Photo: Chris Gordon
We’re 31 days out from the NHL trade deadline on Monday, March 2, 2015, which is also Method Man’s birthday.
This Washington team is pretty good, and they’re likely to secure a playoff spot, but they could always be better. Their defense corps is solid for the first time in decades, but they’re one injury away from disaster. And the high price tag on that defense has left the forward lines a bit shallow.
With just $2.5 million of cap space (according to NHL numbers), the Capitals don’t have a lot of room with which to get better. That might cause Brian MacLellan, heading into his first trade deadline as general manager, to make some deals. With seven Capitals heading into unrestricted free agency this summer and another eight looking to negotiate new deals as restricted free agents, there’s a lot of potential moves that could be made.
With all that in mind, I’ve asked Ian and Pat to join me in playing thumbs-up/thumbs-down on every Caps free agent.
But first, here are all the Caps’ roster players whose contract status is up at the end of the season, sorted by status and salary.
|Mike Green (D)||$6.1 MM||UFA|
|Joel Ward (F)||$3.0 MM||UFA|
|John Erskine (D)||$2.0 MM||UFA|
|Eric Fehr (F)||$1.5 MM||UFA|
|Jay Beagle (F)||$0.9 MM||UFA|
|Jack Hillen (D)||$0.7 MM||UFA|
|Aaron Volpatti (F)||$0.6 MM||UFA|
|Marcus Johansson (F)||$2 MM||RFA|
|Braden Holtby (G)||$2 MM||RFA|
|Evgeny Kuznetsov (F)||$2 MM||RFA|
|Chris Brown (F)||$2 MM||RFA|
|Nate Schmidt (F)||$2 MM||RFA|
|Patrick Wey (D)||$2 MM||RFA|
|Cam Schilling (D)||$2 MM||RFA|
|Philipp Grubauer (G)||$2 MM||RFA|
Now we dance. The three of us will discuss each player, ultimately offering a yea or a nay to the idea resigning– sorry, re-signing— each. Please share your thoughts below.
Mike Green is one of the best defenders in the league in the NHL, but his current usage on the Capitals is not tenable. The team will be indisputably worse without him, so the Caps should pursue a multi-year deal. With a promotion in ice time and a pay cut (justified his injury history), it could make sense. I hope, naively.
When the Capitals agreed to give approximately $12 million per season to Matt Niskanen and Brooks Orpik over the summer, I believed it was a signal that the team was ready to move on from Mike Green. And if you look at Green’s usage by Barry Trotz this season, there’s nothing that dispels that notion. The Caps have the highest paid defensive corps in the league. The Caps have Nate Schmidt, Dmitry Orlov, Connor Carrick, Patrick Wey, and Madison Bowey all in the pipeline. Regardless of this context, the Caps have to bring Mike Green back. He’s arguably been the team’s best defensemen. If he’s willing to take a slight pay cut from him $6.25 salary, I believe the Caps can still get a ton of value from No.52 over a multi-year deal. You can always trade those other assets later if they’re blocked.
Mike Green’s 1.6 points per 60 minutes of 5v5 ice time is best among all NHL D who have skated 500+ minutes this season. He improves the Caps’ share of shot attempts by 3.0 percent when he’s on the ice. None of the Caps’ other top 5 D are above 0.1 percent. He makes this team a lot better, but no signing exists in a vacuum, and the team has limited cap space and numerous free agents. I really (times infinity) hope they keep him, but the money Brian MacLellan spent last offseason may prevent the team from being able to afford Green. Sigh.
I love Ward, but his on-ice play and his spot in the lineup– a bottom-six regular– have rarely justified his paycheck. A similar player could be paid a million less, freeing up some cash for some better top-end forward talent. Are there any deadline teams who might want him?
With a glut of young forwards desperately needing ice time to grow, letting guys like Ward walk is important for the future. It doesn’t mean he won’t be missed dearly. Ward is a wonderful guy in the locker room and he maximized his talent in his four years in DC, setting career highs in goals. I will always remember him scoring in Game 7 against the Bruins.
