Photo: Patrick Smith
News broke Monday afternoon that the Caps would not extend a qualifying offer to checking-line forward Michael Latta. The Caps had two options, submit a qualifying offer to Latta for $632,000 or let him become an unrestricted free agent come July 1st. The Caps chose the latter, while retaining the rights to RFAs Marcus Johansson, Dmitry Orlov, and Tom Wilson.
For many fans, the move to non-tender came out of nowhere. A few seasons ago, the Caps gave up a top prospect to acquire both Latta and Martin Erat. Latta remains an inexpensive player and his underlying play suggests he could bring value as an everyday player. On top of that, Brian MacLellan had indicated the Caps planned to qualify Lats, even after the Lars Eller trade Friday night.
Two days later, Latta was let loose and saying his goodbyes. Ian and Pat discuss the decision below.
Ian Oland: Pat, on Twitter, you said that this move didn’t surprise you. Why?
Pat Holden: For a few reasons. First, the Caps made it pretty clear last season when they brought in guys like Mike Richards and Daniel Winnik to play on the fourth line that they didn’t have a lot of confidence in Latta. Second, Winnik and Jay Beagle will have two of the spots on the fourth line next season. That doesn’t even account for Tom Wilson, Stan Galiev, or any free agent they may bring in. And then there’s the fact that Latta wasn’t waiver exempt. If they brought him back as an extra forward, that limits roster flexibility. If the team wanted to carry 13 forwards instead of 14 for a length of time in order to save cap space, that’s harder to do with Latta on the roster. It’d also be harder to bring up an AHL player like Chandler Stephenson or Riley Barber for a spell. Latta was a guy without a defined role, who is replaceable, and would have blocked roster flexibility due to having to clear waivers.
Ian Oland: What do you think this means in terms of the Caps’ next moves? Could they be bringing back Jason Chimera? Is Marcus Johansson asking more than they can pay? Are they interested in bringing in another potential UFA?
Pat Holden: I still think they will bring in a cheap UFA for the third line, but who knows for sure. The bottom line is this gives them more financial flexibility to do what they see fit and adjust as things evolve over the summer.
Ian Oland: In a roundabout way, wouldn’t it have made more sense to let Jay Beagle leave last year during unrestricted free agency? Aren’t they comparable players? Doesn’t Latta bring more value?
Pat Holden: If you’re asking do I think the better value is Beagle at $1.75 million or Latta at ~$650,000, I’d take Latta. But, Beagle is a guy the Caps like a lot and are committed to. So, if Beagle is their guy for that role, it made sense to let Latta walk, even if some blogger from RMNB thinks Latta was a better value. But, it’s not a big deal to me. I’m fine with Beagle and his contract.
Ian Oland: Do you think the Lars Eller trade impacted the team’s decision making here?
Pat Holden: The $3.5 million cap hit that Eller comes with may have made the team feel the pinch a bit, but this was the right decision regardless. There was no reason to use cap space on a guy that the team didn’t have confidence in and is replaceable.
Ian Oland: Does this mean Chandler Stephenson jumps up the depth chart as the 14th guy? The Caps have given him a long look in training camp in the past.
Pat Holden: Stephenson’s chances of getting games in a Caps sweater next season definitely just went up. But, like I said above, maybe they’ll want to carry 13 forwards. Or maybe there are other guys they’ve identified. But, as it stands now, with a lot yet to be determined, we’re more likely to see Stephenson in DC next season than we were 24 hours ago.
Ian Oland: I’m worried a lot of our readers are going to actually jump off bridges.
Did the Capitals win the Filip Forsberg trade?
— Ian Oland (@ianoland) June 27, 2016
Pat Holden: The majority of respondents have no chill when it comes to the Caps 14th forward.