Southeast Division Free Agency: Florida Panthers

The Florida Panthers are a little similar to the Carolina Hurricanes in the sense that they are under the cap floor and might depend on the young talent within their organization for next year. They are different because the Panthers have not been a good team in nearly ten years and it doesn’t look like they will push for a playoff spot at all the next few seasons. New coach, possibly losing one of the best goalies in the league and having a GM who keeps making bad signings and trades doesn’t bode well for an organization.

What Have They Done So Far?

Fired head coach Peter DeBoer and hired Kevin Dineen – I think DeBoer is a good coach and he did well with getting the most out of these awful Florida teams, especially in 2008-09. However, ti was clear that GM Dale Tallon wanted to go in another direction and bring in  someone new for the coaching position. Dineen did well in the AHL as the coach of the Portland Pirates so we’ll see how this translates into the NHL as the coach of the Panthers.

Re-igned D Keaton Ellerby to a one-year deal worth $787,555 – The former first round pick hasn’t quite lived up to his full potential yet but he only has one full NHL season under his belt and he seemed to improve last season so locking him up for another year at a low cost is wise on the Panthers part. Jason Garrison and Mike Weaver have stepped in as the team’s shutdown pair so it’s up to him and Dimitry Kulikov to give their blue-line some more offensive presence, which they haven’t yet.

Re-signed RW Jack Skille to a two-year deal worth $1.65 mil – Acquired last year in a trade with the Blackhawks for Michael Frolik and Alexander Salak, Skille has continued to not be much of a threat as a forward despite getting more ice time at even strength and on the powerplay after being traded. Tallon seems to like him, though so I guess it was predictable that he would re-sign him but I guess you could do a lot worse. I thought trading for him in the first place was a bad idea on his part but he has talent and has performed well in the AHL but he still needs to show me that he can perform at the NHL before I say that re-signing him is a good idea.

Signed D Roman Derlyuk to a one-year deal worth $710k – A 6th round draft pick from 2005, Derlyuk has been working on his game in the KHL for the past three seasons. He is kind of skinny for his height but he appears to be a solid physical defenseman but I think he will either stay in Russia or play in Rochester next year because it doesn’t appear as if he’s a future star or every-day NHL player.

Signed LW Garrett Wilson to a three-year entry level deal – The send round pick from 2009 is coming off a very good season in the OHL with the Owen Sound Attack recording 88 points in 66 points. He has recorded over 35 goals in the last two seasons there and had 40 last year so this kid could definitely be a good roster addition to Florida if he keeps developing well and plays more disciplined (114 PIMs). He is still only 20 so it’s unknown if he will stay in junior for one more season or have a chance to play for the Panthers or San Antonio next season. Hockeys future has him projected as a a solid lower-line player in the NHL because his skillset isn’t that impressive but that could change with another good season.

Re-signed LW Tim Kennedy to a one-year two-way contract – Acquired from the Rangers in the Bryan McCabe trade. He didn’t do much in Florida last year (1 point in 6 games) but he was a decent third/fourth liner in Buffalo and then was bought out because he thought his 26 points in 78 games was worth more than his $1 mil arbitration award. What he can do with a full-season in Florida with a weaker supporting cast is yet to be seen but he coud make the roster with the way things look for them right now.

Traded RW Rostislav Olesz to the Chicago Blackhawks for D Brian Campbell – When the cap floor was raised, it was a given that teams like Florida who don’t spend a lot of money were going to have to take on a bad contract or two but this move still shocked me. They traded away one overpaid player for someone who has arguably the worst contract in the NHL and is due $7,142,875 per season over the next five years. I have given up trying to figure out Dale Tallon’s logic after seeing this trade happen because if Florida wanted to save money while getting to the cap floor, they could have made a better move than this. Although, Tallon said he did this because “he likes Campbell.” Well, he gave him the contract in the first place so that’s not too surprising, I suppose. Campbell’s value as an offensive defenseman has gone down a lot in previous seasons so it’s not like Florida’s going to get a lot for this deal and they gave up a solid forward in Olesz who should make a good replacement for Troy Brouwer in Chicago.

Traded a seventh round pick to the Chicago Blackhawks for LW Tomas Kopecky – Florida then signed him for four years at $3 mil per year. My guess is this is Chicago returning the favor for the Brian Campbell trade. Kopecky had 42 points last year but that was with his most frequent linemates being Marian Hossa and Patrick Sharp. He won’t have that luxury in Florida so his production taking a dip would not surprise me. Although, it’s possible that he might get some time with Weiss and Booth and while they aren’t the Blackhawks, they are two very good players. Florida better not hope they are depending on him for their main source of scoring.

Cap Crunch

Saving money doesn’t seem to be what’s on Florida’s mind right now even though it should be with the new Collective Bargaining Agreement to be in place by 2012-13 so the main priority for them appears to be getting to the cap floor of $48 mil by signing players to more contracts than what they are worth. They have a few restricted free agents who will probably receive significant raises as well as some rookies who will be called up. They currently have a little over $26 mil invested in 13 players  (7 forwards, 5 defensemen and 1 goaltender) and currently have nearly $38 mil in cap space, but they are $22 mil below the cap floor so we could see the Panthers hand out some big contracts.

