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Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Capitals 2015 Draft Preview

Last year, GM Brian MacLellan and Assistant GM Ross Mahoney stated in a pre-draft conference call that they would be looking to trade up in the draft from the 13th pick. They ended up not doing so.

This year, in my opinion, it really doesn't make too much sense for the Capitals to trade up or down, as it's a pretty deep draft, and sitting in the 22nd spot is great for the Caps. As of today, there hasn't been a pre-draft conference call, but according to ESPN's Craig Custance, MacLellan has stated that he will not be trading away his 22nd pick, and has hinted that he doesn't want to anger Mahoney by trading away the selection. Mohoney won't be angry, as he has basically stated that he doesn't really care if the pick gets traded or not, as long as the Caps get closer to winning the Stanley Cup.

MacLellan has also stated that he will be looking to trade for a top-six forward. A couple of weeks ago, I identified a couple of candidates who could be looking to move a top-six forward. Both of those trading candidates, the Chicago Blackhawks (Patrick Sharp) and the St. Louis Blues (T.J. Oshie), don't have a first-round selection this year.

Could a first-round pick be the key to acquiring either Sharp or Oshie from their respective teams? Possibly.

For all we know, MacLellan does plan on trading the pick. For all we know, MacLellan truly doesn't plan on trading the pick. But, interestingly enough, the last time Chicago got into a bit of a sticky cap situation, the Capitals shipped their 2011 first-round pick in exchange for a young winger by the name of Troy Brouwer.
Draft previews are a lot more fun if we pretend MacLellan plans on not trading the pick. So why don't we go ahead and pretend that MacLellan is definitely going to keep that 22nd pick?

This year marks the very first year the Capitals have selected the 22nd overall pick in the NHL entry draft. In the 2013 draft, the Caps held the 23rd overall pick, selecting Andre Burakovsky, who turned out pretty well. And in the 2008 draft, the Capitals held the 21st pick and selected Anton Gustafsson. He didn't turn out very well.

But the Caps have been excelling at the draft for the past several years, all thanks to Mahoney and the Capitals' scouting staff. In fact, excluding last year's first-round pick of Jakub Vrana, nine of their last 10 first-round draft selections have consistently played in the NHL. That's pretty outstanding. Even more outstanding is that, for the most part, the Capitals first-round selections are always in the low-20s, as they frequently excel in the regular season, and falter in the playoffs (frowny face). We can reasonably assume whoever we are lucky enough to select with that 22nd pick will in fact also make it in the NHL.

So, who could be that 22nd pick?

 Last year in that pre-draft press conference, Mahoney and MacLellan stated they generally select the best player available, no matter what their position on the ice is. Since both those guys are at the helm in this year's draft once again, we can assume they head into this year's draft with that same mindset. So by using that same mindset, I've identified six possible selections for that spot: Three forwards and three defenseman.

The first two selections are guys that I identified as two players who are generally pre-ranked across the hockey webisphere a little higher than 22nd overall, but could potentially drop in the draft for different reasons. The last two guys on this list will definitely be available with that 22nd pick, and could make for a great selection. But the middle two players, a forward and a defenseman, should be hovering around that 22nd pick, and the Caps should be gunning for either one of those two when they are on the clock.

So here you have it. Learn a little bit about a potential future Capital.

Travis Konecny, Center, Ottawa 67's, OHL.
5'9.75", 175 lbs. Right-handed Canadian. Projects as scoring forward.
Two years ago, I was very high on Bo Horvat. I saw him as an elite two-way forward at the time with the London Knights, and I thought he would one day be an ideal second-line center for the Capitals. I had also predicted that Horvat would be selected far before the Capitals' 23rd pick of that year. He was, selected ninth overall by the Vancouver Canucks.

Horvat tore it up this season with the Canucks, finishing with 13 goals and 12 assists in 68 games. And in the playoffs, Horvat co-led the Canucks in points. Horvat accomplished all of this playing primarily as a third-liner. Next season, he will be more than ready to play second-line minutes, and he will be just 20-years-old.

Okay, why am I telling you all of this?

Travis Konecny is Bo Horvat's second cousin.

Now, Horvat and Konecny play a different style of hockey. Horvat excels on both ends of the ice, while Konecny relies more on his skill to succeed on the ice. But Konecny does mirror one quality from his cousin: He plays with a big heart, battling in the corners and playing a really strong.

Konecny finished with 29 goals and 39 assists in 60 games this season for an okay Ottawa 67's team. In the five playoff games the 67's played in, Konecny added three goals and seven assists. But where Konecny really stood out was the 2015 CHL/NHL Top Prospects game, where Konecny dominated for Team Orr in the 6-0 victory earlier this year. Konecny played alongside projected top-pick Connor McDavid and projected first-round pick Timo Meier, and the line dominated Team Cherry. Konecny finished with two goals and one assist on the night, earning himself Most Valuable Player honors.

At the NHL combine, Konecny proved just how strong he really is. Konecny tied with Jack Eichel and Evgeny Svechnikov for the fourth most bench press reps, with 16 (since he weighed in at 175 pounds, Konecny benched 145 pounds). Konecny also finished with the second-highest pull-ups, with 13 and the 10th best standing long jump, leaping 111 inches.


Konecny was drafted first overall in the 2013 OHL draft, ahead of Dylan Strome (drafted 2nd that year), Sean Day (4th), Lawson Crouse (5th) and Mitch Marner (19th), all of whom are projected to be top picks in this year's draft (with the exception of Day, who is eligible for the 2016 draft. Day was granted exceptional status and was allowed to enter the OHL a year early). So why could Konecny possibly drop to the Capitals at the 22nd pick?

Konecny is really small.

At only 5'9.75"and 172 lbs., Konecny is the smallest player projected to be a first round pick. Should size play a factor in team's draft strategies, Konecny will surely drop. History shows that size does tend to play a factor in NHL drafts. Since 2011, only eight players that were 5'10 or shorter were selected in the first round of their draft, and Canucks Army recently found that shorter players have a steeper hill to climb when it comes to NHL success.

But with recent "short guy" success stories in the NHL, like Johnny Gaudreau (5'9", selected 104th overall) and Tyler Johnson (5'9", undrafted), is it really worth looking over a skilled forward just because he isn't eye level with the common NHL player?



Teams could also be weary of selecting Konecny early in the first round because he hasn't seen too much improvement within his two years at the OHL. In his first season with Ottawa, Konecny finished with 70 points in 63 games. In his second, he finished with 68 in 60.

Teams that are already quite large may not be too concerned with taking a risk on a smaller player. One team that comes in mind is the Los Angeles Kings, a large, skilled team that just barely missed out on the playoffs. The Kings hold the 13th pick. Interestingly enough, when Konecny was selected by the Ottawa 67's with the first overall pick in the 2013 OHL draft, the selection was made by 67's GM Chris Byrne. Byrne now serves as a scout for the Los Angeles Kings.

I see it going either way. There's no doubt in my mind that Konecny would be a top ten pick if he was 6 feet or taller. He is a skilled, tenacious forward who can win you games. If teams choose to pass over Konecny because of his size, it would only be the Caps gain. But it might be a stretch to have 21 teams pass over Konecny.

What Others Are Projecting:
International Scouting Services: 12th overall
Hockeyprospect.com: 20th overall
The Hockey News: 24th overall
Bob McKenzie: 15th overall
NHL Central Scouting (North Americans): 14th overall



Jakub Zboril, Defenseman, Saint John Sea Dogs, QMJHL
6'0.75", 184 lbs. Left-handed Czech. Projects as physical two-way defenseman.

Jakub Zboril is as close to the full package as you could get with a late first-round pick.

Sure, guys like Noah Hanifin, Ivan Provorov and Zach Werenski will go before Zboril. Hanifin is ranked so highly because he is a tremendously intelligent defenseman with offensive upside. Provorov and Werenski are the same way.

Zboril doesn't have the same confidence as those guys offensively. Despite putting up 13 goals and 20 assists in his first season with the Saint John Sea Dogs in the QMJHL, Zboril was seen as too passive offensively, choosing to pass the puck instead of shooting it more times than not.

But what scouts collectively agree on is that Zboril is extremely confident in the defensive zone. But what really separates himself from the rest of the pack is his physicality.

