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Five UFA defensemen that might interest Caps

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Five UFA defensemen that might interest Caps

In a perfect world, the Capitals would have locked up restricted free agents Braden Holtby, Marcus Johansson and Evgeny Kuznetsov by now, giving general manager Brian MacLellan a clear-cut picture of what he has to spend when the unrestricted free agent market opens for business at noon on Wednesday.

Instead, MacLellan will wade into the waters with trepidation, careful not to overspend the estimated $6 million he’ll have in cap space when the numbers for Holtby, Johansson and Kuznetsov are in the books.

Some of that $6 million will almost certainly be spent on a UFA depth defenseman, someone capable of playing third-pair minutes in the event Nate Schmidt or Dmitry Orlov are unable to handle the load or if one of the Caps’ top four defensemen gets injured.

Although MacLellan acknowledged he may be forced to pick through the UFA leftovers on Thursday or Friday, here are five defensemen that might interest the Caps if they are not snatched up quickly on Wednesday:

Barret Jackman, St. Louis Blues

Age: 34

2014-15 stats: 2-13-15, plus-3 in 80 games, 16:48

2014-15 cap hit: $3.16 million

Scouting report: A hard-edged, defensive defenseman, Jackman was the NHL’s top rookie way back in 2002-03. He plays a solid, reliable game and is a great leader in the locker room. He’d fit in nicely as the Caps’ fifth defenseman but other teams may need him to play a top-four role and will be willing to overpay.

Sergei Gonchar, Montreal Canadiens

Age: 41

2014-15 stats: 1-13-14, plus-6 in 48 games, 17:41

2014-15 cap hit: $5 million

Scouting report: Taken by the Capitals with the 14th pick of the 1992 draft, Gonchar could be a nice fit with the team that gave him his start in the NHL, especially if he’s willing to settle for a one-year, $1.5 million contract. He's played for six teams in his 20-year NHL career that included a Stanley Cup with Pittsburgh in 2009. Gonchar may have lost a step, but he is a reliable first-pass defensemen who might be willing to play a No. 7 role in a familiar city. Gonchar is also from Evgeny Kuznetsov’s hometown of Chelyabinsk, Russia.

Eric Brewer, Toronto Maple Leafs

Age: 36

2014-15 stats: 3-8-11, minus-5 in 44 games, 18:41

2014-15 cap hit: $3.875 million

Scouting report: Brewer doesn’t give you much offensively, but he’s a big [6-4, 216] left-shot defenseman who can log big minutes when needed. Brewer is well-respected in the locker room but has been to the playoffs just twice in the past 12 seasons. Like Gonchar, he would need to settle for a contract that pays him about $1.5 million.

Robyn Regehr, Los Angeles Kings

Age:  35

2014-15 stats: 3-10-13, plus-10 in 67 games, 20:19

2014-15 cap hit: $3 million

Scouting report: At 6-3, 222 pounds, Regehr is still capable of logging heavy minutes and is a force on the penalty kill. He won a Stanley Cup with the Kings in 2014 and would likely want a more meaningful role than the Caps have to offer. But if Justin Williams decides to come to Washington, he might be able to lure his Kings teammate with him.

Tim Gleason, Washington Capitals

Age: 32

2014-15 stats: 1-8-9, minus-13 in 72 games, 16:19

2014-15 cap hit: $1.2 million

Scouting report: Gleason did not rule out the thought of returning to the Capitals and neither did MacLellan, saying he liked the toughness and reliability of the 11-year veteran. Gleason is not likely to attract a high level of interest in the open market and his familiarity with the Caps could make him a good fit at a cap-friendly salary in the $1 million range.

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Get to know newest Capitals defenseman Michal Kempny

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Get to know newest Capitals defenseman Michal Kempny

On Monday, with the NHL trade deadline approaching, the Washington Capitals addressed a need for blue line depth by acquiring Michal Kempny from the Chicago Blackhawks in exchange for a conditional third-round pick in the 2018 NHL Draft.

But before you begin to analyze how the move impacts the Capitals' outlook heading forward, lets take some time to get to know the newest member of the Caps.

Who is Michal Kempny?