Given his skill set, age, and salary, there’s no need to bring back Ward. He does a lot of things that endears him to teammates, coaches, and fans, and rightfully so. He hustles, he sacrifices his body, he goes to the dirty areas of the ice. But he’s expendable. The Caps’ can get more bang for their buck for a bottom-6 forward somewhere else.
Erskine’s contract came during George McPhee’s mystifying Spruce Goose period and it never made sense to me. Erskine’s unfortunate run of injuries (he reportedly played through one during all of 2013-14) makes it even worse. I fear Erskine may be done in the NHL, regardless of the team’s intentions.
Brian MacLellan tried to trade Erskine over the offseason to add Biznasty so there’s no doubt the relationship is over. Goodbye, Ersk. Your fight in the 2011 Winter Classic was epic.
With the team’s depth on D, Erskine’s recent run of injuries, and his age, there’s no need to even consider re-signing him. I have a soft spot for the style of game he plays, but that doesn’t mean it’s particularly effective. I hope he gets another chance somewhere else, using some other team’s cap space.
You could give Fehr a one million dollar raise in AAV on a five-year contract and it’d be worth it in my estimation. He can play anywhere in the lineup, but he’d make a great second-line winger on a $2.0 MM salary until he’s 34. Pay the man!
Fehr is the type of depth (or first line) forward the Caps need. Re-sign. Re-sign. Re-sign.
If you’re a regular reader of the site, you’re probably well aware that we’re fond of Fehr,. Whether as a 3C or a top-6 winger (probably both), the Caps should definitely bring him back. He’s making $1.6m and having a career year this season. But, as long as they can sign him for $3m or less, Brian MacLellan should make re-signing Fehr a priority.
Guys like Beagle are a litmus test for GMs. He’s a replacement-level player on an okay fourth-line contract, but he’s beloved– justifiably– for his work ethic and attitude. He’s a great guy, but there are hundreds of other great guys available who won’t eat up a million dollars of cap space per year.
I think Beagle is deserving of a slight raise, but even that is hairy. Depth forwards like Matt Hendricks, as heartless as it is to say, are a dime a dozen. Beagle does not have sterling possession numbers, but he is versatile. He can penalty kill. He can play wing or center. He’s even helped Evgeny Kuznetsov and Andre Burakovsky in their development at center, practicing face-offs with them long after practice. The price and years have to be right though.
Peter is spot on about Beagle being a litmus test, of sorts. Every team needs players willing to do the job Beagle does. But the smart ones don’t give them a ton of money. He’s loveable but replaceable. Think Matt Hendricks, Boyd Gordon, Dave Steckel and so on. Unless he wants to come back for a very similar price, the Caps should let Beagle walk.
Given how much young talent the Caps have in the pipeline, poor Jack shouldn’t be on the Caps roster next season– unless those young guys are too banged up to play.
If the Caps let Mike Green walk, I would consider re-signing Hillen. While the Caps have a lot of depth in the minors, Hillen could be a great, inexpensive bridge to the future. Especially with Dmitry Orlov’s injury issues.
Given the Caps depth at D in the system, there’s no scenario in which I can imagine Hillen being worth using cap space on… Ok, here’s one scenario where I’d be okay with re-signing him: Green signs elsewhere, Orlov’s wrist is still a concern as the team enters training camp, and Hillen is willing to come back on a one year deal for the same salary. I don’t mean that as a knock on him; the team just doesn’t have the need.
I don’t know if Aaron Volpatti is up to NHL hockey. I don’t think his 58 games under Adam Oates tell us anything useful. I doubt we’ll see Volpatti play this season even though he’s reportedly ready to, but at league minimum and not counting against the Cap, he’s not hurting much right now. Lowest of low priorities, but I wouldn’t be against it.
Volpatti once went out of his way to introduce himself to me at Caps Fan Fest. He ranks in the top five of the nicest guys I’ve ever met while covering the sport. With that said, I am a big fat no on bringing him back because he cannot play hockey good and oh my god why did we sign him to an extension two years ago.
Why would the Caps even considering spending money on Volpatti when they have guys already under contract, such as Liam O’Brien, who can play the same role and likely be more effective?
Next week: The restricted free agents.
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