At 6'2" and 185 lbs., Zboril lays into his opponents frequently. He picks and chooses when to throw his weight around, though sometimes it's not the right decision. Zboril has twice been suspended for illegal hits in his junior career.

On top of his physical play, Zboril also served as an enforcer, regularly stepping up for his teammates and dropping the gloves when called upon.


Zboril didn't make the Czech Republic World Junior team for the Under-20s, but he did compete for the Czech Republic this year, finishing with four goals and two assists in five games at the Ivan Hlinka Memorial, earning a silver medal.

Zboril also earned QMJHL Rookie All-Star team honors, was one of three finalists for the Michael Bossy Trophy award as the QMJHL's top professional prospect, and his 13 goals set a Saint John franchise record as the most goals by a rookie defenseman in one season.

If Zboril develops his offensive level a bit more, it would be icing on the cake, as the Czech defenseman is already technically sound and physical in his own zone.

Depending on how many teams are looking for a defenseman in the first round, Zboril may be taken far earlier than 22nd. From virtually every prospect list I have seen, Zboril is anywhere from the 4th best available defenseman to the 7th best available. But should he be available when the Capitals take the stand in the first round, Zboril could end up being a superb pick.

What Others Are Projecting:
International Scouting Services: 22nd overall
Hockeyprospect.com: 21st overall
The Hockey News: 22nd overall
Bob McKenzie: 14th overall
NHL Central Scouting (North Americans): 12th overall


Colin White, Center, NTDP, USHL
6'0", 183 lbs. Right-handed American. Projects as two-way center.

The USA Hockey National Team Development Program consistently churns out first-round caliber, talented prospects.

This year's team was a little bit different. The team went 49-12-2, but what really stood out was several individual players achievements. Auston Matthews, the team's leading scorer, shattered Patrick Kane's NTDP point record with 117 in 60 games (Kane finished with 102 in the 2005-06 season). But Matthews wasn't the only player to break a record. Jeremy Bracco set the assist mark, with 64 in 65 games (again, passing Kane, who had 50 in 2005-06 and Andy Hilbert, who finished with 50 in the 1998-99 season).


However, Matthews isn't eligible for this year's draft, born just two days after the Sept. 17, 1997 cutoff date for the 2015 draft. Bracco is eligible for the 2015 draft, but at just 5'9", many are questioning if he has the body type to be an NHL-level player.

So who headlines the program for this year's draft?

Colin White.

White had a pretty rough year for the Development Program, missing time with mononucleosis and a wrist injury.

But should the Capitals select, White they can guarantee themselves two things: 1) White will never miss time for the Caps with mononucleosis, as you can only get it once and 2) The Capitals will draft one heck of a hockey player.

White finished his year with the Development Program with 23 goals and 31 assists in 54 games, and he dominated in the U-18 World Junior Championship, with six goals and three assists in USA's route to gold. While his point output isn't what makes him stand out, his ability to do just about anything on the ice certainly does.



White has athleticism flowing through his blood. His father is in the Hall of Fame at Georgia Tech for football and track, and his mother played tennis at Florida State. White uses that athleticism to dominate all 200 feet of the ice.

White proved he has raw athleticism at the NHL combine. White finished with the top times at both the left and right pro agility test (5-10-5 yard shuttle), the sixth-highest vertical jump and the eight-highest standing long jump

White may very well be the best two-way player in the draft, and while his ceiling is probably no higher than an NHL second-line center, many are very high on the Boston College-bound forward.

"When I'm talking about (White), there's no doubt in my mind this kid is one heck of a hockey player," Don Granato, White's U-18 NTDP coach, told NHL.com's Joe Yerdon. "He's going to be a great pro player. The details you need at the professional level, he has. He does them naturally. He competes naturally. I don't care if he had 100 points, that doesn't make anybody better than anybody else at the (junior) level. It might make him only better at this level. It has no bearing on the future."

Granato continued.

"But I can tell you this. The details and the intricacies that you want as a coach, they get done when (White)'s on the ice. As a coach, it's more than going out and trying to score every shift. It's getting your job done and he's the type of player that does that. He competes very well and has a lot of detail to his game at a very young age."

So while White won't wow you offensively, he's the type of player that can do it all. One of his favorite players he likes to watch is Patrice Bergeron, and many have compared him to the player he looks up to.

What Others Are Projecting:
International Scouting Services: 15th overall
Hockeyprospect.com: 23rd overall
The Hockey News: 19th overall
Bob McKenzie: 16th overall
NHL Central Scouting (North Americans): 29th overall


Oliver Kylington, Defenseman, Farjestad BK, SHL
6'0", 180 lbs. Left-handed Swede. Projects as offensive defenseman.

The Capitals have a history of drafting players that fell a bit in the pre-draft rankings of their draft year.

The "draft year droppers" selection appears to have worked with both Burakovsky and Vrana, and if the Capitals were to select Oliver Kylington, they could include him into the same mix as Burakovsky and Vrana.

Kylington's (it's pronounced "kill-ington") draft rankings have dropped severely since the start of the season. If we take a look at the International Scouting Services rankings in October, Kylington is the fifth-ranked prospect (interestingly enough, previously-mentioned Colin White was ranked seventh, so he too has dropped a bit). If we fast-forward to the January rankings, Kylington drops to 12th. Again, moving forward to April, Kylington moves to 24th on the rankings. And, finally, if we look at the final ranking posted in June, Kylington doesn't even finish in the top-30 2015 draft-eligible prospects.

You're first initial reaction should be to just avoid this guy at all costs, right?

Not necessarily. Let's see why exactly Kylington dropped so dramatically in draft rankings first.

Kylington was hyped as a top-end defenseman prospect for the 2015 NHL draft because he was playing against full-grown professional men in the Swedish Hockey League for Farjestad as a 16-year-old in the 2013-14 season. Kylington is the youngest player, at just 16 years, four months and 10 days old, to ever score a goal in SHL history after scoring the game-winning goal for Farjestad in his season debut of that season. Kylington would play in 32 games, recording two goals and four assists. Kylington was hailed as the next big defenseman to come out of Sweden.

Kylington's expectations may have been far too high for this season. After just 18 games, two goals and three assists with Farjestad, Kylington was loaned to second-tier level AIK in Allsvenskan. But after just 17 games, four goals and three assists with AIK, Kylington was sent down again, this time to the Farjestad U-20 team (despite AIK facing regulation...yikes).



Once Kylington settled into the junior level, he unsurprisingly felt a bit more comfortable once he played against players his age, scoring four goals and three assists in just 10 games with U-20 Farjestad. He added an addition five assists in six playoffs games with the club as well.

Internationally, Kylington has played pretty well for Sweden. Kylington has represented Sweden several times this year, playing in 22 different games this year, including the U-18 Ivan Hlinka Memorial Tournament and the U-18 World Junior Championship. Kylington was unable to participate in the U-20 World Junior Championship this year in Canada due to an undisclosed injury, but he surely would have played a prominent role on the team.

Kylington is an excellent skater and projects as a puck-moving defenseman capable of chipping in offensively. He knows when to jump into offensive situations, and when to hold back.

The Capitals love their puck-moving defensemen, and adding Kylington to the mix could prove to be beneficial.

What Others Are Projecting:
International Scouting Services: Outside of Top 30
Hockeyprospect.com: 29th overall
The Hockey News: 20th overall
Bob McKenzie: 24th overall
NHL Central Scouting (European): 6th overall


Joel Eriksson Ek, Center, Farjestad BK, SHL
6'1.75", 180 lbs. Left-handed Swede. Projects as two-way center.

Joel Eriksson Ek has a remarkably similar, yet polar opposite story from Kylington.

That doesn't really make any sense, but let me explain.

Like Kylington, Eriksson Ek saw time with both the professional Farjestad club and the junior-level Farjestad club.

But unlike Kylington, Eriksson Ek got to see a little more time (and valuable time) with the professional squad. Kylington played in 34 games in the mens league, recording four goals and two assists. Eriksson Ek even got to see a bit of playing time during the playoffs, participating in three games, but failed to record a point.

Similarly to Kylington, Eriksson Ek did most of his damage at the junior level, finishing 21 goals and 11 assists in 25 games, and added another five goals and five assists in six playoff games.