Booth ($4,250,000) – Weiss ($3,100,00) – Dadanov ($875,000)
Kopecky ($3,000,000) – Santorelli (RFA) – Skille ($825,000)
Kennedy (???) – Timmins ($761,667) – Repik ($816,667)
??? – Matthias (RFA) – ???

Campbell ($7,142, 875) – Kulikov ($1,325,00
Weaver ($900,000) – Garrison ($675,000)
Ellerby ($787,500) – ???

Clemmensen ($1,200,00)
???

RFA: Caruso, Cheverie, Duco, Matthias, McArdle, Plante, Santorelli
UFA: Bergfors, Bernier, Bitz, Samsonov, Hordichuk, Carter, Vokoun, Sulzer, Callahan

Team Needs:

I’m still not sure what kind of deal Kennedy got but if he doesn’t make the team then I eould expect Florida to sign someone to fill his spot. Kenall McArdle, Mike Duco (I know…) or someone else will probalby fill the holes on the fourth line. It’s also possible that they will sign a right winger for the second line because I do not think Jack Skille is up to that role. That or give Repik another shot there but he wasn’t impressive last season. Santorelli will probably get a nice raise after a good 2010-11 so that will help them get to the cap floor a little bit. The other hole here is that they need at least one more defenseman and I would hope that Erik Gudbransson fills one of those spots while someone like Steve Eminger, Ruslan Salei or another free agent will fill the other.There’s going to be a few moments where you say “Oh, I forgot that guy was still in the league” when you watch Florida next season.

The biggest hole on the roster is at goaltender with Tomas Vokoun possibly leaving and possibly looking for a huge pay-off after Ilya Bryzgalov got his. He is coming off his worst season in awhile and isn’t getting any younger so his value might take a hit there but he is still an elite goalie and whoever signs him is going to be very happy. Scott Clemmensen is a 1 a/b goalie at best in my opinion and I’m not sure if they are going to call-up Jacob Markstrom just yet because he’s only 21, has two years left on his entry level deal and doesn’t help them get to the cap floor. The free agent market for goalies doesn’t look any better, though unless they want to take a chance on JS Giguere or Jose Theodore do be their starter.

Expectations:

Unless there’s a few players who blow away my expectations, Florida is looking at another lottery pick and the most frustrating thing for fans is that they don’t appear to be interested in saving money either. At least that’s what the Brian Campbell deal tells me. They are put in a tough spot with the cap floor increasing though and it’s going to have a negative effect on many small market teams in the league but Florida is probably who it impacts the most. Drafting well is the one thing Tallon is good at and hopefully Gudbransson can make some noise down there and maybe even Jonathan Huberdeau will make the team out of camp if they are lucky. I just don’t know how patient the fans down there are now because after only one winning season in ten years, they are in the beginning process of yet another long rebuilding period and it may be another couple years before Florida is good again.

 

Southeast Division Free Agency: Carolina Hurricanes

Over the next few days I’m going to look at all of the teams in the Southeast Division to see what kind of position they are in heading into free agency. What are their needs? Can they do enough to become contenders next year? Will they need to overpay for a player or are they best suited to not worry about free agency and let their younger players play. This is similar to what I did with the Southeastern teams at the trade deadline only this will be focused on their more recent transactions and have some focus on which players they could possibly target in a few days. I’m doing this in alphabetical order and since the Atlanta Thrashers no longer exist, the Carolina Hurricanes are first in line.

The Canes just barely missed the playoffs last season and they even had a chance to clinch a spot on their last game of the season but ultimately laid an egg against Tampa Bay to cement their spot at #9 in the Eastern Conference. It’s a shame because the Canes were not a bad team last year but it’s tough for me to say that they would have gone anywhere in the playoffs as the #8 seed. A team who didn’t outshoot (47.3 shot%) or outplay (48.8 corsi%) their opponents at even strength isn’t going to go far. Neither will a team who had a ratio of -2.5 in terms of shots for/allowed per game. It doesn’t help that their third and fourth leading goal scorers are unrestricted free agents either so the Canes might have some work to do over the summer.

What Have They Done So Far?

Re-signed D Jay Harrison to a 2-year deal worth $1.3 mil – Liked this move even though Harrison is kind of a late-bloomer at 28. Still, they signed him at a low price and he was a good second/third pairing defenseman for the Canes last season. Also depended on for playing tough minutes at times and he was a regular on the penalty kill. He took the most percentage of defensive zone starts among Carolina defensemen and maintained a positive corsi rating despite that. He isn’t your ideal shut-d0wn guy but getting someone who can defend well, kill penalties and play tough minutes for under $1 mil a season is a good signing in my book.

Re-signed RW Pat Dwyer to a 2-year deal worth $1.25 mil – Cheap contract for a decent fourth liner whose best asset seems to be killing penalties. He does play a lot of tough minutes, though but gives up a lot of chances at even-strength. You can do a lot worse for signing a guy for $625k per season.

Re-signed D Joni Pitkanen to a 3-year deal worth $13.5 mil – Very good signing by GM Jim Rutherford. Pitkanen is the backbone of Carolina’s defense playing in every situation and is usually among the NHL leaders in time on ice. A guy who can put up 30-45 points from the blue-line every year while playing solid defense like he has under Paul Maurice is very valuable and he is still only 27. They also kept him for only a $500k higher cap hit than his previous contract which is great considering that he could have gone for a lot more in free agency. Having him around for another three years should allow the organization to be patient with 2011 draft pick Ryan Murphy until he’s ready to be called-up. It’s possible that he could replace Joe Corvo after his contract expires next year, though.

