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With free agency beginning Sunday in the NHL, the Washington Capitals will look to address some needs to help the team once again attempt to challenge for their first Stanley Cup championship. As such, below are some players who George McPhee should (and perhaps could) sign starting next week to help his team make that run.
NEED: Top-six forward
Option 1: Alexander Semin – Yeah, that guy. Previous to this, I had been skeptical about re-signing Semin because of the money that I thought the second line center would get (provided he was traded to the Capitals). I thought that it would cost too much money to bring him back, and that would put the Capitals in an even greater salary bind. But with Mike Ribeiro signed to only a $5 million cap hit next season, there is more money for Semin. I wouldn’t go off the reservation, but Semin is good enough and valuable enough to bring back at the right price – about $5.8-6 million per season. In addition, with Ribeiro on board to play more with Alex Ovechkin, Semin could get to play with Nicklas Backstrom – and that would be cool to watch and help optimize a player that has not played with a prime center since Sergei Fedorov.
Option 2: Jiri Hudler – Having spent his entire NHL career with the Detroit Red Wings, Hudler is a small, shifty, and versatile forward. Hudler had 25 goals and 25 assists playing for Detroit last season on a line with Valtteri Filppula, and could produce more with Backstrom. Hudler is also a very good possessor of the puck against slightly above average minutes – which could help the Capitals change around their disastrous puck possession numbers. Most appealing is that he probably won’t require much of a raise from the $2.75 million he made last year and at age 28, a rapid decline is likely not imminent.
Option 3: Shane Doan – Because of his high stature within the Phoenix organization, I doubt that the Coyotes let him walk, but he could be a good fit in Washington. Now 35, Doan is a veteran leader who plays hard and on the edge. He had 22 goals and 50 points last year and is also a solid possessor of the puck on the wing. With a cap hit of $4.55 million during his last contract, a large raise for the 35 year old would not seem to be necessary.
Other choices: Ray Whitney, Mikael Samuelsson. (NB: While Zach Parise is obviously the best forward available and would be tremendous in DC, there is very little chance the Capitals sign him, hence his absence from this list).
No thanks: P.A. Parenteau (likely overpriced and needed John Tavares to get good), Andrei Kostitsyn, Ryan Smyth, Jaromir Jagr.
NEED: Top-four defenseman
Option 1: Matt Carle – With Luke Schenn being traded to Philadelphia, it seems as though the Flyers will have to pass on signing Carle, who has the last four seasons of his career with the Flyers. This puck-moving defenseman had four goals and 38 points last season as well as solid puck possession numbers at a cap hit of $3.4 million. As one of only three really above average rearguards available by free agency this year, he may cost a lot more than that, but at the right price, he would be valuable.
Option 2: Sami Salo – Salo probably isn’t a “top four” defenseman in full at this stage of his career, but he still possesses a fearsome shot that can help any team’s power play. Posting nine goals and 25 points this past season for the Canucks, Salo is near the end of the line but could provide some value to the Capitals as he only made $2 million last year and also possesses the puck rather well. I don’t think Carle will be very easy to sign, so Salo may be the most likely option should McPhee decided to improve on the back end.
Other choices: Justin Schultz, Sheldon Souray. (NB: like Parise, Ryan Suter is clearly the best defenseman available and would be tremendous in DC. However, there is very little chance he signs in DC, hence his absence from this list.)
No thanks: Dennis Wideman, Jason Garrison.
Note: Though I do think the Capitals need to upgrade on D, I find it unlikely unless they trade one of the seven defensemen other than Tom Poti they currently have under contract. Otherwise, the numbers simply don’t work.
NEED: Fourth-line center/utilityman
Option 1: Jordin Tootoo – Tootoo is a lifetime Nashville Predator, but will go to free agency with the intention of testing the market. He’s not a center, so he would not fill that void, but he is a tough and smart player who has been around the block and even scored 30 points this year. He can’t possess the puck very well, but he does play slightly harder than average minutes and is also a bit of a fighter. He would cost more than Konopka to add, probably around $1.3-$1.5 million, but he’s also a better player.
Option 2: Zenon Konopka – With the departure of Jeff Halpern, the Capitals do not have a proven faceoff man on their roster unless you count Jay Beagle, who is a good player for his role but has not yet proven he can do it for a full season yet. As such, bringing in Konopka, who won almost 59% of his draws last season, would give the Capitals that as well as a little bit of toughness they do not have. It may also take some of the pressure off Matt Hendricks to fight all the time, which seems to be wearing down the Minnesota man. With a contract of $700,000 last year, he would not cost much at all to sign.
Other choices: Brandon Prust, Paul Gaustad, Dominic Moore, Travis Moen.
No thanks: Keith Aucoin.
Harry Hawkings is a college student credentialed to cover the Capitals for RtR. Follow him on Twitter here.