Evaluating the Capitals’ Pending Free Agents

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Photo by Patrick McDermott/Getty Images

After having 11 free agents this past off-season, Washington has nine free agents on the current roster next summer. Of the nine, four are restricted free agents. The Capitals currently have 14 players signed for next season with around $20.45 million left in cap space if the cap increases to $80 million. In this piece, NoVa Caps’ evaluates Washington’s pending free agents. 

Lars Eller
At the end of the season, Lars Eller is scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent. His last contract, which he signed with the Montreal Canadiens on July 24, 2014, pays him $14 million over four seasons ($3.5 million average annual value).

Through 36 games this season, Eller has four goals and 15 points with a +1 rating. Not including the one game he missed against Toronto earlier this season due to illness, he is on pace for nine goals and 34 points in 81 games this season.

Eller, 28, plays a key role for the Capitals on the defensive side of the puck. This season, he has won 50.7% of his faceoffs, has 18 takeaways (0.8 takeaways per game), 32 hits, and 23 blocked shots. He is also a big part of the Capitals’ penalty kill, which has struggled this season, averaging 2:01 of his 12:09 average ice time per game on the penalty kill.

Some contract comparables include Vegas Golden Knights’ and former Capitals’ center Cody Eakin, 26, who has four goals and 15 points through 34 games this season, and Vancouver Canucks’ center Sam Gagner, 28, who has the same numbers in 37 games this season. Eakin is playing his second season on a four-year contract worth $15.4 million ($3.85 million AAV) and Gagner is on the first year of a three-year contract worth $9.45 million ($3.15 million AAV).

Jay Beagle
Beagle, 32, can also become an unrestricted free agent at the end of the season. His last contract paid him $5.25 million over three seasons with an average annual value of $1.75 million.

Beagle has four goals and 11 points over 37 games this season. Like Eller, Beagle is on pace for 9 goals with his average of 0.11 goals per games. Assuming he plays a full 82 games, he is on pace to finish with 24 points.

While the offensive numbers have taken a dip from his 13-goal, 30-point campaign last season, Beagle plays one of the most important roles on the Capitals. His 58.81% faceoff win percentage is the highest win percentage by a Capitals’ center this season and ranks 8th in the NHL among centers. He averages 9:59 worth of ice time per game, 2:41 of which comes shorthanded. On the defensive side of the puck, he has 12 takeaways, already more than what he had in all of the 81 games he played last year and only seven giveaways. He has blocked 19 shots this season and has 38 hits. He has only eight penalty minutes.

Carolina Hurricanes’ center Victor Rask, 24, who has 8 goals and 11 points in 33 games this season, and Winnipeg Jets’ center Adam Lowry,  24, who has seven goals and 11 points through 28 games this season, are contract comparables with Beagle. Rask is on the second season of a six-year contract worth $24 million ($4 million AAV) and Lowry is on the final season of a two-year contract worth $2.25 million ($1.125 million AAV).

Tom Wilson
Wilson, who turns 24 on March 29, is slated to become a restricted free agent with arbitration rights at the end of the season. He is in the final year of a two-year contract worth $4 million ($2 million AAV).

Wilson has five goals and 16 points through 33 games this season. He missed the first four games of the year due to suspension. With an average of 0.15 goals per game and 0.48 points per game, he is on pace for 12 goals and 38 points over 78 games. He ranks first in the NHL with 91 penalty minutes, 11 in front of Pittsburgh Penguins’ winger Ryan Reaves. He has a career-high 11.1 shooting percentage and a 66.7% faceoff win percentage on the rare occasion he takes a faceoff. Defensively, Wilson has 21 takeaways, 22 giveaways, 95 hits, and 15 blocked shots. He has a career-high 2.8 penalty minutes per game this season. His +9 rating ranks second on the team behind Matt Niskanen (+14) and first among forwards.

He is seven points shy of his career high, set in 82 games two seasons ago, and two goals away from his career high, set in 82 games in each of the past two seasons. He took off offensively when he was put on a line with Nicklas Backstrom and Alex Ovechkin, potting in three goals and seven points in a three-game stretch from December 5-9, but has cooled off with just one assist in seven games since.

New York Rangers’ winger Jesper Fast, 26, who has seven goals and 16 points through 30 games this season, and Edmonton Oilers’ center Ryan Strome, 24, who has produced the same amount of goals and points through 36 games this season, are contract comparables with Wilson. Fast is in the first season of a three-year contract worth $5.5 million ($1.85 million AAV) and Strome is in the final season of a two-year deal worth $5 million ($2.5 million AAV).