But unlike Kylington, Eriksson Ek shot up the draft rankings. Kylington was ranked as high as fifth in some the International Scouting Service's rankings, and Eriksson Ek didn't even crack the top 30 prospects until February. On top of that, Eriksson Ek ranked as the 43rd prospect at the mid-season at TSN, and he went from the 22nd-best European prospect in the NHL Central Scouting rankings to the 4th.

So why did Eriksson Ek skyrocket up the draft rankings?

Eriksson Ek was holding his own playing against men in the SHL. That will always help your case in your draft year. But it's also the way Eriksson Ek plays that has everyone excited. Eriksson Ek not only contributes offensively, but he excels on the defensive end of the puck.



Eriksson Ek uses that keen hockey sense to his advantage against his peers. Though Sweden had a pretty underwhelming U-18 World Championship, Eriksson Ek shined bright, scoring five goals in as many games. And at the Ivan Hlinka Memorial tournament, Eriksson Ek scored three goals and recorded an assist in five games.

He excels at the two way game because he has the perfect body frame at nearly 6'2" and weighing 180 pounds. It's his size that can turn Eriksson Ek from a good player to a great one. However, he needs to bulk up a bit and get stronger so he can muscle guys off of the puck. At the NHL combine, Eriksson Ek finished extremely well in the aerobic tests, finishing with the third-best VO2max score out of all of the participating prospects (what's a VO2max score? Find out here). But Eriksson Ek didn't finish in the top ten in any of the tests that measure strength. Should he gain a little bit of muscle into that 6'2" frame, he will be hard to stop.

One guy Eriksson Ek looks up to is Peter Forsberg, a fellow Swede that was excellent at shielding others off the puck and played defensively responsible. Eriksson Ek has all the tools he needs to be an excellent player, he just has to figure out how to use them.

Eriksson Ek represents a potential pick. There's a lot to like about a guy who excels at the two way game, and Eriksson Ek does just that.

What Others Are Projecting:
International Scouting Services: 20th overall
Hockeyprospect.com: 15th overall
The Hockey News: 27th overall
Bob McKenzie: 23rd overall
NHL Central Scouting (European): 4th overall


Brandon Carlo, Defenseman, Tri-City Americans, WHL
6'5", 196 lbs. Right-handed American. Projects as shutdown defenseman.

In 2004, the Washington Capitals selected 6'6" defenseman Jeff Schultz in the first round. Schultz would go on to play in 399 games spread over seven seasons for the Caps before being bought out after what appeared to be six or seven years of absolutely dreadful play.

Just a year later in the 2005 NHL draft, the Washington Capitals selected 6'5" defenseman Sasha Pokulok and 6'8" defenseman Joe Finley with their two first-round picks. The two of them combined for 21 total NHL games, all of them played by Finley, and not a single one came in a game in which he played for the Washington Capitals.

Should the Capitals select Brandon Carlo with their 22nd pick, he would be just the fourth player that stands at least 6'5" tall selected by the Capitals in the first round.

The first three giants the Caps drafted were first-round busts. But could Carlo potentially put an end to that streak?

Carlo has played in the WHL for the Tri-City Americans for the last two years. Offensively, he won't wow anyone, as he scored just four goals and 21 assists in 63 games this season. But Carlo is given big minutes when he is on the ice. And he is an excellent skater for a guy his size.

Carlo was one of four 2015-draft eligible players to participate for Team USA in the World junior Championship (Eichel, Hanifin and Werenski were the others). Though USA's early quarterfinal exit was pretty underwhelming, Carlo made his presence known defensively. He plays a really intelligent game, has a shockingly large reach and skates with excellence.



But there are a couple of things holding Carlo back from other first-round projected defensemen like Hanifin, Werenski and even Provorov. One is his complete lack of an offensive game. Carlo is very passive, and doesn't shoot the puck nearly as often as he should. Carlo is incredibly large and incredibly strong, finishing with the fourth-lowest percentage of body fat at the combine (just 4.9 percent) the sixth-strongest handgrip with both his right and left hand, and finished with the 10th most pull-ups, completing 11 at the NHL Combine. But his second problem is that he really doesn't use his size to his advantage. He's not particularly physical (though he does drop the glove when needed), but if you watched him during the World Junior Championship, he appeared to be concerned about making a mistake, taking the super safe option virtually every time. Carlo is blessed with a large frame, similar in a mold to Shea Weber. If Carlo gets a little meaner, uses his size to his advantage and adds a powerful shot to his repertoire, he can be a dangerous defenseman.

Now, Carlo should be available at the 22nd pick, but if team's value a right-handed defenseman, Carlo could come off the board earlier than expected. Right-handed defensemen are relatively rare, and they are pretty valuable to own (see: Jeff Petry's contract, stay tuned for Mike Green's new deal). The Caps claim to grab whatever prospect they think has the best chance of success, regardless of player type, position, handedness, whatever. It's a good strategy. But there's no denying that the Capitals are already relatively deep with long-term, right-handed defensemen options with John Carlson, Matt Niskanen and Madison Bowey apparently being in the Capitals long-term plans. I would imagine they would prefer to snag a left-handed defenseman, a polar opposite strategy from virtually every other NHL team. There's no denying that Carlo has the potential to be the next big thing, but he's a long-term project that they will need to be patient with.

What Others Are Projecting:
International Scouting Services: 21st overall
Hockeyprospect.com: 27th overall
The Hockey News: 31st overall
Bob McKenzie: 22nd overall
NHL Central Scouting (North American): 25th overall

Other Possibilities

Denis Gurianov, Forward, Togliatti Jr.: Big Russian forward that has risen his stock over the past couple of months. Fast skater who crashes towards the net plenty and often.

Gabriel Carlsson, Defenseman, Linkoping: Large Swedish defenseman. Much like Carlo, Carlsson has very little offense to his game.

Evgeny Svechnikov, Forward, Cape Breton: Another big Russian forward, produced over two points per game in the QMJHL with Cape Breton. Would be surprised if he's available at 22, but it's certainly a possibility.

Thomas Chabot, Defenseman, Saint John: Left-handed defenseman with good size. Very offensive. Stepped in nicely for Zboril when Zboril was injured, raising his own draft stock.

Brock Boeser, Forward, Waterloo: Powerful shooter, scored 35 goals in his first full season in the USHL. Will join Caps prospect Shane Gersich next year at the University of North Dakota.

The Capitals do not hold a second round pick this year, but they do have the Buffalo Sabres' third round pick, the first selection of the third round (the 62nd overall pick). It's pretty difficult to predict who would be available at the 22nd pick, let alone the 62nd or beyond, but there are two clear trends that I have noticed. The first trend is that there will be a lot of power forwards, big wingers available at or around the 62nd pick. Filip Ahl, Austin Wagner, Alexander Dergachev, Christian Fischer and Jordan Greenway are all large, scoring forwards, and they should anywhere from late-second to fourth-round selections.

It would also be interesting to see if the Capitals select a player that played for the US Development team this season. Last year, the Capitals took Gersich with their fifth-round pick. Gersich played a bottom six role behind elite talents like Eichel, Alex Tuch (drafted by Minnesota), Sonny Milano (Columbus) and Dylan Larkin (Detroit). All those guys were drafted in the first round last year, and Eichel will go second this year. But when Gersich was given a more prominent role as he was with the Omaha Lancers in the USHL, he finished with 27 goals and 49 points in 52 games. Riley Barber was another late round selection out of the Development Program. Much like Gersich, Barber played a bottom six role on a talented team, and dropped deep in the draft, all the way to the sixth round. Barber excelled at Miami of Ohio, and will now join the Hershey Bears. Just a round before Barber, the Capitals selected Connor Carrick, a defenseman from the program, and the round before Carrick, the Capitals selected Thomas Di Pauli of the Development Program.

