Saturday, June 21, 2008

Capitals 2008 Off-Season - Free Agency

The next task for the Washington Capitals General Manager is free agency. Unofficially the Capitals have 8 unrestricted free agents and 7 restricted free agents. The Capitals currently have 39 players under contract for next season. They are limited to a total of 50 contracts so that gives them 11 spots to add players. In recent years GM George McPhee has kept a couple of open slots to give him a bit of contract flexibility during the year meaning he may be looking for 8 or 9 more contracts.

The unrestricted free agents are Dean Arsene, Josef Boumedienne, Frederic Cassivi, Matt Cooke, Sergei Fedorov, Cristobal Huet, Olie Kolzig, and Jason Morgan. Longtime Caps goaltender Olie Kolzig made his intentions clear at the end of the season that he had played his last game as a Capital and I don’t see him coming changing his mind. The events leading up to his decision were indeed unfortunate but such is life in competitive sports. Cassivi and Morgan have both signed contracts to play in Europe next season. Arsene had significant injury problems last season with the Hershey Bears and I would be shocked if he were offered a contract. Boumedienne is an interesting situation. Here is a veteran defensemen playing in Hershey, for not a lot of money, who came over to the Caps after playing in Europe for some time. He plays an offensive playmaking style of defense, has NHL experience, and from all indications enjoyed mentoring the young defensemen on the Bears. Personally I think you keep him because he can be a positive influence on the young guys and is a veteran who can be brought up to the Caps in the case of emergency. Matt Cooke was an excellent acquisition at the trade deadline last season. He played admirably for the Caps down the stretch and in the playoffs. However, he plays a position the Capitals were short due to the injury to Chris Clark. Unless Clark is unable to play I do not see Cooke being offered a contract. Another deadline acquisition, Sergei Fedorov was absolutely rejuvenated with the Caps last season. At 38-years old he is beyond his prime, but it was a prime that included three Stanley Cups and a Hart Trophy for league MVP. He now brings intangibles such as leadership, work ethic, and experience as well as a style that fits right into the Caps system. I don’t know how much the Caps can afford and with Michal Nylander returning where exactly he would play but I would like to see what he could do in a full year with the Caps. Cristobal Huet was also acquired at the trade deadline and went on an incredible run with the Caps. He was 11-2-0 with a 1.63 GAA in 13 games and took the #1 net minding job from the aforementioned Olie Kolzig. From the reports I’m hearing (these are the same ones you are hearing as well) Huet and the Caps have agreed on the length of a contract, 3-years, but not the dollars. Huet holds a little leverage on this one as the Caps don’t have an easy solution to replace a #1 goalie but Huet wants to win and there are not a lot of places to go with as much upside as Washington in terms of a team ready to go for it all. GMGM needs to get this one done.

The restricted free agents are Eric Fehr, Boyd Gordon, Mike Green, Jamie Hunt, Brooks Laich, Shaone Morrisonn, and Stephen Werner. The Caps careers of Hunt and Werner may be heading to a close as the younger more talented draft picks seem to be progressing much faster than these two and I don’t foresee qualifying offers being extended. Brooks Laich went to arbitration last season and won. He then turned around and had a career year and is developing into a core member of the team. I think you have to give this guy his due but at the same time I think a one year deal is what he will be offered. The center position is very crowded on the Caps roster but Boyd Gordon just seems to keep improving. He is a defensive forward who was a bit banged up last season but his face-off prowess has and defensive ability has him on the ice in most critical situations. He needs to continue working on his offense and strength. He will most definitely get a qualifying offer. Eric Fehr has taken a tough road to the NHL. After missing almost a year to a nagging back and hip ailment he is starting to contribute to the big club. A lot of so called experts are starting to write him off but I think he will be a late bloomer and is ready for a breakout season this year. The next two were the Caps #1 defensive pair last season. Shaone Morrisonn is the defensive end of the pair and at 25-years old is still learning to be an NHL shutdown defender. He has gotten better each season and continues to progress. Mike Green had a career season to put it mildly. He scored the most goals of any defender in the league. His offense is second to none but his defensive play needs some work. He’s 22-years old and wants the big money. He is set to test the offer market this off-season but the Caps have stated they will match any offer he is extended. I would think both will be back next season.

It goes without saying that this should be an interesting couple of weeks. The Caps will also look to see if there are any free agents they can add. I wouldn’t expect too much but GMGM has been pretty active the last couple times he’s said he won’t be. It may not be a hockey game but its still more exciting than baseball.

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