The 2015-2016 Washington Capitals limped into the playoffs after a torrid start to their season. They gutted out win after win, made sure to not lose back-to-back games in regulation, and they dominated opponents when they had to. Sadly though their pace had slowed, there were obvious injuries, and they succumbed to some glaring flaws in the second round of the playoffs (again).
So where do we (the Capitals) go from here? With such a talented core, and so many pieces of the puzzle under contract, I do not see GM Brian MacLellan doing much tweaking. Though I heartily disagree with the angry naysayers that are in a mode of pain and hate right now…those that call annually to ‘blow it up,’ or say ‘I give up on the Caps;’ I must say that to get to the next level some sacrifices will have to be made. Here’s a rundown of the players up front that we will see back next season, and those where a managerial decision needs to be made.
So here’s where we stand with forwards under contract:
Alex Ovechkin, LW, age 30, UFA in 2021
Nicklas Backstrom, C, age 28, UFA in 2020
TJ Oshie, RW, age 28, UFA in 2017
Justin Williams, RW, age 34, UFA in 2017
Evgeny Kuznetsov, C, age 23, RFA in 2017
Daniel Winnik, C/W, age 31, UFA in 2017
Jay Beagle, C, age 30, UFA in 2018
Andre Burakovsky, LW, age 21, RFA in 2017
Stan Galiev, RW, age 24, RFA in 2017
The forwards without contracts:
Jason Chimera, LW, age 37, UFA
Mike Richards, C, age 31, UFA
Tom Wilson, RW, age 22, RFA
Michael Latta, C/W, age 24, RFA
Marcus Johansson, C/W, age 25, RFA
UFA – Unrestricted Free Agent
Unrestricted free agents are players without a team. They have either been released from their club, had the term of their contract expire without a renewal, or were not chosen in a league’s draft of amateur players. These people, generally speaking, are free to entertain offers from all other teams and to decide with whom to sign a contract.
RFA – Restricted Free Agent
The specific rules of restricted free agency vary among the major professional sports, but in principle it means that a player is currently signed to one team but is free to solicit contract offers from other teams; however, this player cannot sign with the competing club if the current club matches (or in some leagues come within 10%) the terms of the offered contract. For a restricted free agent, some leagues require the competing team to offer up to the original team a draft pick(s) when an offer is not matched, as compensation for losing the player.
Armchair GM Thoughts:
Ovechkin – Backstrom – Oshie, this is a top-tier and highly effective line. No changes required.
Rafael Suanes / USA Today Sports
Wilson – Kuznetsov – Williams, bear with me here. Re-sign Tom Wilson and put him in a position to learn to produce, not fight. Force him to learn an off wing and create space for Kuzya and veteran Williams. He won’t require a hefty bridge deal, so developing Wilson’s size and strength is worth it.
Burakovsky – Beagle – (Riley) Barber. It is time to promote another blue chip prospect. What we learned from the Penguins speed in round two is that at critical times, speed and puck movement can trump size and strength. We could not hit what we could not contain. This is the Johnny Gaudreau argument going around the league. Burakovsky has speed and needs 10-15 more pounds of muscle. Beagle has grit, is a great forechecker, and adding Barber would be a speed factor the Caps need (as Chimera has aged himself off a 3rd line effectiveness).
Daniel Zampogna / PennLive
Chimera – Latta – Winnik, would be the 4th line of choice if I were GM. The Capitals should give Jason Chimera a 1-year deal to contribute, skate hard, and lead via the 4th line. It could be his farewell tour and they should honor his strong work ethic with that. Plus he would be at a serious value for the salary cap. Michael Latta is a hard worker, and frankly he does not have enough games and minutes at the NHL level to call him a bust. He simply needs reps. Winnik proved he could run a PK, and while he brings little to no scoring flair, he can play either wing and check effectively for a 4th line player. Plus he’s still under contract, so he is an owned commodity.
For depth, the Caps are forced to keep Galiev one more season, though I think he would be a career AHL player and by not promoting him next year, give the team an option to develop Jakub Vrana at the NHL level.
This means that the Capitals part ways with Marcus Johansson. As an RFA, and with his contentious arbitration last season it is time to trade his rights for a very high draft pick or a proven effective secondary scorer that can play wing. Time to face the music that the Mojo isn’t working in the current scheme. He likes to shy away from battles too often and still loses possession more than a 5 on 5 possession team can afford.
Also departing would be failed 4th line experiment Mike Richards. Unless the Caps can get him at an insane value I would walk away here. It is sad, but his NHL skill set is gone and he provided little to no punch or leadership on the Caps 4th line. He was simply taking up ice that could have been used for a harder worker.
So in conclusion, the Capitals would need to re-sign Chimera to a 1-year value deal. Offer qualifying deals and bridge contracts (2 years) to Wilson and Latta at relative value for their recent roles. Let Richards walk away. Trade the rights to the expensive and somewhat underwhelming Johansson for a valuable 3rd line secondary scorer, or a Top-4 defenseman to solidify the back line.
Gotta love, Chimmer! Remember this one, in the Fall of 2014 – broke his nose and didn’t miss a shift!
Here goes nothing 2016-2017…it’ll be upon us before we know it:
Ovechkin – Backstrom – Oshie
Wilson – Kuznetsov – Williams
Burakovsky – Beagle – Barber (or acquired forward)
Chimera – Latta – Winnik
Depth: Galiev, Vrana
LET’S GO CAPS!!!
By Scott Zweibel