Once again, the development program was led offensively by two players that aren't eligible for this year's draft in Matthews and Matthew Tkachuk. Could the Capitals continue the trend of poaching bottom-six talent late in the draft from the US National Under-19 team? Quite a few players that participated in the program are projected as late-round picks, notably defensemen Nick Boka, a strong defenseman and Caleb Jones, Seth Jones' little brother. The Caps have drafted three late-round forwards from the NTDP since 2012, and just one NTDP defenseman. Is it time to snag another defenseman? Did Trotz have a good relationship with Seth Jones during his time in Nashville, and would love to pounce on the opportunity to grab his younger brother? Or could they go for the undersized forward Troy Terry, a projected late-round pick who recorded 19 goals this year and will play for the University of Denver this year?

Should the Caps choose to keep that first-round pick, they will more than likely select another home run pick as they have with the late first-round picks for the last several seasons. But if they choose to trade it away, it's a clear indication that MacLellan and the Caps are very much in win-now mode.

Special thanks to Eliteprospects.com and The Hockey News for general prospect information/statistics, Pension Plan Puppets for NHL Draft Combine information, and Justin Fisher's NHL Draft Book for the history of the NHL draft.

Friday, June 5, 2015

So...Who Exactly is that First Line Right Wing?

A couple of weeks ago, Brian MacLellan was asked about what his priorities are as he heads into his second free agency period as the Capitals GM. He said he needed a top line right winger to play alongside Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom. In fact, here are his exact words.

"It’s on the shopping list,” MacLellan said. “I think it would be a priority for us, if we can find a guy who can play there. I don’t know (if) the UFA market is going to provide that for us. We’ll see what happens in the trade market coming up here and see if we can find that. Otherwise, we’re going to have to develop a guy. We’re going to have to look at Burakovsky."

I for one think that, yes, they should look at a Burakovsky to be that first line right wing. That three man combination played a total of 182:25 minutes this season of 5 on 5 even strength, according to HockeyAnalysis.com. They generated 15 goals, 4.93 goals per 60 minutes of play and had a 55.4 percent Corsi percentage. That's outstanding. In fact, I even agree with what Tom Wilson said. I think he should be considered for the top line right wing spot. Wilson played 307:32 minutes of 5 on 5 even strength hockey with both Backstrom and Ovechkin, generating 12 goals, 2.34 goals per 60 minutes of play and a 54.8 percent Corsi percentage.

But it doesn't really matter what I think, it matters what MacLellan thinks. But what I do know about what MacLellan is that he says what he means. Last year, MacLellan said in a conference call a couple weeks before the 2014 draft that he would look to add a defenseman and a veteran goaltender. He did that. He said he would look to add a forward and shore up the defense at the trade deadline. He did that. So, yes, I believe he will look to trade for a top right wing.

But I also believe him when he hints that he's not really quite sure who he would sign as a UFA or who he would trade for, mostly because I don't really know either.

I have scanned every roster, skimmed through multiple databases and read several articles trying to determine who could possibly be available as a legitimate first line right winger for the Caps.

There are not many.

As far as the unrestricted free agent-right wings go, I excluded a lot of them for several different reasons. Some I excluded because I thought they would more than likely re-sign with their current team (Drew Stafford of the Winnipeg Jets), their expense would grossly outweigh their production (Justin Williams), they'd want too much term for the Caps to be interested (Michael Frolik), their best days are behind them (Michael Ryder), they are probably going to retire (Danny Briere) or they just suck (Steve Downie).

The fact that I even have to mention Michael Ryder just goes to show you how truly terrible the UFA field will be for a right wing. It is simply not good.

I agree with MacLellan. If he truly wants a first line right wing, his best option is going to come through a trade. And after scanning every roster, skimming multiple databases and reading several articles, I think I have found two possible top line right wings to trade for.

Patrick Sharp

Okay, this one should be pretty obvious. Just a couple of months ago, the Capitals were rumored to be in the hunt for a trade that would bring Patrick Sharp to Washington. According to some, the price for Sharp at the deadline was Joel Ward and a first round pick.

At the time, that trade would not make sense for the Chicago Blackhawks. The Blackhawks were very much in playoff contention, needing all the scoring they could get, especially with Patrick Kane out with a broken collarbone. Kane, of course, would recover in time for the playoffs. And now Sharp and his Blackhawks are battling for their third Stanley Cup in five years.

But, as soon as the Stanley Cup ends, no matter who lifts the Cup into the air, it will very much make sense for the Blackhawks to part with Sharp.


Patrick Sharp. Photo By Bridget Samuels
Why? 

According to General Fanager, the Blackhawks have just over $5 million in cap space with just eight forwards, three defensemen and two goaltenders signed next year. Why just $5 million? The mammoth $10.5 million average annual value (AAV) contracts for Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane kick in, upgraded from $6.5 million AAV and $6.3 million AAV, respectively. On top of those two gigantic additions, the Blackhawks have five players set to make more than $5 million, and they have two restricted free agents who are set to earn large pay increases (Brandon Saad and Marcus Kruger).

Just to get even remotely close to fielding an entire roster, the Blackhawks have to get rid of at least one of the $5 million or more contracts.

It's not going to be Kane or Toews. It's not going to be Corey Crawford ($6 million per year until 2020) or Duncan Keith ($5,538,461 per year until 2023). It might be Brent Seabrook ($5.8 million through next season), but we don't really care about him. And it's not going to be Marian Hossa, who, at 36, is signed for six more years at $5.275 million per year.

That leaves us with Sharp.

This has happened to the Blackhawks before. After the 2010 Cup win, the Blackhawks were strapped of cash, and were forced to ship out Dustin Byfuglien, Kris Versteeg, Andrew Ladd, Ben Eager and Brent Sopel, all of whom recorded a point in the playoffs that year.

Sharp could be one of a few Blackhawks that wears new colors next year. In fact, in March, Bob McKenzie of TSN went on Vancouver's TSN 1040 and had this to say about the Blackhawks.

"This group that's going for the Cup this year, as it's constructed....I mean, Bickell could be gone. Versteeg could be gone, Brent Seabrook may eventually be gone. He's a year away from unrestricted free agency. There's no question in my mind that Johnny Oduya is not likely to be back."

McKenzie continued when asked about both Hossa and Sharp.

"Oh, Sharp will be gone. Sharp's gone. Sharp is gone for sure. I think they'll be able to keep Hossa around. But I think Bickell is probably at some point likely to be gone. Versteeg is likely to be gone."

These are important pieces to Chicago's winning formula. All gone.

Sharp had an uncharacteristically low year scoring, finishing with just 16 goals. That would make him just the seventh highest goal scorer on the Capitals. Previously, Sharp had three consecutive seasons in which he scored 30 or more goals (excluding the lockout-shortened season). So what happened? Well, he had an uncharacteristically low shooting percentage, scoring on just 7.0 percent of his shots, down from his 10.9 percent in the previous year. That was his primary issue. In fact, his possession stats were right on par with his career norms, and the only thing that was clearly down was his goal totals, obviously a clear reflection on his abnormally low shooting percentage. Sharp and his line mates even had 321 shots at even strength 5 on 5 from high-danger zones while Sharp was on the ice, his fourth highest total of his career. Sharp did, however, post the third lowest PDO score of his career at just 98.8 at even strength 5 on 5 this season. All signs point to the fact that Sharp literally just had an unlucky year.

Sharp is going to turn 34 at the end of December. With just two years left on his current contract at $5.9 million per year, the Capitals wouldn't really be taking too high of a risk in adding him. The Blackhawks will be looking to get money off of their books, so trading a guy on the Caps current roster wouldn't make too much sense. Chicago would more than likely look to trade Sharp for a couple of prospects or draft picks. And hey, Washington and Chicago have swapped a player for a pick before. Chicago sent Troy Brouwer to Washington in exchange for a 2011 first round pick. Chicago doesn't have a first round pick in this year's draft. Washington does at 22.

TJ Oshie

Your first clear memory of TJ Oshie is probably when he scored a bazillion shootout goals in the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics. That was pretty awesome. My first memory of him came when I was watching a North Dakota hockey game five years, and Oshie went into the announcing booth and gave an impromptu interview where he talked about sushi, the Blues, North Dakota and chewed on gum very obnoxiously.

Unfortunately, there doesn't appear to be any video evidence of it anymore, but Oshie was very hammered in that interview.

Fortunately for the Capitals, the Blues may be willing to part with Oshie, who is known for hammering his opponents with power and scoring prowess.

