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.
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.
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.
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
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