Re-signed LW Chad LaRose to a 2-year deal worth $3.4 mil – This was exactly the same deal his previous contract was and it’s not a bad deal for him. $1.7 mil a year for a guy who is going to score at least 12 goals and 35 points a year and kill penalties is pretty good in my opinion. Although, it should be noted that LaRose was below average in shots allowed on the penalty kill but I still consider him a solid two-way player.

Cap Crunch

The Canes are a team that sometimes spends close to the cap but they haven’t done that the last two seasons as they have been in sort of a “rebuilding” phase, mostly the 2009-10 season where they got off to a terrible start and fell out of the playoff race early. They didn’t do a lot of big spending last season but they did trade with Calgary for defenseman Ian White (who they later traded to San Jose for Derek Joslin) and traded with Florida for both Bryan Allen and Cory Stillman in exchange for Sergei Samsonov and draft picks. Last season, they placed hope in the talent they already had on the roster plus a couple rookies and they did better than some were expecting. One guy who surprised everyone was Jeff Skinner who had a terrific rookie season where he won the Calder. He is under team control for two more years under an entry level deal so Canes fans are going to be very excited to see how this kid develops as a player, especially if he gets moved up to Eric Staal’s line.  This year they might see full seasons from rookie centers Zac Dalpe and Zach Boychuk, but the Canes are going to need to do some spending if they want to bring a second Stanley Cup to Raleigh. Before they worry about that, they first need to get to the cap floor. They have at little under $38 mil invested in 7 forwards, 6 defenseman and 2 goalies. Let’s take a look at who is currently under contract and who could be heading to free agency:

Ruutu ($3,800,000) – Staal ($8,250,000) – Skinner ($1,400,000)
??? – Boychuk ($1,195,833) – ???
LaRose ($1,700,000) – ??? – Bowman ($845,833)
??? – Dwyer ($625,000) – Samson ($512,500)

Pitkanen ($4,500,000) – Allen ($2,900,000)
Gleason ($2,750,000) – Corvo ($2,250,000)
McBain ($850,000) – Harrison ($650,000)

Ward ($6,300,000)
Peters ($525,000)

UFA: Erik Cole, Jussi Jokinen, Cory Stillman, Jiri Tlusty, Troy Bodie, Bryan Rodney
RFA: Derek Joslin, Brandon Sutter, Oskar Osala

Team Needs

Carolina has tons of holes in the depth chart at forward so my guess is that filling those two wing spots on the second line will be the the first order of business. Carolina had one of the league’s worst powerplays too so possibly getting someone who can help upgrade that would be a welcome addition. However, they could do as they did last year and fill them with players within the organization such as Dalpe, Boychuk, Osala and a couple others but the Canes are also $10 mil below the cap floor which means that they may overpay to get a couple of top-six wingers, which isn’t the worst thing in the world when you have over $28 mil in cap space. One option here is to re-sign Erik Cole and give him a raise from the $2.9 mil he made last season but I wouldn’t be surprised to see him test the market after a great season. Jussi Jokinen is another one they would like to have re-signed but they apparently have not had a contract worked out yet. The Canes signing someone like Radim Vrbata, Antti Miettnen or Scottie Upshall isn’t out of the question but I think re-signing Jokinen and Cole would be the wiser move because those two are better players and were great for Carolina last season. However, I wouldn’t expect those deals to be too long because they have players in the minors who can fill these roles eventually, but not yet.

There also a void at third line center but I would expect that to be filled by re-signing Brandon Sutter. Derek Joslin will probably be re-signed to play as a 7th defenseman seeing how he was given a qualifying offer. I would also expect to see them sign a winger for the fourth line with Jiri Tlusty leaving. It’s better they get someone who can kill penalties after being in the bottom 1o in the league in that category last season. Other than that, there aren’t any other glaring holes.

Expectations:

Whether or not people agree, this team is slowly rebuilding but remaining competitive in the process. Part of that is because they are building around Eric Staal, who I think is one of the best in the league and they have some great prospects who are really starting to reach their potential. That and Cam Ward keeps them in every game. Carolina’s best option for next season could be to do what they did last year and give their younger players more ice time and let their youth developed. Worked out well for Jeff Skinner and to a less extent, Jaime McBain. Unfortunately with the new cap floor, the Canes are going to have to take a few roster spots away from some of the younger plaeyrs but it might improve their chances of winning this season. The re-signing of Pitkanen tells me that Rutherford is not going to let key players leave via free agency so that could mean that him re-signing Jokinen and Cole aren’t out of the question but Pitkanen appears to have more value on the team’s future than either of those two do. If the Canes have another rough season then it’s possible that those two can be traded (along with some other very tradeable contracts on this roster) and Carolina can continue rebuilding.

It’s kind of a rough time for Canes fans because this team still doesn’t look good enough to go all the way but they might be just good enough to have a shot if the right moves are made over the next couple of months.