The St. Louis Blues once again entered the playoffs as a favorite in the powerful Western Conference. After a season in which they finished with the second-highest point total, they swiftly exited out of the first round after a six-game series with the Minnesota Wild in true Blues fashion.

Blues GM Doug Armstrong is obviously not happy, and will obviously be looking for a change. And there are two parts that he could potentially change: The coaching situation and the team itself.

The Blue brought back head coach Ken Hitchcock. So could they really look towards shaking up the core of their team a bit?

Here's what's Sportsnet's Elliotte Friedman wrote about after his discussion with Armstrong a week ago.

Blues GM Doug Armstrong talked at length about his "two cores" this week.

There's the group of forwards who've owned the key minutes (David Backes, Patrik Berglund, TJ Oshie, Alexander Steen) and the group that's coming hard (Jori Lehtera, Jaden Schwartz, Vladimir Tarasenko and hopefully Dmitrij Jaskin).

"There's the Bell Curve of a career," (Armstrong) explained further on Thursday. "The data is being redefined. Age Brackets pre-expansion were older...The slower game allowed longer careers. Now, the maturity of young players, with strength coaches at age 15. It's tending to a younger man's game every year. There's anomalies to all of this; every player says they are the anomaly...That's what makes them great.But young players are driving the bus at an earlier age of their career."

What's also happening - and these are (Friedman's) words, not (Armstrong's) - is the Blues realize the previous core has hit its limit. Things started to turn over last season, with younger players getting ice time in key situations previously taken by veterans, and that will only increase in 2015-16. For example, Tarasenko spent eight seconds per game as a penalty killer. That will grow.

Friedman continued.

This led to my toughest question: Without mentioning any specific names, does anyone have to be traded now that Ken Hitchcock will return?

"No," (Armstrong) answered immediately. "Unequivocally no. Not everybody gets along. Good teams find a way."

The one thing I sense, though (and again, this is (Friedman) talking, not Armstrong), is he's looking at his roster and deciding if any of the veterans will be unable to step back. That's the player/players who get(s) moved.

The St. Louis Blues top-three scorers last season were Tarasenko, Steen and Schwartz. That's two guys connected to that younger core of Blues. Oshie, who is included in the veteran core, finished fifth on the team in points last season, with 55. Tarasenko, Schwartz and Lehtera all played second-line minutes, while Jaskin, the fourth member of that new core, was playing bottom six minutes. Oshie played top line minutes alongside Backes and Steen. In fact, Oshie had faced the toughest competition according to War on Ice.

So would Oshie be willing to take a reduced role on the team? That's impossible to know. But there are quite a few different factors that make Oshie quite interesting if he would choose not to take a reduced role with the Blues.

Sure, you probably think, of course, we'd love to have Oshie. He's had three straight years (again, excluding the lockout-shortened season) where he has finished with 50 or more points. At just 28, he's right in the heart of his prime. He has just two seasons left on his contract at $4.175 million per year, and he does not have a no trade or no movement clause, according to General Fanager. At the moment, the Blues aren't strapped for cash, with almost $12 million in cap space left, but Tarasenko is set to become a restricted free agent this offseason, and he is going to have a very, very large contract, so money could get a bit tight in St. Louis. It all looks great, right?


Via ownthepuck.blogspot.com

But what I noticed as scanned every roster, skimmed multiple databases and read several articles, I noticed that St. Louis fans (and media) began to grow pretty sour on Oshie. Why?

He is terrible during the playoffs.

I found this article that claims he's not nearly as aggressive as he once was. I found this article, written out of desperation, begging people to stop the Oshie hate, only to have the comment section rip him a new one. And it all boiled down to the same thing.

Oshie is really bad during the playoffs.

Oshie had to play in four different playoff series' at the start of his career before he got his first playoff goal. In total, Oshie has played in 30 playoff games. He has five goals and four assists. This is a guy who plays as a top six forward. And he has five goals and four assists in 30 playoff games. In this year's playoffs alone, Nicklas Backstrom, who needed hip surgery following the playoffs and is primarily known for passing the puck, had three playoff goals this year.

Oshie's regular season point total is .70 per game. His playoff point total is .30 per game.

Oshie may very well be the reason why the Blues enter the playoffs as a favorite each year, then bow out early.

Is that a risk the Caps would be willing to take? Possibly. There's a lot to like about Oshie, and there is some things not to like about Oshie. But he very well could make a difference in the Caps organization.

I'm not going to speculate what it would cost the Caps in a trade with the Blues if the Caps were interested in Oshie. But I will say that, like Chicago, the Blues don't have a 2015 first-round pick.

Okay, so through a trade, those were the only legitimate players I could realistically see the Caps trading for. I simply don't believe anyone else is either A) worth trading for, or B) available for a trade.

But I'm not letting myself off the hook this easily.

I just had to find at least one unrestricted free agent that MacLellan would consider trying to sign. Because MacLellan didn't say there "isn't" a UFA option, he said "I don't know."

So I tried to find who would be the best possible option.

I want to make a couple of things perfectly clear:

1) I doubt this would happen. I simply tried to find the best possible UFA option since MacLellan said "I don't know." If he was more direct in his answer, I would have stopped writing a few paragraphs ago.

2) Just because it's the best UFA option, doesn't make it a good UFA option.

3) I would not be thrilled with this signing.

Alright, here it is.

Martin St. Louis

Yes. Believe it or not, this is probably the best and most realistic option the Capitals have if they look towards free agency.

Yes, the Capitals should not look toward free agency for a first-line right wing.

If you watched the Rangers during the playoffs, and I have a strong feeling you probably did, you noticed that Martin St. Louis struggled out there. It looked like Father Time punched the 5'8" soon-to-be 40-year-old right in the face, and then proceeded to curb-stomp him. He finished with one goal and six assists in 19 games for the offensively-deprived Rangers.


Martin St. Louis. Photo By Justin Yamada
St. Louis has expressed that he wants to play next year and that he wants to be a Ranger. The Rangers probably can't afford him, even if he takes a severe pay cut. So if St. Louis truly wants to play another season, chances are it will probably not be with the Rangers, no matter what St. Louis wants.

But he will probably want to go to a contender for one more year. St. Louis still did finish with 21 goals and 31 assists in 74 games during the regular season, which is still pretty outstanding. His 2.40 points per 60 was 61st in the league among players with at least 50 games this year, ahead of Wayne Simmonds, Bobby Ryan and *cough* *cough* Patrick Sharp.

But St. Louis had a $5.625 million cap hit last year. Even for one season, that's a little steep for a 40-year-old who looked pretty bad during the playoffs. But if he truly wants one more shot at winning a Cup, and the Rangers can't keep him, the Capitals aren't a particularly bad choice for him. But he would certainly have to take a pay cut. In fact, if he wants to play for any team, I highly doubt he can get anywhere close to $5.625 million for one season.

Or he could, you know, retire and stop beating up on the Capitals all the time.

In my opinion, MacLellan doesn't have too many options as far as a first line right wing goes. I'd imagine he might be a bit too picky with short-term players, considering he's already stated he might try Burakovsky there, and he's already said he'd like to give Wilson top-six minutes. Just staying put isn't a bad option, and may ultimately be the best move.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

What to do with the UFAs?

Before, we looked at the Capitals upcoming restricted free agents. The restricted free agent situation is fairly easy...virtually every player should get re-signed, barring some sort of absurd offer from an opposing team, a refusal to play for the Capitals, or Marcus Johansson starts robbing banks during the offseason or something.

But now this is where the contract situations get a bit interesting. As we look at the unrestricted free agents, there are quite a few different variables that could come into play with each free agent.

 For the first time in a while, I think the Capitals are better off just re-signing virtually every player they used for the entire season. Virtually every player we could potentially re-sign is a better option/fit than any upcoming free agent this offseason. The upcoming free agents list is a little weak this year.

Unfortunately, I highly doubt the Capitals manage to re-sign every player.

If the restricted free agents end up signing with the Caps for the terms I predicted, the Capitals will have about $10.48 million in cap space for the remaining open spots on their roster (this is assuming the cap ceiling is going to be at $72 million, which could obviously change come July 1).

