Photo: Orlando Solar Bears
With NHL free agency set to open at 12 noon ET on Wednesday, we conclude our pre-free agency coverage with a summary of all of the research and analysis we’ve conducted over the past two months and present the players we’ve finally identified as being the best fit for the Washington Capitals.
The team needs to make changes after four-straight first round exits from the playoffs. In addition, with right-wing Tom Wilson (torn ACL, out until at least Thanksgiving) and center Nicklas Backstrom (recovering from hip resurfacing surgery, out indefinitely) expected to miss the start of the season, the departure of several free agents and the recent dismissal of both starting goaltenders, significant changes are needed and immediately.
We began back in May with identifying an initial list of “needs” for the Capitals (here) and then began to systematically identify the best solutions to meet those needs. Here is a summary of our analysis from the past two months:
1. G Darcy Kuemper
After trading Vitek Vanecek to the New Jersey Devils on Friday and letting Ilya Samsonov walk to free agency on Monday evening by not qualifying him, the Capitals are in need of two goaltenders.
The 32-year-old went 37-12-4 (tied for fourth in wins), a .921 save percentage (fifth), a 2.54 goals-against average (11th), and five shutouts (tied for fourth) with the Colorado Avalanche in the regular season. At five-on-five, Kuemper earned a .928 save percentage, a 2.26 goals-against average, a 4.33 goals-saved above average, and a .863 high-danger save percentage. He also finished with an .879 save percentage and a 2.32 goals-saved above average on the penalty kill.
Kuemper, who has posted at least a .920 save percentage and a 2.56 goals-against at most in each of the last five seasons, went 10-4 with a .902 save percentage, a 2.57 goals-against average, and one shutout during the Avalanche’s run to the Stanley Cup this past Spring. His next contract is expected to contain around a $5.5 million cap hit. The Capitals have been linked to Kuemper.
More on why Kuemper here.
2. RW Ilya Mikheyev
Mikheyev finished with 21 goals and 32 points in just 53 regular-season games and two goals and four points in the Maple Leafs’ seven-game loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning in the first round of the 2022 Stanley Cup Playoffs. He averaged 1:24 on the penalty kill (fourth among Maple Leafs’ forwards) and 1:06 on the power play (11th on his team) in 2021-22.
Previously, Mikheyev earned 15 goals and 40 points in 93 games over his first two seasons. He finished with a career-best 56.25% five-on-five Corsi-for percentage, a 57.08% five-on-five expected goals-for percentage, 57.96% five-on-five scoring chances-for percentage last year. Mikheyev will likely cost around $4.5 million against the NHL salary cap on his next deal.
More on why Mikheyev here.
3. C Dylan Strome
The 25-year-old third overall pick from 2015 tallied 22 goals, 48 points, a 48.87% five-on-five expected goals-for percentage, a 52.3% faceoff-winning percentage, and played an average of 2:42 of power-play ice-time per game in 69 games last season.
Prior to 2021-22, Strome earned 17 goals and 51 points in 58 games in 2018-19, 12 goals and 38 points in 58 games in 2019-20, and nine goals and 17 points in 40 games in 2020-21 (though, got tougher matchups with Jonathan Toews out for the season). His market value could be around $4 million but Strome may cost less after the Blackhawks elected not to tender a qualifying offer to him.
More on why Strome here.
4. G Eric Comrie
To fill the back-up role, the 26-year-old would be the best target. Comrie went 10-5-1 with a .920 save percentage (.936 at five-on-five, including .862 high-danger), 2.58 goals-against average (2.03 at five-on-five), one shutout, a 8.78 five-on-five goals-saved above average (including 4.43 at high-danger) in 19 NHL games last season.
In four AHL games, he posted a .947 save percentage and 1.23 goals-against average. Comrie could cost around $1-1.5 million against the salary cap.
More on why Comrie here.
5. Offersheet Maple Leafs’ LHD Rasmus Sandin
In 51 games during this past regular-season, Sandin posted five goals, 16 points, a +9 rating, a 54.69% five-on-five Corsi-for percentage, a 58.28% five-on-five expected goals-for percentage, and a 58.17% five-on-five scoring chances-for percentage while averaging 16:58 per game (sixth among Maple Leafs defensemen), including 1:21 on the power play (third). His market value should be around $2.75 million but the Capitals would have to offer a higher value to convince the Maple Leafs not to match. The Capitals can get Sandin without giving up a first-round pick if they sign him to an offersheet with a cap hit less than $4.11 million.
More on why Sandin here.
Changes Gonna Come
We spent the last two months systematically assessing the current state of the team, identifying the needs and researching and assessing potential solutions to meet those needs. The above listing reflects our best understanding of the current situation.
Wednesday and the days that follow should bring significant change to the Capitals organization. The changes will have a big impact on not only next season but for years to come. Let’s home free agency is a prosperous one for the Capitals.
By Harrison Brown
Our Free Agency Coverage
Where Do We Go From Here? The Capitals Preliminary “To-Do” List For The 2022 Off-Season
Targeting A Tender: Which Goaltender Should The Capitals Acquire?
Top NHL Centers On The Market This Offseason
Top NHL Right-Wings On The Market This Offseason
Offseason Options For The Capitals To Add A Left-Handed Blueliner: Could An Offersheet Be On The Table?
Best NHL Goaltenders Likely On The Market This Offseason
Why The Capitals Should Extend An Offersheet To Maple Leafs’ RFA Rasmus Sandin
Why The Capitals Should Sign Pending UFA Ilya Mikheyev
Why Capitals Should Sign Pending UFA Dylan Strome
Why Capitals Should Pursue Acquiring Canucks’ J.T. Miller