A Look At UFA Defensemen The Capitals Could Target

ESPNPhoto: ESPN

With Washington Capitals defenseman Matt Niskanen possibly on the trade block in order to clear cap space, an additional $5.75 million could be available for the team to spend in free agency and/or trades. If the Capitals are forced to move Niskanen, the team will need an additional defenseman as a sixth starter or as a reserve in case an injury knocks a starter out for a significant amount of time as happened with Michal Kempny in March. NoVa Caps takes a look at four potential fits on the blueline for the Capitals to target in free agency:

In order to make room for an upgrade on the blueline, it will likely require moving defenseman Matt Niskanen’s $5.75 million cap hit.  Of course, the team is already pushing the cap limit because of their handful of unsigned forwards, so upgrading the defensive corps will be challenging as well.  

Here are four free-agent candidates that the Capitals could find attractive — two would push the limit on the salary cap, while two are more affordable options.

Anton Stralman

Stralman, 32, is not known for his offense as he posted just two goals and 17 points in 47 games this season and has never eclipsed the double-digit goal mark.

However, he is solid defensively as he has posted at least +9 rating in each of the last eight seasons and a +10 in four of the past five seasons that he has spent with the Tampa Bay Lightning. Stralman recorded 71 blocked shots, 59 hits, 25 giveaways, and only 16 giveaways in 2018-19.

He averaged 17:30 worth of ice-time per game and would take a lot of pressure off of defenseman John Carlson, who averaged 25:04 per game this season (eighth-most in the NHL). In addition, Stralman averaged the second-most ice time (2:55) on the NHL’s top penalty-killing unit, which had an 85% efficiency during the regular season. He would be a great addition to a penalty kill that finished with an efficiency of 78.9%, 24th in the NHL and the second-worst among teams that made the Stanley Cup Playoffs (Colorado Avalanche – 78.7%, 25th).

He will likely command a cap hit within the $5 million-$5.5 million range.

Tyler Myers

After missing 71 games in 2016-17, Myers, 29, has posted back-to-back 30-point seasons with the Winnipeg Jets. He recorded nine goals, 31 points, and a +11 rating in 80 games this season. Myers has posted at least a +5 rating in each of his four seasons in Winnipeg.

Defensively, Myers recorded 99 blocked shots, 97 hits, and 32 giveaways, though he also tallied 63 giveaways, the third-highest on the Jets this season.

Myers averaged 20:21 worth of ice-time per game, including 2:10 on the penalty kill and 1:09 on the fourth-ranked power-play in the league. He would be another great solution to fix a Capitals’ penalty kill that struggled this season.

He will likely command a cap hit similar to $6.5 million that Anaheim Ducks defenseman Cam Fowler has.

Jake Gardiner

Following a five-goal, 52-point output in 2017-18, the 28-year old defenseman posted three goals and 30 points in 62 games this season. Gardiner has posted at least 30 points in six of the seven non-lockout seasons that he has played. His +19 rating was five short of his career-high in that category, which was set two seasons ago.

Gardiner recorded 64 blocked shots, 61 hits, and 25 takeaways but had 53 giveaways in his contract year.

He averaged 19:14 worth of ice-time during this past regular season, including 1:52 on the league’s eighth-best power-play. He posted five points, all assists, on the man advantage.

Gardiner will likely get a cap hit within the $3.5-4 million range if and when he hits the open market. He will probably not return to Toronto with center Auston Matthews’ big contract

Ron Hainsey

Hainsey, 38, posted back-to-back 23-point seasons with the Toronto Maple Leafs. He recorded five goals after scoring four last season. His +30 rating was tied with Carolina Hurricanes forward Teuvo Teravainen and Calgary Flames forward Elias Lindholm for the sixth-best in the NHL. His goal and point total in each of the past two seasons was his best since 2009-10 when he posted five goals and 26 points in 80 games with the Atlanta Thrashers (now the Jets). His plus-minus rating this past season doubled his previous career-high of +13, which was set with the Columbus Blue Jackets in 2005-06.

Defensively, Hainsey posted 144 blocked shots, 91 hits, and 31 takeaways, though he also had 74 giveaways in 2018-19.

He averaged 17:22 worth of ice-time per game, including 2:50 on the penalty kill, the second-most on the Maple Leafs.

Hainsey will probably be looking for an average annual value of $2-2.5 million in free agency.

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 watching the Capitals hoist the Stanley Cup in Las Vegas. In his spare time, he enjoys travel, photography, and hanging out with his two dogs. Follow Harrison on Twitter @HarrisonB927077
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17 Responses to A Look At UFA Defensemen The Capitals Could Target

  1. Anonymous says:

    Why would they tsrget defense? You have Carlson, Kempny top pair, Nisky, Orlov 2nd pair, Jensen& Siegs 3rd pair as those under contract. Now we know Djoos a rfa will certainly be back& if Orpik wants to play another year Caps will have him back on 1mil for a year. GMBM already said hes gotta move $$$ and likeliest is Niskys 5.7mil or whatever. So then you slide Jensen right in and Siegs/Djoos go into the 3rd pair with Orpik

    Like

    • Anonymous says:

      No Orpik, Nisky likely being dealt leaves a huge lack of experience on the blue line. The defense was the reason for the 🧢 talks troubles last season. Jensen and Siegenthaler are suspect at best. HUGE concerns with the
      Blue line. Did you watch ANY games last season?

      Like

      • Anonymous says:

        Orpik wont be dealt.. get it straight hes ufa hes deciding whether he wants to play or not& likely come back on 1mil. So your whole lack of experience thing gone if Orpik comes back. Say Nisky gets traded as expected majority of caps elite prospects are defense whether its Siegs&Djoos currently on team or Alexeyev,Hobbs,Johannson etc.
        So they arent bringing in more D when they have OV,Backy,Holtby contracts to do and Vrana.. figure out the bottom 6… fill in with guys from Hershey or find some bargains etc

        Like

  2. Anonymous says:

    This article would be better if it included Nisky’s goals, points, hits, blocks and giveaways so we have a side-by-side-by-side comparison with these possible trades.

    Like

    • Anonymous says:

      Let’s get younger faster before we get much older and slower. They were gassed in the first round against the Canes. They punched themselves out after a long Championship Cup win. And no doubt the rookie coach gets one one year to succeed if not bye bye.

      Like

  3. Anonymous says:

    Interesting that it says Niskanen is a candidate to leave because of his salary, but then it goes and lists defensemen with comparable or higher salaries.

    Like

  4. Diane Doyle says:

    I don’t think the defensemen on this list are really an improvement over Nisky, TBH. None of them are cheaper. While Nisky didn’t have as good of a year and is aging, signing him after the 2013-14 season was a brilliant move.

    Like

  5. Tim Dronsfield says:

    I believe if Niskanen had a different partner he would be a lot better player. He is always covering for Orlov. If you look at the video tape, Orlov is on for most goals and is always out of position. He can’t clear the puck and is not a force on defense. Get rid of him. Also, Djoos is good at moving the puck but gets overwhelmed by bigger forwards in front of the net and also when trying to clear the puck with a forecheck that is sustained. I think if you clean these two positions up your defense will get better.

    Like

    • Anonymous says:

      Djoos was benched at the end of last season and in playoffs. Remember, he was just a 7th round draft pick. Not sure he’s a starter in the NHL.

      Like

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