Now remember, I assumed every player would sign a contract, and which was more than just about every contract I settled with in that RFA post. So, in my opinion, that $10.48 million is essentially the worst case scenario as far as cap space. I'd like to think that's an accurate prediction, but take it for what it's worth, it's just my guesstimate. Feel free to point and laugh at me when it ends up being a vastly different number.

In total, the Capitals have 17 total upcoming unrestricted free agents within the system. Of those 17, four played for the Capitals for the entire season, two for a chunk, two played a decent amount in the past and a couple others were on the roster for a handful of days.

Let's take a look at each upcoming unrestricted free agents situation, and whether or not the Caps would re-sign them, and at what cost.

Mike Green

Mike Green has had a really fun career in Washington. He had quite a few remarkable offensive season, scoring 31 goals in the 2008-09 season and recording 76 points in the 2009-10 season. He's had a few critical goals in critical moments, earning the nickname Game Over for ending games in overtime seemingly every time he had the opportunity to do so.

Green's probably never going to score 30 goals ever game. He probably won't even score 20 goals ever again. He's never going to get 70 points, and he probably won't even get 60 in a season. But what can't be denied is that Green still possesses an offensive touch that few defensemen have.

Green finished with 10 goals and 35 assists on the season, finishing seventh in the league among players that played at least 10 games in points per 60 minutes of play at even strength five on five with 1.29. He always seems to be able to find the open man, knows exactly when to step up and take a shot, and is always dangerous when he's on the ice.

Photo By Bridget Samuels
This season, Green found his minutes reduced, playing on the third pairing primarily alongside Jack Hillen and Tim Gleason. He was also replaced on the top power play unit by John Carlson, but tended to play on the second unit.

Green wants to stay in Washington, and Washington would love to have Green back, but it just doesn't seem likely. With already $20,016,666 in cap space already allocated to the blue line, there just simply isn't any room to add Green back at the terms he would like to see, unless he takes a pay cut.

Green's last contract was a three-year, $18.25 million deal that started in the 2012-13 season. Now, Green may not be worth $6 million per year anymore. In fact, no third line defenseman should be worth that much. But, we can all agree that Green is much, much better than your typical third line defenseman, and if it wasn't for such a deep group of right-handed defensemen in John Carlson and Matt Niskanen, Green could have quite easily played top four minutes.

Green could go ahead and talk about how he wants to play for the Capitals, but he'd be nuts to sign with Washington. I mean, after what we have seen in virtually every offseason, why wouldn't every free agent at least test the waters during free agency? We've seen Tanner Glass get a three-year, $4.35 million contract from the New York Rangers, Dave Bolland get a five-year, $27.5 million from the Florida Panthers and *cough* *cough* Brooks Orpik get a five-year, $27.5 million contract just last offseason! We aren't even talking about the grandaddy of them all in the seven-year $36.75 million contract the Toronto Maple Leafs gave to David Clarkson! You think guys like Mike Green wouldn't want to at least try to cash in on that consistent overpay?

This is Green's moment to cash in on the big bucks. He's 29-years-old, and he could quite easily fetch $5-6.5 million per year for a long extended period of time. A team like the Detroit Red Wings have been itching for a right-handed defenseman for years. Other teams have money to spend. The Caps don't.

Maybe the money isn't important to Green. Maybe he really, really, really wants to stay. Maybe he likes the area. Maybe he doesn't want to leave his friends and teammates. Maybe his wife, Courtney Parrie wants to stay in the DC area more than anything. Hey, you think she doesn't have a say? You are obviously wrong if you think she doesn't, and history would tend to disagree with you.

Don't get me wrong. I'm not 100 percent counting Mike Green out. Maybe he's perfectly fine with accepting he is now a third pairing defenseman for a good team, and he believes it is only fair that he is paid as such. I find it highly unlikely he'd be willing to accept a contract that is around 50 percent of what he could fetch from other teams, but I guess crazier things have happened.

Contract I'd Like to See: Sigh.....two years, $3.5 million per year (only two years because I highly doubt he'd take a longterm deal that saw his income drop by nearly 50 percent), plus his own personal masseuse, butler, maid and whatever other perk he would like that doesn't count against the cap.

Joel Ward

Much like Green, Joel Ward could cash in this offseason. Over the past two seasons, Ward has been nothing short of excellent, especially when you consider he is basically a third line player with a scoring touch. Ward finished with 19 goals and 34 points this season, a slight decrease in production from last season, when he finished with a career high in both goals (24) and points (49).

Ward was utilized as a first line right wing during the playoffs, and it appeared to work. Ward finished his playoffs with three goals and six assists, making him the co-leader on the team in points during the playoffs alongside Alex Ovechkin.

Also, much like Green, Ward would like to stay in Washington. Unlike Green, it is a little bit easier to fit in a guy like Ward. We simply don't have the forward depth to allow guys like Ward to walk away, so a contract for a third line guy, with first line potential that can play in virtually any game situation and can be counted on for big time plays only makes sense.

Ward came from the Nashville Predators four years ago when he signed a four year, $12 million contract. He could very well get a similar contract, despite being 34-years-old. What makes him different from your average 34-year-old player? Ward made his NHL debut at 26, and has shown no sign of wear and tear on that big ass.

Ward is a quite guy, but when he does speak, he is always full of wise cracks and hilarious quotes. He's a good guy to have on your team, and it's quite obvious that the guys in the locker room love having him around.

Ward has a lot of familiarity with Barry Trotz, finishing up his fourth season under the Capitals first-year coach. Trotz seems to know exactly how to get the best out of Ward, and the winger is playing his best hockey at the tail end of his career.

The Caps would be crazy not to try to sign him, but, again, much like Green, Ward would also be crazy not to at least test free agency. Ward is at the top of many lists of upcoming free agent forwards, and at 34, this could very well be his last big contract. But the difference between he and Green is that the Caps should be willing to give Ward want he wants as far as a contract goes. So if he's satisfied with the number, we should expect to see 42 back in a red sweater next season.

Contract I'd Like to See: Two years, $3.5 million per year.

Eric Fehr

In my opinion, this was one of Eric Fehr's most complete seasons as a Washington Capital. Sure, he didn't set a career high in goals or points, but he got pretty close. His career high came in the high octane offensive years of the Capitals during the 2009-10 season when he finished with 21 goals and 39 points. This year, Fehr had 19 goals and 33 points, playing primarily as a third line center responsible for defensive hockey.

Fehr really stepped up this year. The Capitals had a pretty odd situation when it came to centers on the team, and Fehr was cast in as a candidate for the third line position. He did well, buddying up with Ward and giving the Caps that offensive punch on the third line.

Photo By Bridget Samuels
Fehr was desperately missed during the playoffs with that "upper body" injury that ended up being a third-degree AC sprain in his right shoulder. He was able to play in Game 7 against the Rangers, but it was just his fourth game of the playoffs. The shoulder injury is a bit scary, as Fehr has dealt with shoulder issues throughout his career, especially with his brief time with the Winnipeg Jets. According to the Washington Post's Alex Prewitt, Fehr wasn't aware of whether or not the AC injury would need surgery or not, and that Fehr also battled an elbow injury during the season.

Giving a contract to a player that could potentially be injured often is obviously a bit risky, but Fehr has proven to be a very valuable player when he's on the ice. He's also not going to come at too high of a price, and the Caps surely would like him back.

Fehr is going to turn 30 at the beginning of the season. I would have to imagine at this point in his career, Fehr would be more eager to sign a longer-term contract than a short-term. In fact, Fehr hasn't received a contract from the Capitals that was at least three-years since his three-year entry level contract, consistently playing on just a two-year or one-year deal. Fehr isn't going to warrant too much money...and even though Fehr would probably like a three or four year deal, another two year deal is in the best interest for Washington.

Contract I'd Like to See: Two years, $2.25 million per year. I'd give him three if that was the deal breaker.

Jay Beagle

Jay Beagle had a surprisingly good year, setting career highs in both goals and assists with 10 apiece. I don't know where he found that offensive flair, but what I do know is that we are probably not going to see Beagle score off of 11.9 percent of his total shots ever again, meaning I highly doubt we ever see 10 goals out of Beagle ever again.