Free Agent Post Part 2

In my last post, I looked at players we could target to center our second line and depth players for the fourth line. With the re-signing of Brooks Laich, the second line center role is sort of taken care of, so that means depth players and penalty killers are going to be our first order of business come July 1st. There are still some other needs I would like to have addressed and one of which is finding a defensive defenseman to replace Scott Hannan. In a perfect world, we would re-sign him and in fact, it appears that would be the smart thing to do but the Caps already have about $18 mil committed to seven players on their blue-line and that’s soon to become 8 when Karl Alzner is re-signed. With only $8.7 in cap space to work with, they are going to have to spend their money wisely and if that means letting Hannan walk then so be it. However, when looking at the Caps blue-line, you could say that there is some decent trade bait present.

Mike Green $5.25 mil for one year
Dennis Wideman $3.937.5 mil for one year
Tom Poti $2.875 mil for two years
Jeff Schultz $2.75 mil for three years
John Erskine $1.5 mil for two years
John Carlson $845,833 for one year
Tyler Sloan $700,000 for one year

I think the one piece everyone wants to get rid of right now is Poti’s contract but I think it’s going to be tough to move a player who just missed 3/4 of the season with a “career threatening” injury. LTIR seems like the more likely destination for him but if he stays healthy then having him play 3rd pairing minutes won’t be bad. I’ve heard some people make a case for trading Green but I do not think it will happen. However, one player who could be moved is Jeff Schultz. He is still young (25) and is a good defensive defenseman, but let’s say the team wants to sell-low after a tough season for him and get rid of his $2.75 cap hit and use that money to sign Hannan., would you do it? It’s an interesting proposition. Mostly because Schultz’s sucking so bad this year is the reason why we kind of need a defensive defenseman right now. /cough.

Let’s explore some options for defensive defenseman. My assumption is that we’re looking for someone for the bottom-pairing but can play top-4 minutes like Hannan did this year.

Roman Hamrlik

 Year Team GP G A Pts +/- PIM
 2010-11 MON 79 5 29 34 6 81

Why Would Washington Want Him?
He played big minutes for the Montreal Canadiens last season as one of their top defenseman. He’s a great shot blocker and can usually get matched up with tough competition if given the assignment. One of the keystones of the Habs defensive corps as he was one of the few members who actually stayed healthy for an entire season. On ice for 26.5 shots per 60 minutes, lowest among regular defensemen for the Habs.

Why Wouldn’t Washington Want Him?
He is going to be 38 by the end of next season and it’s been reported that he turned Montreal’s offer down because they offered only a one-year deal. He wants 2-3 years apparently. It should be noted that while he logged a ton of minutes, he was given the softest assignments among regulars in Montreal’s defense corps. Rookie PK Subban, Hal Gill and Jaroslav Spacek were given tougher assignments and it speaks a lot of your abilities when your coach trusts Spacek more than you in defensive situations. He also made $5.5 mil last season but I have a feeling that he’s going to get a paycut no matter where he goes.

How Happy Would I Be On A Scale of 1-10 If Washington Signed Him? 5

Steve Staios

 Year Team GP G A Pts +/- PIM
 2010-11 CGY 39 3 7 10 6 24

Why Would Washington Want Him?

Staios is a steady, physical defenseman who can play top-4 minutes if needed. He handled penalty killing duties well during his time in Edmonton and was one of Calgary’s more solid defensemen during his short stay there. Isn’t afraid to drop the gloves either.

Why Wouldn’t Washington Want Him?

We already have a similar player in John Erskine already on the team so I don’t think there’s any need to go after Staios. Plus, Staios was given soft assignments in Calgary and against weak competition so I don’t think adding him to the roster will strengthen the team much. Oh, and he’s 37.

How Happy Would I Be On A Scale of 1-10 If Washington Signs Him? 3

Kent Huskins

 Year Team GP G A Pts +/- PIM
 2010-11 SJ 50 2 8 10 8 12

Why Would Washington Want Him?

He can play the shut-down role well even with less ice-time and he will likely come at a low cost because he made less than $2 mil last year. He’s usually a very smart defender who doesn’t make too many silly mistakes with the puck in his own zone and can provide a decent amount of offense.

Why Wouldn’t Washington Want Him?

He had a terrible series against Vancouver in the playoffs but that was coming off an injury that had kept him out almost a month of the season. Possibly looking for someone who is more durable.

How Happy Would I Be If Washington Signs Him on a Scale of 1-10? 6

Radek Martinek

 Year Team GP G A Pts +/- PIM Hits BkS
 2010-11 NYI 64 3 13 16 -5 35 69 128

Why Would Washington Want Him?

Was forced into playing a shut-down role with the Islanders due to injuries to other defensemen and he actually did a decent job at it. He didn’t see tough competition but he got a lot of defensive zone assignments on a bottom-five Isles team. It will be interesting to see how he does on a inning squad in a role where he’s less depended on. He’s also a terrific shot-blocker.

Why Wouldn’t Washington Want Him?

Could ask for more money than he’s worth due to a weak free agent class and he’s had a bad history with injuries.

How Happy Would I Be On A Scale of 1-10 if Washington Signs Him? 7

Andy Greene

 Year Team GP G A Pts +/- PIM Hits BkS
 2010-11 NJ 82 4 19 23 -23 22 49 157

Why Would Washington Want Him?

