as in another world, however, there are also another couple holes for Washington to fill this offseason, although the reasoning may not be quite as complicated.

Behind Backstrom at center, all three of the Capitals other middlemen are UFA's this offseason, although none of whom are going to be in particularly high demand. Eric Belanger, Boyd Gordon and Brendan Morrison may combine for only $4 million in salary per year, but there does seem to be a logjam here.

Several teams may be interested in Belanger's low-key status, and Brendon Morrison might've been too inconsistent to consider resigning, so the Capitals might be left with two empty slots unless uncertain Michael Nylander returns from Europe.

Fortunately, there is, for now, an excess of free agent centers to sort through. UFAs Matthew Lombardi, Kyle Wellwood, Dominic Moore or RFAs Joe Pavelski or Bryan Little all seem to, at first glance, be smart, worthwhile candidates.

Finally, with Jose Theodore's pricy $4.5 million contract almost expired, it may be a chance for Washington to deal with their sometimes great, sometimes not goaltending unit. Whether by trade or FA signing, the Capitals badly need a solid, day in and day out netminder to duel with 21-year-old developing goalie Semyon Varlamov. Just good luck to George McPhee on finding a UFA goalie that isn't injury prone (just check the lists)!

All in all, to sum it up, the Capitals are still fairly solid, but an inactive summer isn't going to cut it. There may not be a large quantity of moves for Washington, but the ones they do make are probably going to be major ones, and actually need to be major ones.

Then again, they've got a weapon that'll pull in the prospects, veterans or anything else they ask for by the dozens.

He's called Alexander Semin.

Check out other Southeastern Division team offseason previews (editors, please don't remove links)!

Atlanta: http://bleacherreport.com/articles/395422-2010-nhl-offseason-free-agency-preview-atlanta-thrashers

Carolina: Part One , Part Two

Florida: Coming Soon

Tampa Bay: Coming Soon

All contract information courtesy of nhlnumbers.com, all statistics courtesy of nhl.com.


Mark Jones is currently Bleacher Report's featured columnist and community leader for the Carolina Hurricanes as well as an avid hockey follower around the NHL. In his 20 months so far with the site, he has written over 195 articles and received over 135,000 total reads.

Visit his profile to read more.