When veterans like Jason Chimera and Justin Williams look across the Capitals dressing room and see Derek Roy, a veteran of 738 NHL games and 49 career playoff games, they see an unsigned player who can bring valuable experience to a team in April, May and June.
“You can’t replace those games,” said Chimera, the Caps’ oldest player at age 36. “You can’t get that with a young kid, for sure. You can’t say, ‘OK, kid. Go play your first game,’ and expect him to do what he does. You can tell he’s a veteran. He knows where to be and he’s proven it over the years.”
Like many players his age, Roy, 32, became a free agent at a time when many NHL teams are spending their limited free-agent money on unproven players to fill secondary roles. The Caps were a perfect example over the summer, signing fringe NHLers Taylor Chorney, Aaron Ness, Ryan Stanton and Sean Collins to free-agent contracts while staying away from established veterans like Roy, Brad Boyes and Curtis Glencross.
“It was a weird year for free agents just a little over the age of 30,” said Williams, who turns 33 on Sunday. “Young guys can do the job, but I think eventually (teams) are going to find out that they can’t just yet.
“Guys have stuck around this league for a long time and there are reasons for it. Not everybody can do the job these guys can do. I think this is just a phase in the NHL and eventually they’re going to say, ‘All right, we might have missed a step here. We need a guy like this.'
“Derek’s been in the league a long time and he’s a great playmaker. I’ve played against him a long time and he makes plays and that’s what you want from a centerman.”
With the return of Nicklas Backstrom from hip surgery still uncertain, the Caps must make a decision on Roy by Tuesday, when opening night rosters must be submitted to the NHL.
Essentially, the battle for the role of depth center has been narrowed down to Roy and 21-year-old prospect Chandler Stephenson, who recorded seven goals and seven assists last season in his first AHL season with the Hershey Bears. Both players can kill penalties and could be used on the power play if needed.
“The thing that stands out about (Roy) is that he’s got the veteran instincts,” Capitals coach Barry Trotz said. “He’s sneaky. He’s probably lost a little speed over time and he’s not overly big (5-foot-9, 194 pounds).
“But he’s been a productive player because on the ice he’s pretty cerebral and can make small plays on give and goes. He doesn’t try to dangle one-on-one all the time. He uses his brain to get around the ice and that’s a pretty good gift to have.”
Roy said the skate test on the first day of training camp took a lot out of him, but he’s starting to feel his skating legs again and likes the opportunity he sees in Washington after spending the past three seasons with five different teams. Despite the constant movement, Roy has averaged 34 points in his past two seasons.
“My game could be elevated a little more in these last few preseason games,” he said. “It’s been a hard camp and my legs were a little tight. Hopefully, it gets better because skating is the best part of my game.”
Roy said he’s hoping that when the Caps’ coaching and management staffs gather to make a decision on him Sunday night or Monday, they’ll see the same thing Chimera and Williams see across the room from them.
“When you play teams you don’t really know how tight guys are and this is a tight group here,” Roy said. “A championship team.”
MORE CAPITALS: Trotz wants more out of one of his players