Devante Smith-Pelly
Smith-Pelly, 25, will be a restricted free agent after this season. After getting bought out by the New Jersey Devils in the offseason, he signed a one-year contract worth $650,000 in Washington on July 3. He will be arbitration eligible if he becomes a restricted free agent.

Smith-Pelly has played well in Washington, only missing two games. He has five goals and 11 points through 35 games this season, already a goal and two points more than what he had in 53 games with New Jersey last season. He has moved up and down the lineup, playing on the top line with Ovechkin and center Evgeny Kuznetsov for a month and playing with Beagle and Alex Chiasson for the past month. He got some time with Ovechkin and Backstrom the other night against Vegas. With his average of 0.14 goals per game and 0.31 points per game, he is on pace for 11 goals and 25 points, assuming he plays 80 games.

With his average of 0.14 goals per game and 0.31 points per game, he is on pace for 11 goals and 25 points, assuming he plays 80 games. He has a 9.4 shooting percentage this season. Smith-Pelly has averaged 11:25 worth of ice time per game, 1:08 of which while shorthanded. Defensively, he has 39 blocked shots, 51 hits, seven takeaways, and only 11 giveaways.

The contract comparables are similar to Beagle’s, though Smith-Pelly is younger.

Alex Chiasson
Alex Chiasson, 27, came to Washington on a professional tryout after the Calgary Flames failed to make him a qualified offer as a restricted free agent.  Chiasson had 12 goals and 24 points in 81 games with Calgary last season. He signed a one-year contract worth $660,000 on October 4 with the Capitals and is eligible to be an unrestricted free agent on July 1.

Chiasson got off to a slow start this season, tallying just one assist in his first 11 games. Since then, he has played well and has six goals and eight points in 35 games this season. When under pressure on December 14 in Boston fighting for a spot in the lineup with T.J. Oshie getting ready to return to the lineup, he scored two goals. Chiasson is starting to find his role on the team and is starting to produce. He was a healthy scratch against Vegas last Saturday on the back end of a back-to-back set, but he has only missed two games.

With an average of 0.17 goals per game and 0.23 points per game this season, Chiasson is on pace for 14 goals and 18 points if he plays 80 games. Chiasson has a 15.4 shooting percentage. In 9:44 worth of ice time per game, 2:13 has come while shorthanded. He has 22 takeaways and only 12 giveaways, 21 blocked shots, and 30 hits on the defensive side of the puck this season. He has a -4 +/- rating.

His contract comparables relate to New Jersey winger Drew Stafford, 32, who has five goals and eight points through 30 games and Toronto center Leo Komarov, 30, who has four goals and eight points through 37 games this season. Stafford signed a one-year contract worth $800,000 with the Devils last offseason and Komarov signed a four-year contract worth $11.8 million ($2.95 million) in 2014. He is in the final season and can also become an unrestricted free agent on July 1.

John Carlson
Carlson, 27, is certainly the Capitals’ most coveted free agent. He will be coming off of a six-year contract worth $23.8 million ($3.97 million AAV) and could be an unrestricted free agent on July 1.

He averages the fifth most ice time in the league per game at 26:11 and leads the Capitals in that department. 19:25 of those minutes come at even strength, 3:49 on the power play, and 2:58 on the penalty kill. He is fourth on the Capitals’ and first among Capitals’ defenseman with 27 points. He has 23 takeaways but has 53 giveaways. Carlson has only 20 penalty minutes. He has 25 hits and 66 blocked shots this season. His 106 shots are second on the team behind Alex Ovechkin. He is the only Capitals’ defenseman and one of three players (Ovechkin and Andre Burakovsky) to have an overtime game-winning goal. He may have the third worst +/- on the team at a -4, but that doesn’t tell the story of how important he is to the Capitals.

His 27 points are tied for the second most in the NHL among defensemen with Colorado Avalanche defenseman Tyson Barrie and Philadelphia Flyers defenseman Shayne Gostisbehere. His 24 assists are ranked second behind Dallas Stars’ defenseman John Klingberg who has 27 assists and 31 points to lead NHL defensemen. He is tied for seventh among defensemen with 11 power play points. He has recorded points in 21 of his 37 games this season and is on pace for 7 goals and 53 assists.