Had to take on a ton of minutes and tough assignments for the Devils last season due to injuries. Would also be available at a low-cost. Fantastic puck-mover and has good defensive instincts. Also a great shot-blocker.

Why Wouldn’t Washington Want Him?

More of an offensive threat than a shutdown defenseman/Hannan replacement. Also looked absolutely brutal at times for the Devils last year.

How Happy Would I Be On A Scale of 1-10 if Washington Signs Him? 5

Paul Mara, Brent Sopel, Jan Hejda and James Wisniewski are others that are available but I don’t think this will matter too much since the chances of us signing one of these guys is slim unless a trade happens. I do think that this is a need that should be addressed soon, though and it would be preferable if it’s one of the cheaper signings like Martinek.

Brooks Laich’s new contract is overpayment…but not that big of a deal.

Immediately after the Washington Capitals re-signed fan-favorite Brooks Laich to a six-year contract worth $27 million, there seemed to be a huge backlash against it. There are people who feel that this is a gross overpayment and that Laich’s contract will become an albatross soon because it will expire when he is in his mid-30’s. I can understand why fans do not like the length of the contract (which is the only problem I have with it) but $4.5 mil per year is actually somewhat of a paycut compared to what Laich could have gotten had he become a unrestricted free agent in a few days. Remember how I said that this is a shallow free agent pool? The fact that Laich as the second most desirable forward available behind Brad Richards shows you that and teams in need of scoring depth (and ones who need to get to the cap floor) would be willing to throw some serious money at him. I am a fan of this extension because like I said in his player report card, Laich has a ton of value to this team and it shows up on more than just the scoresheet.

Laich’s always had a reputation as a “team guy” and I think the fact that he took a paycut to stay with Washington shows that. He should be in line to at least have an alternate captain role next season. He’s a versatile player who can play both center or winger if needed and I wouldn’t be surprised to see him spend some time centering the second line, which fills a need for next season. He’s not the ideal person for the role but I am confident that he will have a rebound season offensively for this team and at least provide a stop-gap until Marcus Johansson is ready for the role. Laich’s defensive and penalty killing abilities are well-documented and I think those go a long way with his value. So is his presence on the first powerplay unit. As for the money, that’s the way the market goes and he isn’t the only player who has gotten a contract like this after a down year:

NAME TOI/60 QUALCOMP Corsi Rel QoC G/60 A1/60 A2/60 P/60 CORSI REL CORSI ON
Player A 12.53 0.029 0.950 0.64 0.64 0.53 1.81 4.5 5.96
Player B 12.97 0.018 0.715 0.64 0.76 0.70 2.11 6.8 7.09

Both of these players can play center and wing, have received time on the first powerplay and penalty kills of their respective teams, are in their late 20’s and recently received contracts with cap hits of $4.5 mil. Player A is Brooks Laich last season while Player B is David Backes of the St. Louis Blues during his 2009-10 season before he signed a 5-year contract worth $22.5 million. He scored only 17 goals and 48 points that season despite scoring 31 the year before. He responded this season by netting 31 goals and 31 assists. Is there any reason that Brooksie can’t have a rebound season like Backes did and return to being a 20+ goal scorer? I don’t see why not. Contracts are given based on potential for the most part and I believe that Laich will prove that he is worth his new contract’s value over his career.

Some other forwards who make $4.5 mil a year or around that:
Brendan Morrow, Dallas Stars: Signed deal after a season where he missed 42 games with an injury but he was a 20+ goal scorer for the most part before he signed the contract. After he signed the deal, he has been a key part of Dallas’ top-six and has scored 20 or more goals in every season with the exception of 2008-09 when he was hurt. He scored 33 last season.

David Legwand, Nashville Predators: Never quite lived up to his first round status but he has been a key player for the Predators ever since they drafted him. Cashed in on a strong 2006-07 season where he scored 27 goals and had 63 points with a contract similar to Laich’s….6-years $27 mil. Legwand isn’t a bad player but hopefully Laich’s production is better than Legwand’s over his contract’s time because we’re going to need more than 15+ goals from him.

Jordan Staal, Pittsburgh Penguins: Signed a 4-year $16 mil contract at the age of 21 and has been a 20+ goal scorer, played on the penalty kill and powerplay while centering Pittsburgh’s third line. Similar skill-set and production to Laich after I think about it.

Others who have a similar contract to Laich’s are Kristian Huselius, Ryan Malone, Scott Hartnell and Daymond Langkow and for the most part, these are two-way players who you can count on to score 20+ goals in a season while doing other things that help your team win so I do not see the big deal in giving Brooks Laich this contract, especially with how big of a character guy he is in the locker room. I do not even need to go through the advanced stats to tell you that keeping him for this price is a hell of a lot better than overpaying someone like Tim Connolly or Michal Handzus. Glad you’re sticking around, Brooksie.

