Would the Capitals Claim Ales Kotalik?

TSN’s Bob McKenzie reported yesterday that Calgary Flames RW Ales Kotalik has been placed on re-entry waivers after spending almost a month in the AHL.  Kotalík has an annual salary cap hit of $3 million through next season, but the Calgary Flames would eat half of that if he were claimed by another NHL team, meaning he would only have a cap hit of $1.5 million.  While folks in Calgary may be scratching their heads over this move, the only question in Washington on the topic is if Capitals’ General Manager George McPhee would claim him.

Courtesy NHL.com

Flames #26 Aleš Kotalík

Find out why the Caps might claim him.

The Player:  Aleš Kotalík
Position:  Right Winger
Shoots: Right
Height:  6′ 1
Weight: 225
Born: 12/23/78 (Age 32), Jindřichův Hradec, Czech Republic
Drafted:  6th Round, 164th Overall, 1998 NHL Entry Draft by the Buffalo Sabres

To be sure, the Caps would be taking a chance on him.  Kotalík’s offense has dried up since the beginning of last season.  This season, Kotalik has posted 3 goals (2 game-winners) and 0 assists in 20 games with Calgary and 0 goals and 6 assists in 9 games with the Abbotsford Heat of the AHL (captained by former Capital Quintin Laing).  He has also said some things to the media that not everyone took the way he meant them. 

Clearly, Kotalík is an excellent hockey player when put in the right situations.  He’s a big man with good hands.  He has four 20-goal seasons on his résumé and he’s not afraid to shoot the puck.  Kotalík is a powerplay specialist, as 40% of his 281 career points have come with the extra man, and he’s capable of playing the point, something the Caps’ pedestrian powerplay unit might need if they are without Mike Green for extended periods.  He could be that replacement for Viktor Kozlov and Mike Knuble on the top line alongside Backstrom and Ovechkin if things work out well, too. 

Kotalík is a shootout dandy, he’s 22-for-44 in his career for a nice, even 50%.  He could greatly boost the Caps in this area, as they have not fared well in the extra session this year. 

While some may question Kotalík’s physical nature, the numbers speak differently.  Since the lockout, Kotalík has laid out 576 hits in 393 games and has been among the top-3 forwards on his team every season.  He laid out a career high 139 hits in 2007-08 and led Flames forwards with 117 hits in 2009-10. 

Kotalík won’t come to DC for his defense, as he averages about 4 seconds of penalty killing time per game and has never had a positive +/- rating for a season.  He doesn’t stand out in terms of shot-blocking, and he averages more giveaways than takeaways.  He is versatile, though.  While he’s a natural right winger, he can also play on the left side, and he’s a 44.3% faceoff man since the lockout.

Kotalík’s true value may lie in his playoff experience.  He went to the Eastern Conference Final with the Buffalo Sabres twice, posting 3 game-winning goals in 2006.  He won the Olympic Bronze Medal in Torino over Team Russia that year, too. 

Whether or not the Capitals claim Kotalík will depend greatly on McPhee’s take on Kotalík’s attitude and durability.  He’s missed 26 games this season with a knee injury and has missed big chunks of seasons past with other ailments.  As for the attitude, Kotalík isn’t happy in Northwest Canada, and a lot of players have problems with Rangers coach John Tortorella.  He could very likely be energized by a change of scenery to a contending team.  With a $1.5 million cap hit, he would fit into the Caps salary structure.  However, if the experiment fails, he has another year on his contract the Caps would have to deal with. 

There is certainly precedent for McPhee to pick players up off waivers, something he did many times in the pre-salary cap era.  He also picked up Staffan Kronwall on re-entry waivers in 2009 because it was a good deal and he got depth for cheap.  While McPhee has also taken chances on players with personality issues in the past, he seems less keen to do so these days.  McPhee has acquired Esa Tikkanen, Jeff Brown, Joe Murphy, Joe Corvo, and Sergei Berezin in years past for their ability on the ice, but he didn’t retain any of them for very long.  Kotalík may well fall into this category.  Still, a 20-goal scorer with his size, skills, and experience for just $1.5 million may be too difficult to pass up right now.  This situation bears watching.

Kotalík’s Career NHL Stats

2001-02 Buffalo 13 1 3 4 -1 2 0 0 0 0
2002-03 Buffalo 68 21 14 35 -2 30 4 3 7 2
2003-04 Buffalo 62 15 11 26 -1 41 2 1 3 3
2005-06 Buffalo 82 25 37 62 -3 62 10 18 28 5
2006-07 Buffalo 66 16 22 38 -5 46 3 8 11 4
2007-08 Buffalo 79 23 20 43 -5 58 12 12 24 1
2008-09 Buffalo / Edmonton 75 20 23 43 -5 34 9 12 21 1
2009-10 NY Rangers / Calgary 71 11 16 27 -17 67 5 12 17 4
2010-11 Calgary 20 3 0 3 -8 6 1 0 1 2
Career Totals 536 135 146 281 -47 346 46 66 112 22

Kotalík’s Career Playoff Stats

2005-06 Buffalo 18 4 7 11 +4 8 0 5 5 3
2006-07 Buffalo 16 2 2 4 -3 8 0 0 0 0
Career Totals 34 6 11 17 +1 16 0 0 5 3