Carlson could get a contract similar to Barrie’s or Gostisbehere’s. Barrie is in the second year of a four-year contract worth $22 million ($5.5 million AAV). Gostisbere signed a six-year contract worth $27 million ($4.5 million AAV) last offseason. It wouldn’t be a surprise for Carlson to make more because he logs in more minutes than Barrie or Gostisbehere and the Capitals already have a hole in their defense.

Taylor Chorney
Taylor Chorney, 30, signed a one-year contract worth $700,000 to add to the Capitals’ depth on defense on July 1, 2015. He was having a strong season so the Capitals gave him a two-year contract worth $1.6 million ($800,000 AAV) in the middle of the 2015-16 season. The first year was a two-way contract and the second was a one-way contract. He can become an unrestricted free agent after this season.

Chorney has had trouble staying in the lineup as of late but got in the lineup last Friday in Arizona. Chorney’s +8 rating is tied with Alex Ovechkin for the third-best on the team and it ranks second on the team among defenseman behind Matt Niskanen (+14).

Chorney averages 12:54 worth of ice time per game, 11:08 at even strength and 1:46 while shorthanded. He has only six penalty minutes and has 27 blocked shots and 14 hits through 21 games. He has 10 giveaways but four takeaways. Last season, Chorney had a goal and five points through 18 games (0.28 points per game) but has a goal and three points in 21 games this season (0.14 points per game).

He is on pace for three goals and 16 points, which would be a new career-high for Chorney, in 66 games this season. But that assumes he plays the rest of the games for the season, which is unlikely. With the Capitals leaning more on Christian Djoos and Madison Bowey, Chorney’s future in D.C. after this season is a bit of a question mark.

Pittsburgh defenseman Chad Ruhwedel has the same numbers as Chorney does in 29 games but is a -7 rating in 29 games. Ruhwedel is in the first year of a two-year contract worth $1.3M ($650,000 AAV).

Madison Bowey
In his first season with the Capitals, Madison Bowey, 22, is playing the final season of his entry-level contract and can become a restricted free agent after the season. He is making $703,333 per year on his current contract. After he signs his next contract, he will require waivers to get back sent down to Hershey.

Bowey has seven assists and a -2 rating in 30 games played with the Capitals this season. He has 18 penalty minutes, the most by a Capitals’ rookie this season. On the defensive side of the puck, he has six takeaways and 25 giveaways. He has 27 blocked shots and 24 hits this season.

Bowey is a cornerstone of the Capitals’ defensive future and will most likely get a bridge deal at the end of the season. His stats are similar to Nate Schmidt‘s when he first started out in Washington. Schmidt had six points, two of which were goals, and a +4 rating in 29 games during his first season in D.C. He had a goal, four points, and a -2 rating in 39 games in his next season and then was rewarded with a two-year contract worth $1.625  million ($812,000 AAV).

Philipp Grubauer

Philipp Grubauer, 26, will be a restricted free agent after the season after signing a one-year contract worth $1.5 million earlier this year. He is the 44th highest paid goaltender in the league.

Grubauer has a 2-5-2 record with an .898 save percentage and a 2.98 goals against average, but the numbers do not reflect how well Grubauer has played. Grubauer has mostly played on the second half of back-to-backs when his team is not at its best and he has two rookies on defense in front of him He has gotten a point in three straight starts and stopped 90 of the 95 shots he’s faced in his past four games, good for a .947 save percentage.

Grubauer will likely get a contract around or north of $2 million whether it’s in Washington or somewhere else. The Capitals could trade him to fix their hole on defense, especially with Braden Holtby still signed for two more seasons after this one and with Pheonix Copley in the wings at Hershey and Ilya Samsonov expected to sign with the Capitals this summer. However, they could decide to keep him looking at the Penguins’ goalie situation and how difficult is his to find a solid No. 2 goalie like Grubauer in the NHL.

One comparable contract is Avalanche goalie Jonathan Bernier’s. He has a .893 save percentage and a 3.29 save percentage. His contract is for one year for $2.75 million. While Bernier has a weaker defense in front of him than Grubauer does in Washington, Grubauer could get a contract similar to Bernier’s.

By Harrison Brown

About Harrison Brown

Harrison is a diehard Caps fan and a hockey fanatic with a passion for sports writing. He attended his first game at age 8 and has been a season ticket holder since the 2010-2011 season. His fondest Caps memory was seeing T.J. Oshie's hat-trick​ during Game 1 of the Caps' second round playoff series against Pittsburgh in 2016. In his spare time, he enjoys travel, photography, and hanging out with his two dogs. Follow Harrison on Twitter @HarrisonB927077
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