It was no secret what the Capitals’ biggest need was heading into free agency.
With Brett Connolly expected to leave in free agency and Andre Burakovsky traded to the Colorado Avalanche, the Caps were in desperate need of a third-line winger who brought offensive production. When it comes to free agency, however, even third-line players can be expensive. General manager Brian MacLellan had to find a player who fit the team’s need, but who would also be affordable.
He found a target in forward Richard Panik and pushed hard to get him.
"Capitals, they started talking to me right away,” Panik said on a conference call Monday. “It was a great offer right away, but I was still waiting for other teams.”
Panik’s deal, made official Monday, is for four years and $11 million, giving him a cap hit of $2.75 million. With the Arizona Coyotes last season, he scored 14 goals and 19 assists. His career high in goals, assists and points came with the Chicago Blackhawks in 2016-17 when he scored 22 goals and 22 assists for 44 points.
With Connolly’s 22 goals now gone, as well as Burakovsky’s tantalizing potential, Panik’s production is exactly what the Caps needed.
"Obviously, I would like to get back on track on that 20-goal mark,” Panik said. “But I think in Washington with the style they're playing, I can do it easily. It's going to be up to me.”
Panik is a more versatile player than Connolly and plays a more physical game. He registered 137 hits last season which would have tied him for the fourth-most in Washington. He also spent time playing on the penalty kill with the Coyotes. He can play multiple different roles on the Caps, depending on need.
“We like his two-way game,” MacLellan said. “He's always produced somewhat offensively. We expect him to be that 35-to-45-point range. His 5-on-5 point production has been pretty solid. He can play in a top-6 role, at times. Then this year, I think we've been impressed by his PK ability. I thought that he picked that up really well. He skates well, he's got some size and a good skill level. So, I think we like a lot of things about him. He'll fit well on our third line.”
With all of this, there was also one other factor that made him incredibly valuable for Washington: He was cheap.
Without much money under the salary cap to work with and with three restricted free agents left to sign, the Caps could not let a player who fit the team’s needs and was affordable get away.
Washington pushed and pushed hard to get their guy.
“It was the best offer I had pretty much from the beginning,” Panik said. “[The Capitals] offered me four years. Nobody else did. That was the main reason. That's why I chose [Washington]. I wanted a longer deal, and they were willing to do it right away.”
“That was the best offer I could get and really happy I signed with Washington,” he added. “It's a great team and a great organization. They're always in the playoffs and it's a good opportunity for me. Hopefully I will be helping the team doing the best way I can."
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