The Washington Capitals kicked off the 2015 NHL Free Agency frenzy by making two brilliant forward acquisitions. Their first blockbuster move they made at forward was the signing of former Los Angeles King forward Justin Williams to a reasonable 2-year, $6.5 million contract. The 3-time Stanley Cup Champion and Conn Smythe Trophy winner brings leadership and some playoff performance punch to the Capitals organization. He has earned his nickname of “Mr. Game 7” for very good reason.
One day later on July 2, the Capitals made a major trade as they sent forward Troy Brouwer, goaltender Phoenix Copley, and 2016 third round selection to the St. Louis Blues in exchange for forward T.J. Oshie. Oshie brings some more skill and speed to the Capitals top-six forward rotation, and he can also perform superbly in the NHL shootouts. Capitals management is hopeful that he can fill the right-wing spot next to Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom.
The Capitals said goodbye to two bigger, more rugged forwards in Troy Brouwer and Joel Ward during NHL Free Agency. The decision to move on from these two players is not an easy move for the Capitals management, but it is probably what is best for the Capitals needs up front. The Capitals were lacking skill and speed up front for the past couple of seasons and this is an area that needed to be addressed this summer. With the additions of Williams and Oshie, the Capitals gain more productive players than the players they are replacing.
Any Other Tweaks Coming?
After the additions of Justin Williams and T.J. Oshie, the Capitals right-wing rotation seems to be set for the upcoming season.
The next area of concern for the Capitals is the centre ice position. The Capitals decided to let third line centre Eric Fehr test free agency and they have not filled his void. This is a bit of a worry because Nicklas Backstrom could miss the start of the season because of his recent hip surgery.
Eric Fehr had a productive season for the Capitals overall. He managed to tally 19 goals and 33 points while he learned to play the centre position. Fehr also contributed for the Capitals on special teams as he was used mainly on the penalty killing unit.
With the Capitals still needing to re-sign restricted free agents Marcus Johansson and Braden Holtby, there is limited cap space available for the Capitals. They do not have much wiggle room to make a major splash either via trade or the free agency market.
The good news for the Capitals is that they do already have some in-house options for the third-line centre position. They could always slide Jay Beagle up into this role from his 4th line spot, or they can even place Brooks Laich in this spot. Beagle is more of a defensive player with limited offensive punch, so his role is better suited for the 4th line. Laich has played in this position before, but he is better suited to play on the wing versus the centre spot.
Possible Outside Solutions
The Capitals will closely examine the free agency and trade markets to see if they can find their ideal third line centre for a reasonable price tag. Ideally, they are probably looking for a skater with size who can score 15-20 goals and put up 30-40 points.
Some of the unrestricted free agent possibilities include:
Mike Santorelli (NSH)
Jarret Stoll (LAK)
Jiri Tlusty (WPG)
Stephen Weiss (DET)
Eric Fehr (WSH)
The unrestricted free agent list for third line centers is very minimal and there are not many major names on it.
I feel the best option from the list of names above would be Jarret Stoll. However, Stoll has had some recent issues with drugs and he has been in trouble with the law. He could be facing a possible jail sentence too.
Stoll fits the mold of what the Capitals could use in that third line center position. He is big and plays physical. He is also good in the face-off dot and knows his limitations. Stoll is not the flashiest player, but he gets the job done and knows his role for his club. He reminds me of a Jay Beagle, just with a little bit more offensive upside.
His drug history is definitely an issue and it does concern me. I am not saying that the Capitals should still sign him, but he is the type of player the Capitals need to fill that hole. I believe that he could fit in very well with Barry Trotz’s system and I also believe he was one of the most underrated players for the Kings during their last couple of Stanley Cup runs. Stoll is a guy who goes unnoticed for what he does well on the ice, but he is dependable teammate to have on the bench.
Trade Chip: Marcus Johansson
A lot of people have been wondering of what Marcus Johansson’s role is on the Capitals right now. Now that the Capitals have plugged all of their holes in the top-six forward rotation, where does Johansson fit in the bottom-six rotation?
Marcus Johansson is a better player playing the wing versus the centre position. He has played most of his career in the Capitals top-six group. So where does he fit on the roster now?
Has Marcus Johansson become an expendable asset for the Capitals? Could the Capitals possibly trade Marcus to get a young centre or defenseman in return? Anything is possible in the hockey business, and he would probably draw a lot of interest from many teams around the league. He is still young at 24 years of age, and he shown that he can put up 20 goals.
If the Capitals were to do the unthinkable and trade a young asset like Johansson, the package has to be right. The Capitals must fill a hole in their organization (either at centre or defense) in order for the trade to be good.
I would recommend that the Capitals do explore this trade option. But if they cannot get what they want via the trade market, they should re-sign Marcus Johansson. If they choose to re-sign Marcus Johansson, it needs to be at the right price. Anything from the $2-3 million range per season for Johansson is a good price. Anything from the $4-5 million range per season for Johansson is too much money.
The Capitals still have plenty of options to make some good moves for their organization, but in a salary cap world, they have to be careful moves that make sense dollar-wise.
By George Foussekis