Another Free Agent Post Part 1

You knew something like this was coming sooner or later because whether it’s a few days from now when free agency begins or at another time, the Caps have holes on the roster they need to fill. However, the more I look at things the more I think that the wise thing to do would be to re-sign pending unrestricted free agents that are currently on the team (i.e. Jason Arnott and Brooks Laich) because the free agents who are available in a few days do not exactly represent upgrades when it comes to filling the void at second line center for this team. However, there are some decent options out there for the Caps if they want to improve their fourth line which, as it stands right now, is going to look pretty weak if Boyd Gordon and Matt Bradley leave. After the acquisition of Brouwer and the likely re-signing of him and Karl Alzner (who was given a qualifying offer today), the Caps projected roster for the 2011-12 season looks something like this:

Ovechkin ($9,538,462) – Backstrom ($6,700,000) – Knuble ($2,000,000
Brouwer (RFA) – ??? – Semin ($6,700,000)
Chimera ($1,875,000) – Johansson ($900,000) – Fehr ($2,200,000)
King ($637,500) – Beagle ($512,500) – Hendricks ($825,000)

Green ($5,250,000) – Wideman ($3,937,500)
Alzner (RFA) – Carlson ($845,833)
Poti ($2,875,000) – Schultz ($2,750,000)
Erskine ($1,500,000)
Sloan ($700,000)

Neuvirth ($1,250,000)
Varlamov (RFA)?

Caps have a little over $13 million to work with right now and some of that will go away once Brouwer and Alzner are re-signed so I’m going to assume that leaves us with about $8 million to play with. Here are the biggest team needs in terms of priorities:

1. 2nd line center
2. Depth/penalty killing forwards
3. Defensive defenseman
4. Back-up goaltender if Varlamov leaves.

Winger for the second line was another one but Brouwer should fill that void well. Let’s go through the team needs and see which free agents we could possibly target, but before I say that I have one thing to say. This free agent class stinks. Brad Richards is pretty much the only top-tier player available and when Christian Ehrhoff and Brooks Laich are the two most coveted free agents on the market, you have to set your expectations low when it comes to getting players on July 1st.

1. 2nd Line Center:

Expectations: Marcus Johansson may look good when you watch him play but he had one of the worst corsi rates on the team and only 27 points, which tells me that he isn’t ready to center the second line every night, at least not yet. The best option here might be to re-sign Jason Arnott but injuries a disappointing playoff showing and the fact that he’s going to be 38 next season steer me away from that. However, if we’re only looking for someone to fill a gap and produce until Johansson is ready then a one-year deal for him may not be a bad idea. If we are going to let him walk, here are some UFAs with similar stats who we could target:

Tim Connolly

GP G A Pts +/- PIM
68 13 29 42 -10 20

Why would the Caps want him?
He had very similar stats to Jason Arnott last season and played in similar situations as him. Connolly was actually a very productive player for the Buffalo Sabres last year. Very solid corsi rating, made the most of his ice time and could be depended on in his own zone when it came to preventing chances (+3.9 shot differential). Connolly also spent time on the powerplay and penalty kill for the Sabres and was a little better than average on the powerplay (6 goals, 20 points, 46.9 SF/60). He also made the same amount of money as Arnott did last year and is 7 years younger which makes him look like a solid replacement but there this…

Why Wouldn’t The Caps Want Him?

Arnott and Connolly both had a cap hit of $4.5 mil last season and they are going need to both take paycuts if the Caps are going to sign them. I like Connolly, but Washington can’t spend that much of their remaining cap space on him, especially considering his injury history. Connolly has never played in a full NHL season in seven years and he always seems to be more prone to be rattled by a big hit than other players. He also did not produce in the playoffs in either of the last two seasons with a combined 3 points in 13 games. His penalty killing numbers are also below average (albeit only slightly) when looking at SA/60.

How Much Would I Like It On A Scale of 1-10 if the Caps Signed Him? 7

Michal Handzus

 Year Team GP G A Pts +/- PIM
 2010-11 LA 82 12 18 30 -5 20

Why Would Washington Want Him?
Handzus is a good two-way player who plays a lot of tough minutes and takes many defensive zone draws. He played both on the powerplay and penalty kill with the LA Kings and could be depended on a lot in a defensive role since he is better than average at face-offs with a 51% success rate. He also gives the team some veteran presence which seems to go a long way according to most people.

Why Wouldn’t Washington Want Him?

Handzus is coming off a very down year as you can see above and he isn’t getting any younger. Plus, he isn’t exactly a second-line center and wasn’t on the Kings. He could be on another team but only one who is weak down the middle like Washington is. His defensive awareness may not be as good as I thought they were because he was destroyed in terms of shots surrendered last season, especially on the PK. Like Connolly, he will need to take a significant paycut from the $4 mil he got from the Kings in order for the Caps to sign him because he has never lived up to his contract’s value in Los Angeles.

How Much Would I Like It On A Scale of 1-10 if the Caps Signed Him? 5

Marty Reasoner

 Year Team GP G A Pts +/- PIM
 2010-11 FLA 82 14 18 32 2 22

Why Would Washington Want Him?

He’s an excellent face-off guy, plays solid D and has shown that he can be depended on fro secondary scoring. Reaosner seems like someone we can use to take the load off of Nicklas Backstrom when it comes to taking tough draws because Reasoner was able to finish 48% of his draws in the offensive zone despite starting only 42.7% of them there. I’ve used this example countless times, but the Canucks did a similar method with Manny Malhotra and Ryan Kesler and it worked out pretty well for them. I think Reasoner could be the Caps Manny Malhotra if we choose to sign him.

