Capitals Free Agent Frenzy Thoughts

I definitely was not expecting the Caps to be this active today but they really made quiet a splash on July 1st and did a few things I didn’t see coming at all. The best thing about it is most of the moves made make us a better team for next year and in future seasons. I’ve said it numerous times but this is a free agency pool that is flooded with mostly mediocre players and they were all going for way more than what they were worth (see James Wisniewski making almost as much money as Mike Green now) so I wanted the Caps to stay put on this day but they elected to make some noise and well, they were all pretty decent-great moves. Here’s a quick rundown for those who missed the action:

Signed C Jeff Halpern to a one-year $825 k deal

Traded G Semyon Varlamov to the Colorado Avalanche for a first rounder in 2012 and 2nd rounder in 2013

Signed RW Joel Ward to a four-year $12 mil contract

Signed D Roman Hamrlik to a two-year $7 mil contract

The best move out of all of these is the Varlamov trade. It took me by surprise because I thought he was destined for Russia yesterday but McPhee was able to trade him away and get something in return for him, which was a lot more than I (or anyone else) would thought he would get for him. Varlamov wanted to be the guaranteed starter and we simply couldn’t promise him that so he traded him to a team like Colorado who had no goalie options at the time and they gave up their first round pick next year (which has a very good chance of being a lottery pick) and 2nd rounder. This is a no-lose trade for the Caps in my eyes. Varlamov was not going to re-sign and the Avalanche have a good chance of delivering us a high pick in next year’s draft and it’s kind of mind-boggling that they would give up a first rounder for a goalie who has only played in 59 career NHL games. Then they follow it by signing JS Giguere, who I don’t think will be the back-up there, to a two-year contract so Varlamov may not be the guaranteed #1 starter there either. Either way, best of luck to Varly in Colorado. I hope the best for him but I hope the worst for Colorado for selfish reasons.

As for the other moves, I think getting Halpern for $825k was a great pickup. I said in my free agency post that he would make a great replacement for Boyd Gordon (who signed with Phoenix for $1.1 mil a year!). He was one of the Habs best face-off men (56.8 FO%), does a lot of heavy lifting against tough competition, kills penalties and can take a bunch of defensive zone starts to help take some pressure off Nicklas Backstrom. He is also coming off one of his strongest offensive seasons in recent memory with a 2.05 P/60 scoring rate. Penalty killing is a little worse than Gordon, but they are both above average with the man down so I love the signing.

The signing of Joel Ward also took me by surprise because I didn’t know we were even trying to sign him but he gives our forward corps a significant upgrade. There were a lot of team who were looking to sign this guy and if you saw him in the playoffs for the Nashville Predators you know why. However, his ability to provide secondary scoring is what teams are after. It’s his defensive capabilities, physical play and his ability to take a lot of tough draws and ability to get the puck moving in the right direction. He is almost an idea third line winger that almost every GM would love to have on their team. George McPhee wanted him so much that he was willing to pay a little more than what others were ($3 mil a year is a little steep) but I think Ward will be worth it in Washington. Pair him with Halpern and Hendricks and we’ve got ourselves an excellent shutdown line.

Today was full of overpayments and Ward’s contract was one of them and you could certainly make a case that the Caps overpaid 38-year old defenseman Roman Hamrlik with a 2-year $7 mil contract. I also looked at Hamrlik as one of the players the Caps could sign to replace Scott Hannan and said that I would be “okay but not thrilled” if we did sign him. Hamrlik may have ranked fourth among Habs defensemen in quality of competition but the fact that PK Subban, Hal Gill, James Wisniewski, Paul Mara and Jaro Spacek were trusted with more defensive zone draws tells me the Habs doubt his defensive ability somewhat. He is getting up there in age is definitely a lot slower so I’m a bit leery about us giving him a two-year deal (not the worst but still not a huge fan of it). That said, Hamrlik as a 2nd or 3rd pairing defenseman should work out pretty well for the Caps. Allows them to give Erskine a few nights off and more depth on the back-end is always good. However, we are paying $3.5 mil a year for someone who might be our 3rd pairing defenseman and I can’t help but shudder at that. Here’s hoping he exceeds my expectations.

Pundits seem to be labeling the Caps as the “winners” of Free Agent Frenzy but it’s a little too early to say that because the season is still a few months away but McPhee definitely improved this team on paper and addressed needs but there’s a few things that still hang in the air.

1. With Ward signed this means that Laich will be forced into the 2nd line center role, which I am okay with for now given how crappy the market was.

2. Neuvirth is the only goalie on the roster but there’s still time to sign a cheap back-up even though people want Braden Holtby to have that role. I think he needs a starter workload in Hershey before he gets called up to the big club full time so a one-year deal for someone like Ty Conklin would work best here. HOWEVER…..Tomas Vokoun is unsigned and the goalie market stinks right now so maybe we can get him to sign with us on a cheap contract to mentor our young Czech netminder. Wishful thinking but it’s worth a shot.

3. The Caps have a little over in $2 million in cap space left and still need to re-sign Karl Alzner and Troy Brouwer and possibly sign a back-up goalie. What we have left is nowhere near enough to re-sign Alzner or Brouwer so a trade has to be in the works. Whether it’s shipping off Alex Semin for draft picks, sending Tom Poti, Eric Fehr, Jason Chimera or someone else away, someone has to be on his way out if we want to keep either Alzner or Brouwer. It’s going to be important to get this done because Alzner’s pretty vulnerable to be offer sheeted right now unless he goes into arbitration. McPhee isn’t a moron and knows how important Alzner I believe that the team will get something worked out. This active summer in Washington is far from over.

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