Michal Kempny is a 27-year-old defenseman from the Czech Republic. He was born on Sept. 8, 1990 in Hodonin, a small town in southwestern Czech Republic near the border of Austria and Slovakia. Kempny began his hockey career playing for SHK Hodonin. Kempny knew very little english upon arriving to the NHL, but credited his girlfriend Showtime shows to helping him become more comfortable speaking the language. 

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What International Experience Does Michal Kempny Have?

Michal Kempny played professionally for HC Kometa Brno of the Czech Extraliga and Avangard Omsk of the Kontinental Hockey League. Kempny was a standout player on the international stage, playing for the Czech Republic U18, U20 and Men's National teams.

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When Did Michal Kempny Make His NHL Debut?

Michal Kempny was signed to a one-year contract as an undrafted free agent by the Chicago Blackhawks in May, 2016 and made his NHL debut in October, 2016. Kempny scored his first NHL goal on Dec. 30, 2016 against Carolina Hurricanes goalie Cam Ward. Kempny appeared in 50 games for the Blackhawks during the 2016-17 season, recording two goals and six assists. The Blackhawks re-signed Kempny to a one-year extension during the offseason. Kempny played in 31 games this season before being traded to the Capitals.

What Type of Hockey Player is Michal Kempny?

Kempny is a 6-0, 194-pound defenseman with a strong left-handed shot. Known for his play on the offensive end, Kempny was never able to gain the trust of Joel Quenneville on the defensive end. But Kempny has a good bit of offensive upside, thanks to his passing skills and strong shot, which is why the Blackhawks took a flier on him in the first place and why he was an ideal trade candidate for the Capitals. But again, Kempny's size is less than ideal for a top-tier blue-liner and while he doesn't shy away from contact, he is rarely much of a physical presence. 

What Does Michal Kempny's Contract Look Like?

Michael Kempny is set to become an unrestricted free agent the the end of the 2017-18 season and has a cap hit of just $900,000.

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Where Michael Kempny fits in the Caps' lineup

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Where Michael Kempny fits in the Caps' lineup

If there was one thing the Caps needed to address at the trade deadline, it was defense.

Washington ranks only 20th in the NHL in defense with 2.98 goals against per game. Madison Bowey and Christian Djoos have played well in their rookie seasons, but their play has also been marked with rookie mistakes. To have both in the lineup in the playoffs would present an obvious weakness and matchup opportunities for opposing coaches to exploit.

On Monday, the Caps attempted to address their need for defensive depth by trading for defenseman Michal Kempny, a 27-year-old blue liner with good skating ability and offensive upside.

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So what does this mean for the lineup?

Given the immediate need the Caps have on defense, it would not make sense to make a trade for a No. 7 defenseman who won't play. Having Kempny sitting in the press box does not address any of the team's issues on the blue line. Unless Brian MacLellan is planning on making another move, Kempny was brought in to play.

As a left-shot defenseman, he will most likely play on the left. Barry Trotz may ultimately need someone to play someone on their off-side, but asking a player who has played in only 31 games this season to step into a new team and play on the right is a lot to ask.

Let's get this out of the way: Kempny was not brought in to replace Brooks Orpik. His addition will not push Orpik to No. 7 in the lineup. Moving Orpik into the top four, however, certainly does not make this team better. If Orpik is staying put on the third pair, it seems most likely that Kempny will ultimately play to the left of John Carlson.

Here's a possible lineup:

Dmitry Orlov-Matt Niskanen
Michal Kempny-John Carlson
Christian Djoos-Brooks Orpik

Extras: Taylor Chorney, Madison Bowey

If this is the route the Caps choose to go, this would most likely mean moving Bowey to Hershey for the rest of the regular season as he is still waiver exempt. Placing Chorney on waivers to move him to Hershey, however, would not be out of the question.

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The Orpik-Bowey pairing has looked slow in recent weeks and moving Djoos to that pair provides a lot more mobility. Trotz will ultimately need to shelter the third pair, but it is easier to shelter one defensive pair than shelter two rookies playing on two different pairs which was the situation facing Washington before the trade for Kempny.

Kempny may start on the third pair and have to work his way up, but, barrig any further moves or glaring chemistry issues, the most likely scenario is that we will ultimately see Kempny in the top-four.

A third-round draft pick may seem like a steep price for a defenseman who played only 31 games this season, but he played well whenever he was in the lineup. If he is able to step into Washington's top-four, that third-round pick ultimately will not look like such a high price tag.