Why Wouldn’t Washington Want Him?

He plays a lot on the penalty kill but his shots allowed is even worse than Handzus’ (58 SA/60) and he isn’t a second line center. Not a lot of offensive upside or playmaking skills from him but I would look into him to center the fourth line or possibly the third line if the team elects to go with Johansson or someone else next season. Also, those 32 points his scored last season were his career high.

How Much Would I Like It On A Scale of 1-10 If Washington Signed Him? 8

Depth/Penalty Killing Forwards:

 Year Team GP G A Pts +/- PIM
 2010-11 PHO 71 6 16 22 3 46

Why Would Washington Want Him?

Fiddler’s a great skater and face-off guy who could potentially replace Boyd Gordon on the fourth line. He has provided the Coyotes with a considerable amount of offense from their bottom-six the last two seasons scoring 52 points in 2 seasons. Pretty darn good for a defensive forward. Was also given a truckload of defensive zone starts for the ‘Yotes last season and actually did a great job of producing offense with them. Also was one of the Coyotes top penalty killing forwards.

Why Wouldn’t Washington Want Him?

Fiddler’s poor corsi rate is probably due to the numerous d-zone starts but one thing’s for sure is that the Coyotes had one of the worst PK’s in the league last year and Fiddler got a lot of shifts on the PK for them which doesn’t give me a lot of confidence. Neither does the fact that the Coyotes surrendered a lot of shots at even strength and Fiddler was on ice for a lot of them. Maybe playing on a more defensive oriented team would change that? He also made $1.1 mil last season. It’s not a destructive cap hit but I absolutely hate paying more than $1 mil a year for fourth liners although Fiddler seemed to be more than that in Phoenix.

How Much Would I Like It On A Scale of 1-10 if Washington Signed Him? 6-7

Jeff Halpern

 Year Team GP G A Pts +/- PIM
 2010-11 MON 72 11 15 26 6 29

Why Would Washington Want Him?

Excellent face-off guy and defensive forward and I think many teams would want him as part of their bottom-six. Not much else to say except that he had quite a good offensive year with the Habs last season and was a big part of their first PK unit.

Why Wouldn’t Washington Want Him?

The only thing I can think of here is that his good offensive showing last year may have been a fluke but that shoudln’t bee too much of  a problem. He also might be looking for a raise on the $600k he made last season but again, giving him a raise on that should not be too much of a problem.

How Much Would I Like It On A Scale of 1-10 if Washington Signs Him? 9

Ryan Shannon

 Year Team GP G A Pts +/- PIM
 2010-11 OTT 79 11 16 27 3 24

Why Would Washington Want Him?

Gives them an upgrade at winger on the fourth line since Shannon possesses a solid two-way game and a surprisingly good offensive package with his great shot. Can play on the powerplay and penalty kill and would provide scoring depth to a team who is potentially losing two 15+ goal scorers.

Why Wouldn’t Washington Want Him?

Shannon isn’t your ideal fourth liner. He kills penalties but isn’t physical, doesn’t get matched against weak competition and got mostly soft minutes with the Senators last season. He seems more like a less gritty version of Jason Chimera and that’s not exactly what this team needs at the moment.

How Much Would I Like It On A Scale of 1-10 If Washington Signs Him? 4

Marcel Goc

 Year Team GP G A Pts +/- PIM
 2010-11 NSH 51 9 15 24 10 6

Why Would Washington Want Him?

Good tw0-way center who takes a lot of tough draws. Provides scoring depth, is a good player along the boards, etc. etc.

Why Wouldn’t Washington Want Him?

Not exactly a primer penalty killer, which I think is something you want yoru fourth liners to be and he seems to be more of an offensive-first kind of guy. Not the most physical player either.

How Much Would I Like It On A Scale of 1-10 If Washington Signs Him? 6

Drew Miller

 Year Team GP G A Pts +/- PIM
 2010-11 DET 67 10 8 18 -2 13

Why Would Washington Want Him?

Upgrade at fourth line winger over DJ King and he is a great defensive player who can score and produce on offense if needed. Very physical player and isn’t afraid to block shots. Can be signed for a very low cost.

Why Wouldn’t Washington Want Him?

Limited skill-set and I can’t really think of anything else. Seems like an idea fourth liner although he wasn’t that good of a player before joining the Wings.

How Much Would I Like It On A Scale of 1-10 if Washington Signs Him? 9

 

Part 2 coming tomorrow.

Capitals RFA’s: Who will receive qualifying offers

With only a week until free agency, the deadline for the Caps to extend qualifying offers to their restricted free agents is approaching and while most of their key free agents are UFA’s (which isn’t necessarily a good thing), there’s a couple restricted free agents that would be in Washington’s best interest to keep around. For an explanation on how qualifying offers work look here but a basic explanation of it is that the Caps retain the rights to negotiate with these free agents by extending qualifying offers to them. It also means that other teams must match whatever qualifying offer the Caps give them if they wish to sign them and the Caps receive compensation (i.e. draft picks) if they don’t sign that offer sheet. Here’s hoping that doesn’t happen, though. Let’s take a look at the Caps RFA’s:

Karl Alzner, D

Easily the most important RFA the Caps have and there is not a chance that he isn’t given at least a qualifying offer. Him and John Carlson were the team’s shutdown pair last year and were excellent in that role. Alzner is also in his early 20’s and is only going to get better so I do not see why the Caps will not re-sign him. I would have liked for him to get a new contract before July 1st because there’s the risk of another team sending him an offer sheet like the Sharks did with Niklas Hjalmarsson last year. I’d expect him to get re-signed for something similar to what Jeff Schultz is making.