I of course hope I'm wrong, and Beagle continues to kick butt on the fourth line. He is pretty much the golden standard of fourth line centers at this point in his career, playing a defensive role while finishing with positive possession numbers. On top of that, Beagle is a man possessed when it comes to the face off dot. In fact, Beagle is still leading the league in face off percentage (of players who took at least 15 face offs) during the playoffs, winning 120 of his 188 face off attempts, good for 63.8 percent. That was only slightly better than his regular season percentage of 56.5.

That's pretty much what Beagle brings to the table. He's a defensive-minded guy who can kill penalties and win you some face offs.

This should be a pretty easy signing for the Capitals. Of the upcoming free agents, this is far and away the easiest signing. It shouldn't cost the Capitals too much, and whatever the term may be, the Caps will more than likely be satisfied with Beagles production.

Contract I'd Like to See: Two years, $1.8 million per year

Curtis Glencross/Tim Gleason

I decided to lump these two together because they are essentially in the same boat. And that boat is drifting incredibly far from Washington.

I made it quite clear that I was originally upset with the trade for Curtis Glencross, as I simply saw no reason to force a third line player to play top six minutes. I simply do not want to live in a world where a team sends a second and a third round pick in exchange for a player who will end up being healthy scratched during the playoffs. Yet this is the world I live in. Glencross needs to leave.

I was relatively indifferent during the Tim Gleason trade. In fact, I'm like 40 percent sure I had zero reaction at all to the trade. I simply shrugged and moved on with my day. We essentially moved a fourth round pick that we previously received from the Arizona Coyotes for a guy who appeared to be very slow and rode the bench in critical game situations. As I grow older and older, I fail to see the point in trade deadline acquisitions. I won't be too terribly shocked if no one decides to sign Gleason ever again, but he should be satisfied to know that the Toronto Maple leafs will pay him will make $4.5 million over the next three years regardless of whether he plays hockey or not. That's right, the Toronto Maple Leafs, who literally need to suit up virtually anyone that wants to play hockey for them, would rather pay a man $4.5 million to not play for them than actually pay them to play. This is the situation Gleason is in.

Other Upcoming UFAs

You probably forgot that Aaron Volpatti was even in the Capitals organization at all anymore. Believe it or not, he actually is, and I can guarantee you he won't be come next year. John Erskine is  also set to become a free agent this year. His health has become a concern and we simply have better options than him at this point. I have my doubts a team will sign Erskine, but if he's healthy and he wants to play, I really hope a team signs him. He served the Caps well, and I will never in my entire life forget this fight. There are two guys that are in really interesting free agent positions for the Capitals, and that's Cameron Schilling and Tomas Kundratek. Both become UFA-VI's this offseason (definition of that here). I like both of these guys, especially Schilling, but I have to imagine that both these guys would like to look to see if they can get some professional ice time elsewhere, because it doesn't look like they will crack this NHL lineup any time soon, and if they both truly believe they can play in the NHL, then they should look elsewhere for the sake of their careers. The same goes with Steve Oleksy, who is loved by virtually everyone within the Caps fan base, but simply won't ever see consistent time in a red uniform. Much like Schilling and Kundratek, Oleksy could potentially find himself with a better opportunity on a different roster. Casey Wellman and Chris Connor find themselves in similar situations. Wellman played in a handful of games last season, and Connor found himself in the lineup this season. Neither of these guys are consistent NHL players, but both served the Hershey Bears well. I'm especially a fan of Connor, and hopefully both of these guys decide to stick within the organization. Kris Newbury, Jon Landry, Tim Kennedy and Mike Moore will also become become free agents.

So....if you add up all of the ideal contracts I came up with for both the RFAs and the UFAs, the Capitals are about $1.3 million over the cap using a $72 million cap ceiling. Now, obviously these are just my predictions, and a ton of different variables could be added between now and July 1, but the only way the Capitals could keep every player on the roster is if two things happened: 1) The RFAs stay on the team after accepting a qualifying offer and 2) Mike Green takes a pay cut.

Do you think that happens?

Yeah, me neither.


Saturday, May 16, 2015

What to do with the RFAs?

With the season coming to heartbreaking close, we now have to look towards next season.

We just have to, because that is obviously the year the Capitals will win it all.

This certainly wasn't the year. This team didn't even qualify for the playoffs just a season ago! We saw a massive improvement after several key additions to the team, but there is no denying that we weren't the favorites heading into this postseason. It would have been pretty awesome....but let's be a little honest here.

There is, however, no denying that our future looks bright. With young guys playing critical roles (including a rookie second line center) now all of a sudden gaining NHL experience, our better years appear to be ahead of us. The question is...who will be a part of it?

We are first going to start with the restricted free agents. In total, the Capitals have 11 guys who become restricted free agents this offseason. Four of those guys (Braden Holtby, Marcus Johansson, Evgeny Kuznetsov and Nate Schmidt) saw a lot of time this season in the NHL. So let's take a look and see what exactly the game plan should be for each of our upcoming restricted free agents.

Actually, wait a second. Before we get into the juicy stuff, we should know how much money we can play with. According to General Fanager, the Capitals have $21,234,041 in cap space to work with this offseason, and already have $47,765,959 cap hit this upcoming year.

Okay, ready? Now let's get into the juicy stuff.

Actually, no, wait a second again. Last time, I promise. Before we start, we should also know what exactly the qualifying offers are for our four primary restricted free agents.

A qualifying offer is essentially an offer the Capitals must make to each of their RFAs to maintain negotiating rights to that player. It is a minimum salary calculated based on the previous year's salary for that individual player. A player who made less than $660,000 last season has a minimum qualifying offer of 110 percent of their salary. Players making anywhere between $660,000 and $1 million have a minimum qualifying offer of 105 percent of their salary. And finally, players making over $1 million must have a qualifying offer of 100 percent of their salary.

The Capitals will surely submit qualifying offers to virtually every one of those four players. If they could get as many guys as they could for a bargain price, why wouldn't they? But what they obviously have to worry about is if players will sign offer sheets elsewhere, and if opposing teams try to drive up the price, the Capitals could end up shooting themselves in the foot. In some particular cases, it may be wise for the Caps to just go ahead an try to give these guys an actual contract. For this particular article, we are going to assume that the Caps are going to offer the main four RFAs a contract, but having the players settle for a qualifying contract could very well be the case.

Here are the qualifying offers for the four main RFAs.


Ok, now let's get into the juicy stuff.

Restricted Free Agents

Ok, restricted free agents re-sign with their team virtually every single time. I mean, sure, teams can decide they just don't want that guy anymore, and sure, players can sign offer sheets for contracts for other teams. But even when that happens, the team that has the rights to the player matches it the vast majority of the time. Is this confusing? Remember when Shea Weber signed with the Flyers? He could have been a Flyer, and the Nashville Predators could have decided to allow that to happen, and in return, they would have received a boatload of draft picks. But they simply decided to match the offer, and when that happens, the player must sign with that team. A restricted free agent has signed an offer sheet just three times in the last five years, and the last time a team decided to actually accept the offer sheet was in 2007, when the Anaheim Ducks allowed Dustin Penner to head to the Edmonton Oilers.

The four restricted free agents I'm referring to are Braden Holtby, Evgeny Kuznetsov, Marcus Johansson and Nate Schmidt. Could they sign offer sheets with other teams? Sure, it's entirely possible. But, should that happen, I'd be willing to bet money that the Caps would match any offer thrown at Holtby and Kuznetsov, and I'd be willing to bet slightly less money they'd do the same for Johansson. So here's the plan for each.

Braden Holtby

This season marked Holtby's coming out year, where he was finally fully entrusted as the Capitals starting goaltender, and he shone brightly, finishing with a .923 save percentage, a 2.22 goals against average in 73 total games. He didn't finish as a Vezina candidate, and as of today, the official voting hasn't been released, but he was surely in the top five in votes. On top of all of this wonderfulness, Holtby played like a man possessed in the playoffs, and more than proved the Caps can rely on him as a goaltender in virtually every cup run.

Holtby made $2 million this year, which is pretty cheap when you look at how great he was. Out of all of the free agents, Holtby is quite easily the top priority in re-signing. And it's the one you should keep your eye on the most, because how much or how little the Caps can sign him for can make or break the team.

