A Look Ahead To Free Agency – Who Could Fit Into The Capitals’ Plans?

NHLPAPhoto: NHLPA

For the past four NHL free agent signing seasons, Washington Capitals General Manager Brian MacLellan has gone after some low-key names that came with low risk but potentially high rewards such as forward Brett Connolly (2016), forward Devante Smith-Pelly (2017), center Nic Dowd (2018), and forward Garnet Hathaway (2019). It appears almost certain that MacLellan will take the same approach this season with some big contracts to captain Alex Ovechkin, forward Jakub Vrana, and goaltender Ilya Samsonov among those in line for a big payday in the near future. So who could qualify for MacLellan’s theme when it comes to free agency? NoVa Caps takes a look.

Before we take a look into some names, let’s look at the Capitals’ 2020-21 roster projection the way the stars are aligned right now.

Alex Ovechkin — Nicklas Backstrom — Tom Wilson
Jakub Vrana — Evgeny Kuznetsov — T.J. Oshie
Carl Hagelin — Lars Eller — Travis Boyd
Richard Panik — Nic Dowd — Garnet Hathaway
Extra: Beck Malenstyn

Martin Fehervary — John Carlson
Dmitry Orlov — Nick Jensen
Michal Kempny — Jonas Siegenthaler

Ilya Samsonov
Vitek Vanecek/Free Agent

Overall, this team looks pretty good, but with the Stanley Cup window closing soon, there is work to be done. With Oshie turning 34 in December, Ovechkin 35 in September, and Backstrom 33 in November, the Capitals could use another forward to take some pressure off of them. Panik played well after a slow start to the season, finding a home on the fourth-line so it would be ideal to keep him there.

The Capitals could also use another defenseman as Kempny was not up to the level he was before undergoing a hamstring procedure in April 2019. Putting rookie Fehervary on the top pair might prove to be too much.

Vanecek had a strong season with the AHL’s Hershey Bears this past year but it would not be ideal to have a rookie backup behind Samsonov in his first season as the Capitals’ clear starter. We have looked at possible backups here and will be focusing on under-the-radar forwards and defensemen in this post.

Craig Smith

The 30-year-old forward’s offensive numbers went down this season but he was productive nonetheless with 18 goals, 31 points, and a +18 rating (which was second on the Nashville Predators) in 69 games. In addition, Smith is a very versatile forward who can play on any line, which could make him a great fit for the Capitals.

He recorded a 55.18% Corsi-for percentage (shots attempts + misses + blocked vs. against), a 56.31% Fenwick-for percentage (shots attempts + misses vs. against), and a 56.91% expected goals percentage, according to Natural Stattrick. Smith started in the defensive zone (132) and neutral zone (159) more than the offensive zone (117). He may be on the wrong side of 30, but signing Smith would not be such a bad idea on a four-year deal. He will likely get a cap hit within the $3.5-$4.5 million range.

Image 6-22-20 at 4.38 PMSource: Evolving Hockey

Mattias Janmark

The 27-year-old center posted six goals, 21 points, and a -5 rating with the Dallas Stars during the regular season. He has been a negative plus-minus player for each of the past three seasons but Janmark posted a 51.18% Corsi-for percentage, a 51.44% Fenwick-for percentage, and a 54.57% expected goals percentage this past season and the Stars are known for being among the league’s worst when it comes to offense.

Janmark isn’t as reliable defensively as Smith but most (134) of the draws he took were in the neutral zone. He would likely slot somewhere among the Capitals’ bottom-six forwards, probably the third-line to make the trio a strong checking line. He is in his prime, and MacLellan gave Panik and Hathaway more term to drop their price tags, so it is possible he would take the same route should the Capitals pursue Janmark. Hathaway and Panik were a year older than Janmark when they signed with Washington. He also averages 1:38 per game on the penalty kill, third among Stars’ forwards. Janmark’s cap hit will likely be around the $1.75 million range.

