The Poti Pickle

For Capitals defenseman Tom Poti, this past year was a lost campaign.  Poti made $3.5 million last season, a reasonable salary for a veteran of his experience, but he was limited to 21 games last season.  The culprit was a groin injury he suffered in mid-October, just 3 weeks after he signed a 2-year contract extension worth $5.75 million.  He was able to come back in mid-November, but re-injured the muscle late in December against the Penguins.  Poti didn’t play in a game after January 12th, despite skating at Kettler Capitals Iceplex regularly from February onwards and even practicing as the spring began.

Despite this apparent progress, it is clear that Poti is nowhere near ready to compete for the Caps in an actual game.  Earlier this summer, George McPhee said that Poti’s condition is “no better than it was six months ago,” and that while he would like to have him back this upcoming season, he is “not counting on him,” according to NHL.com’s Corey Masisak.  That being said, for the upcoming season, Washington has a big decision on their hands with deciding what to do with him.

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Poti will make $3 million this coming season, which, when combined with his $2.75 million salary in 2012-13, sets his salary cap hit at a substantial $2.875 million. That makes him, as of now, Washington’s fourth highest-paid defenseman, behind Mike Green, Dennis Wideman, and Roman Hamrlik.  But Poti is currently seventh or eighth on the depth chart because of injury.  With that large amount of money devoted to Poti on the cap, the Caps are in a bit of a money bind: they are over the salary cap by $890,128.  If Poti’s money comes off the books, however, the Caps have a little less than $2 million in cap space to play with throughout the season, which is exactly what you want:  wiggle room.

To some, the answer may be fairly obvious: trade the guy.  Poti has been reliable when he was able to play, and, in theory, started last season as the number two defenseman behind only Mike Green.  If he were healthy, he could prove to be a valuable trade asset, particularly because he has been around the block and has been a leader in the past; he was an alternate captain on opening night.  But as I said before, that groin injury is bad, and especially after the fiasco in Los Angeles and Edmonton earlier this summer, very few NHL teams would be willing to take on a player like Poti even if they need to get to the cap floor.

Another potential option would be to ask Poti to retire, and for him to sort of disappear into the sunset while getting the Caps off the hook for his salary.  But this option crosses moral boundaries, and would essentially ask Poti to leave almost six million on the table and be a god soldier to take one for the team.  Now Tom Poti is a nice guy, but there seems to be no way that he would do this unless he was basically forced by George McPhee, through an agreement or otherwise, to call it quits.

The third and final option would constitute placing Poti on long-term injured reserve.  This course of action would see Poti still actually paid his salary, but it would not count against the salary cap.  Problem solved, right?  Well, not really. The thing about being on LTIR is that, well, a guy has to be injured.  If Poti were able to recover from his injury mid-season, Washington would want him on the ice, because he’s a good player.  I, for one, would much rather see Poti and Dennis Wideman play together than him and Jeff Schultz.  But an actvation would be impossible because of cap contstraints.  And if DC chose not to activate him if he recovered, Poti could file a grievance with the NHLPA, and that’s certainly not a desirable situation.

So what to do?  I think that Poti will eventually be placed on LTIR, but I also think that George McPhee will wait as long as possible before he does it, because he likes Poti as a player.  It’s certainly an interesting (and critical) situation to watch as the season draws closer.

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