Semyon Varlamov, G

This is a tricky one. I think it should be a no-brainier for the Caps to send him a qualifying offer but McPhee has stated that Varly is free to go to the KHL if he wants to and this tweet from Dimitri Chesnokov doesn’t tell me that a new deal will be reached soon:

Varlamov is unlikely to re-sign with the #Caps, I learned. The resolution will take place before July 1. @dchesnokov

Personally, I think it’s silly if the team lets Varlamov walk for anything less than $3 mil a year because I think he will be worth it. It doesn’t seem like it will be likely that he stays, though.

Troy Brouwer, LW

We didn’t trade our first round pick away just to have Brouwer leave in a week. He will be re-signed.

Trevor Bruess, C

Bottom-six player in Hershey making $875k a year. He had no goals in Hershey last season and missed a good amount of games too. Doesn’t appear to be someone essential or someone who will be re-signed.

Francois Bouchard, RW

The former second round pick still seems to be struggling in Hershey with only 24 points in 72 games last season, a huge drop-off from how he did the year before. Might be worth at least a qualifying offer because he appeared to be making progress before last season and he certainly has talent. I wouldn’t give him anything more than the $850k he’s making now, though.

Joe Finley, D

Shifting between defenseman in winger the last few seasons, it’s uncertain where Finley would fit on the Capitals team. Despite being a former first round pick, Finley hasn’t been able to keep a spot on Hershey and has drifted back and forth between the ECHL and the AHL which is not promising to hear at all. Neither is him being suspended for two games for a dirty hit earlier in the season. Wouldn’t be surprised if he is let go.

Josh Godfrey, D

Injuries have kept the former second round pick from living up to his full potential and it didn’t get any better last year as he even spent some time with the Chicago Wolves (Thrashers…err Jets AHL affiliate). Doesn’t appear that he will stick around for much longer.

Mathieu Perreault, C

Perreault is still struggling to find consistency at the NHL-level but he cruised in the AHL again (38 points in 34 games) so I could see him being re-signed to play in Hershey as someone you can call-up to the big club if you need to. Feel like he will get a qualifying offer in a few days and will be re-signed cheap.

Capitals Player Report Card: Tyler Sloan

Tyler Sloan

Stats: 33 GP, 1 goal, 5 assists, 6 points, -6, 14 PIM
Contract Info: $700,000 cap hit, signed through 2011-12
Player Card

Scoring Chance Percentage Ranking: 29/30
Defensemen: 10/10
Balanced Corsi Ranking: 29/30
Defensemen: 10/10

I was actually looking forward to doing this report card the most and it’s not because Tyler Sloan is last one on the list, it’s because Sloan’s a player that I constantly berate whenever I watch him play. He’s someone who typically only plays 10-12 minutes per night in a 3rd pairing defense role because his play in the defensive zone is typically spotty at best and can be absolutely brutal at times. I couldn’t wait to look at his underlying numbers to see if they say that he is as bad as I think he is (those quick stats above should give you a hint that they are) and they are for the most part but while taking  a gander at his player card from BTH, I noticed some interesting things…

First off, look at his offensive zone starts over the years. He was actually given TOUGHER minutes the last two seasons compared to 2010-11. I really would like an explanation for that because Sloan did nothing to show that he could handle those minutes in those two seasons and it took Boudreau this long to figure that out? This was also the first season where he saw below average competition instead of middling like he usually did. Huh? Maybe this is why I felt that his play wasn’t as brutal as it usually is this season because Boudreau was finally realizing his limitations and sheltering him. However, he got destroyed even when playing soft minutes by having a terrible relative corsi rate of -18.8 and surrendering over 30 shots per 60 minutes. Uhh…I think that qualifies as “worse than bad.” However, despite giving up that many shots, he had relatively the same amount of goals allowed per 60 minutes as he did last season and that was with the same on-ice save percentage as he had last season so at least he’s consistently bad?

Nevertheless, Sloan is a “fringe NHL player” who you activate whenever you need to which is usually when there are numerous injuries or lack of depth on your team’s defensive corps and the Caps had a lot of that this season.  However, he was kept out of the lineup in favor of Sean Collins in game 4 of the Tampa Bay series when Mike Green was hurt, which should show you how much trust this team has in his abilities. The amount of ice time he was given all season shows that he isn’t depended on in that many key situations (was barely used on PP and PK) so the team opted to go with someone who is less of a liability in his own zone than he is in a very important game.

The report card grade is relative to my expectations and my expectations for Sloan are always at rock bottom so I have to give him something like a D- for this year. I expected him to be bad and he was…and then it only got worse when I saw that he actually did worse with sheltered minutes which is awful. The only thing that kept him in Washington all-season was the fact that he couldn’t return to Hershey without being exposed to waivers but even then, I don’t think many teams would be chomping at the bit to get him after seeing some of his highlights (watch the Washington/Atlanta game from late November to see what I mean).