Image 6-22-20 at 5.18 PM
Source: Evolving Hockey

Ryan Hartman

The 25-year-old recorded at least 11 goals in each of the previous three seasons, including a career-high 19 in 2016-17, before posting nine goals, 20 points, and a +4 rating in 69 games with the Minnesota Wild this season despite not getting a lot of power-play time. Hartman posted a 52.76% Corsi-for percentage, a 53.46% Fenwick-for percentage, and a 56.12% expected goals-for percentage.

He would likely best fit on the Capitals’ third-line to make it the team’s best shut down line as a strong defensive forward, like Eller and Hagelin. He could also bring more of an offensive element to the line like what the Capitals were looking for when they acquired forward Ilya Kovalchuk. The fact that he is also young adds to the attraction of adding him to the lineup. He averaged 1:05 per game on the penalty kill and performed well, so that would just improve an already impressive group of penalty-killing forwards. He may be around the same age as Hathaway and Panik when they signed their four-year deals but since Hartman has bounced around a lot, it is doubtful the Capitals would give him much term. He will likely make around $2.25 million on his next deal.

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Source: Evolving Hockey

Jan Rutta

The 29-year-old defenseman had a fine season with the Tampa Bay Lightning, recording a goal, seven points, and a +6 rating. Had he played all 70 games for the Lightning, Rutta would have been on pace for two goals and 15 points. While averaging 15:33 per game, including 1:38 shorthanded, Rutta recorded a 53.17% Corsi-for percentage, a 51.54% Fenwick-for percentage, and a 55.37% expected goals percentage and that is while playing third-pairing minutes for the Lightning.

If the Capitals wish to give Fehervary top-four ice-time, Ruutta could very well fit the bill to steady the third-pairing with Siegenthaler or Kempny. With how well Rutta played in such a limited role, this could very well be a “Kempny-type” of acquisition, which went well for the team the first try. Rutta could cost around only $850,000, which would be a great convenience for the Capitals as they are up against the salary cap.

Image 6-22-20 at 4.55 PM
Source: Evolving Hockey

Taylor Fedun

Like Rutta, the 32-year-old defenseman had limited ice time with the Stars but performed admirably with two goals, nine points, and a +3 rating in 27 games. Fedun posted a 51.48% Corsi-for percentage, a 51.41% Fenwick-for percentage, and a 55.74% expected goals-for percentage while playing third-pairing minutes for a Stars defense that was second in the NHL in goals-against (an average of 2.52 per game) for the second straight year.

He averaged 13:45 worth of ice time per game. Fedun would probably best fit as a sixth or seventh defenseman but for a player that is above average defensively and even better offensively, a player like Fedun makes sense for the Capitals even if he is a little older. He will likely cost around only $700,000 per season on his next deal.

Image 6-22-20 at 6.22 PM
Source: Evolving Hockey

Carson Soucy

The 25-year-old defenseman had a solid first rookie season with the Wild, posting seven goals, 14 points, and a team-best +16 rating in 55 games. While playing third-pairing minutes, Soucy recorded a 46.76% Corsi-for percentage and a 47.69% Fenwick-for percentage but he finished the regular season with a 51.33% expected goals-for percentage, indicating that he did not get much help from his teammates.

He would likely slide in on the third defensive pairing for the Capitals, giving them some much-needed blueline depth after the team gave up an average of 3.58 goals-per-game after January 28, a league-high. Of his average of 15:38 worth of ice-time per game, 1:09 came on the penalty kill. Soucy will likely cost somewhere between $1.5-2 million on his next deal.

Image 6-22-20 at 6.25 PM

Source: Evolving Hockey

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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4 Responses to A Look Ahead To Free Agency – Who Could Fit Into The Capitals’ Plans?

  1. Anonymous says:

    Ild prefer to keep Dillon!

  2. Anonymous says:

    Go young.hartman and soucy

  3. Anonymous says:

    Dillion a keeper plus add a younger D Man! And definitely need a Beagle face off type player.

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