Christian Ehrhoff’s buyout makes him the best defenseman available. (Photo: Greg Fiume/Getty Images)
The Caps didn’t acquire any NHL players at the draft, so they now look to fill empty roster spots in free agency, which begins at noon.
The team’s primary need is a top-four defenseman who can play with Karl Alzner, Mike Green, and John Carlson. Dmitry Orlov did an okay job at that role last season, but the Caps may want to see a more seasoned player there, especially if playing away from Mike Green might mean Orlov could better utilize his offensive tools.
Here’s my take on four options for defense on the open market.
Ehrhoff is a two-way defenseman who carried a cap hit of $4 million on his front-loaded, long-term contract with Buffalo. The Sabres reportedly shopped Ehrhoff around, but in the end they decided that no trade offer for the German blueliner could justify taking on the salary recapture penalty that would follow his retirement.
Projection: Seven years, $6 million AAV to a team that is all-in for next season.
The 27-year-old defenseman’s price tag jumped after the Rangers’ conference-winning playoff run. Stralman has been a bargain for the New York, earning an average of $1.7 million during the term of his previous contract. After taking a top-four spot playing next to Marc Staal, he looks for a big raise this summer.
Projection: Six years, $4 million AAV to a team with a lot of size already on the blue line.
Niskanen is coming off a breakout year with the Penguins in which he made the most out of long-term injuries to Paul Martin and Kris Letang. Niskanen led all Pens defensemen who played more than half of the games in powerplay ice time. While in Pittsburgh, Niskanen worked under powerplay and defense coach Todd Reirden, who has since joined the Caps following Pittsburgh’s house-cleaning.
Projection: Six years, $5 million AAV to a team that may regret it, and soon.
After struggling and eventually getting bought out by the Wild a year ago, Gilbert quietly had a bounce-back season in Florida, where he signed after attending their training camp as a free agent. Now, Gilbert is ready for a contract much more hefty than the $900k he made in 2013-14– and probably from a better team.
Projection: Three years, $3 million AAV to a team desperate after missing out on Ehrhoff.
There are no perfect solutions at free agency. Teams try their best to retain their top players, and all reasonably-priced candidates have significant downside to go along with the positives.
And there are more than a few teams looking for help in their top four, thus driving up prices for the top free agents. While the Caps are likely to be aggressive, they may still lose out to the GMs who will be overly aggressive.
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