I'm not sure how often Capitals general manager Brian MacLellan reads the Edmonton Journal, but Hall of Fame hockey columnist Jim Matheson has a few ideas on how to fortify the Caps’ roster this summer and he might be spot on.
While Jay Beagle may aspire to be the Caps’ third-line center – and there were times this season he did an excellent job there – the Caps appear to be slotting him as a fourth-line center and top penalty killer.
Matheson suggests the Capitals improve their forward depth by adding Islanders free agent center Frans Nielsen and Red Wings free-agent left wing Darren Helm and strengthen their blue line by adding Dallas free agent Jason Demers.
Let’s explore those options a little further, with the assumption RFAs Marcus Johansson, Tom Wilson and Dmitry Orlov return and UFAs Jason Chimera, Mike Richards and Mike Weber do not, giving the Caps roughly $7 million in cap space.
Nielsen, 32, is a creative, two-way center who put up 20 goals and 32 assists (Marcus Johansson numbers) in 81 games as a second-line center with the Islanders. He added three goals and three assists in 11 playoff games. Nielsen can work the power play and kill penalties and would provide added speed to a third line.
Nielsen, who is from Denmark, made $3.5 million last season and would likely command $4 million to $4.5 million (Johansson money) on the open market, although the Caps probably would try to get him for less.
Helm, 29, is a worker bee who plays a strong two-way game. He won a Cup with the Red Wings back in 2008 and netted 13 goals and 13 assists in 77 games in Detroit this season, adding one goal in five playoff games. Helm also kills penalties.
At $2.5 million Helm made $500,000 more than Chimera did this season but was less productive offensively. (Chimera had 20 goals and 20 assists). The Caps likely would be looking at no more than two years for Helm or Chimera, but would likely want to spend no more than $2 million for a third-line left wing.
If the Caps committed at least $6 million toward improving their third line, it would leave them with only $1 million or so for their defense.
Remember, the Caps already have roughly $19.6 million committed to six defensemen and that’s without re-signing Orlov, who will want close to $3 million.
Demers, 27, averaged more than 20 minutes a game for the Stars in 62 regular season games, recording seven goals and 16 assists. He can move the puck quickly and can join the rush while possessing a better than average shot. If that sounds a lot like Orlov (8 goals, 21 assists, 16:01 average ice time), it’s because it is. In fact, if the Caps hope to improve their blue line they almost certainly would need to move one of their seven defensemen.
As for the cost of Demers, he made $3.65 million this season and likely would be seeking a raise. The Caps simply aren’t able to spend that kind of money on their back end, unless big money goes in return.
If the Caps can find a way to get Johansson, Wilson, Orlov, Nielsen and Helm under the NHL salary cap, I could see them doing it. But they’d be hard-pressed to add a proven NHL defenseman as well.