Photo Credit: Bridget Samuels

The top five highest paid goaltenders with the largest cap hit next season are Henrik Lundqvist ($8.5 million), Sergei Bobrovsky ($7.425 million), Pekka Rinne ($7 million), Tuukka Rask ($7 million) and Carey Price ($6.5 million). I would be absolutely shocked if Holtby's next contract is within the top five contracts. In fact, there is almost no way Holtby's contract is more than Price's who will more than certainly win the Vezina Trophy this year, and quite possibly the Hart Trophy.

The key in this signing is to get the correct amount of term. The Caps are fortunate enough to be in this situation when Holtby is just 25. So giving him a relatively lengthy contract won't be the end of the world, as the maximum length a team can offer a player they previously had under contract is just eight years. I don't think the Caps will offer him the max length. Teams are quickly learning that offering long term contracts to goaltenders can kind of stab you directly in your wallet and your soul. You know, just do a quick google search of the contract the Flyers offered Ilya Bryzgalov. Or how about what the Blackhawks have given Corey Crawford. Or maybe check out Lundqvist's contract situation in four years. The key is to give Holtby the right money at the right term, which, as I type that out, sounds really, really obvious. I'm leaving it there.

Contract I'd like to see: Four/five years, $5.5 million per year

Evgeny Kuznetsov

The Wizard had high expectations head into his rookie year, and he kind of reached them. The young Russian stepped right into the second line center role, and fortunately for himself and Caps fans, it appeared to work out pretty well. Kuznetsov finished with 11 goals and 26 assists, both solid for a rookie. He even began to see an increased role on the power play, and will more than likely continue to do so next season.

I lied. This is probably the most interesting contract situation for the Capitals. Kuznetsov made just $900,000 guaranteed this season (he had a $2.85 million in performance bonuses to make, I have no idea if he got them or not). What makes this so interesting? It will be interesting to see if the Caps just decide, 'sure, lets give him a decently-long contract to secure that second line center spot for a few years' or they instead decide 'you know what? What if he doesn't quite pan out?' I'm of course referring to a bridge contract.

A bridge contract is essentially a safety net for teams after an entry-level contract (like Kuznetsov's) expires. Basically, Kuznetsov is going to want a contract with a longer term, as he's no longer an entry-level player, according to his contract. The Capitals, however, see him more as an entry-level player, and wouldn't want to commit to a long term contract. A bridge contract meets the two parties in the middle. A bridge contract offers a player just a couple of million dollars or so for two years. This allows the team to get a better understanding of just how well a player can perform without getting too screwed by term or cap. Look at it from this point. We have essentially seen Kuznetsov play for one full year. Now his contract is expiring. Do you think the Caps are 100 percent certain Kuznetsov is the answer for the second line center position? Probably not. So why would they give him a long term contract when, you know, he may not perform at the level the Caps had hoped for? Instead, let's give him a short term contract that allows the Caps to give him a little less than he's probably worth, which allows the Caps to utilize money in other areas. This is a similar situation to what Marcus Johansson was in just a couple of years ago.

What's the risk of a bridge contract? Well, if Kuznetsov turns into the next Nicklas Backstrom, the Capitals may regret it. Basically, the Caps have an opportunity to sign Kuznetsov for four or five years now at, just for a reference, say $4 million. That's a risky contract, but if he performs like, say, Backstrom, that's a fantastic value. But let's say the Caps give Kuznetsov a bridge contract, for two years and $2 million. Then say he performs like Backstrom. After his two year contract runs up, Kuznetsov might be worth $6 million. This is kind of what happened to the Montreal Canadiens with P.K. Subban. Had the Canadiens simply given Subban what he wanted to begin with, they wouldn't have had to pay him that monster contract.

I think Kuznetsov is good, but I think a bridge contract is a pretty safe bet. I don't think we are going to get burned like the Canadiens were with Subban. A bridge contract at this point is definitely the smartest thing for the Capitals.

Contract I'd like to see: Two years, $2.25 million per year

Marcus Johansson

Johansson started off the year hot, and finished with a career year in goals (20) and points (47). He became a second line scoring threat, with first line potential. In the playoffs, he didn't quite perform as well, with just a goal and three assists, but he had spurts where he played strong along the boards and looked like a legitimate threat.

Photo Credit: Bridget Samuels
I've voiced my opinion on Johansson a few times. I think he's an ok option to have on the second line, but I just don't think he's serious second line scoring winger for a contending team. A guy like Johansson would thrive on a team with a ton of scoring depth, and Johansson would succeed mightily playing as a third line scoring threat for a team like, say, the Anaheim Ducks or the Chicago Blackhawks. A team with a lot of depth up top would love to have a guy like Johansson.

I don't think the Caps are quite there yet, though I they are getting close. With guys like Andre Burakovsky showing a lot of promise, and Jakub Vrana waiting behind the scenes, they may just be one or two guys away from being a team just like the Ducks or Blackhawks. But if the Capitals realistically think they can get to that point, then why not sign Johansson for a couple more seasons?

My fear is that the Caps go ahead and sign Johansson for a lengthy amount of time, paying him like a second line player when he may get replaced by other left-handed wings in the future. I just believe at this point in their careers, Burakovsky's ceiling is higher than Johansson's.

Don't get me wrong, I certainly think the Capitals should sign Johansson to a contract. But I also think if Johansson signs an offer sheet elsewhere, and it is for the wrong price and length for the Caps, they should accept it. Here's a link to the latest offer sheet compensation, found on page 38, Article 10.4.

Now, I find it unlikely that Johansson would sign an offer sheet unless the offer was too good to be true, and I also doubt any team would offer him a contract the Capitals wouldn't be willing to pay. But if a team gets him to sign for somewhere between $3,364,391 and $5,046,585, and the Caps choose to accept, they are compensated with a first and a third round pick.

Again, I doubt a team would sign Johansson to an offer the Caps would refuse to match, but crazier things have happened.

Contract I'd like to see: Two years, $4.5 million per year

Nate Schmidt

In his 39 games this season, Schmidt looked pretty outstanding. But an injury appeared to keep him on the outside looking in for the latter half of the season, and the addition of Gleason all but killed his chances at playing after the deadline.

I, as well as many, many others thought Schmidt should be playing alongside Mike Green through the playoffs, as Schmidt more than proved he could hang in the NHL on the third pair.

Schmidt has simply been a tweener, bouncing back and forth between the NHL and AHL. He is an NHL player. I know it, he knows it, and I think Barry Trotz knows it as well. However, despite playing two different seasons in the NHL, Schmidt has even less NHL experience than Kuznetsov. So, much like Kuznetsov, how could realistically expect the Capitals to shell out money for a guy they may not be completely sold on?

Schmidt made $625,000 over the past two seasons. Why not offer a little bit of a bump for another two years?

Contract I'd like to see: Two years, $1.5 million per year

Other Upcoming RFAs

The other seven upcoming restricted free agents either saw a very little amount of time this season with the Capitals, or no time at all. The most important one is obviously Philipp Grubauer, the promising young goaltender who played in two total games for the Capitals this year, earning two wins, including one crucial win in the playoffs. It is hard to judge a goaltender on just two NHL games, but what we have seen from the past in Grubauer is at the very least promising. Grubauer also performed very well for the Hershey Bears, finishing his season with a 2.30 goals against average and  a .921 save percentage in 49 games. There's not doubt he is a good backup goaltender, and, as evident in the playoffs, Trotz clearly trusts him over Justin Peters. So we will see how his situation plays out this offseason.

Chris Brown and Stanislav Galiev become RFAs as well. Brown saw a little bit of time, and looked like a prototypical 4th line player. He's a good guy to have in your system to give yourself a little depth. Galiev finally got the call up to play in the NHL, and managed to score his first NHL goal in just his second game. It's unclear whether or not he can be a consistent NHL player for the Capitals, but he definitely had his best professional year yet with the Bears, scoring 25 goals over the course of the season. Patrick Wey is another guy set to become an RFA. He's seen a bit of time in the NHL, but injuries have plagued him throughout his career, and he may never be able become a consistent NHL player. Garrett Mitchell, Edward Pasquale and Brandon Anderson join the list as well. Their chances of making the NHL are extremely low at this point.