It is almost time for NHL free agency to begin, and the Capitals certainly have needs to fill and a limited budget. Who would be the best fit? Who would be the best free agent target for Washington to pursue? That’s what NBC Sports Washington wants to find out!
Our experts got together and made a bracket of the 16 best free agent fits. The bracket is divided into four regions: Third line forward, fourth line forward, depth defenseman and Caps’ free agent. Now we want you to tell us who you want to see rocking the red next year!
Every weekday we will match two free agents up against one another and present a case for each player. Then you get to vote and decide who advances!
Check out today’s matchup:
Region: Depth defenseman
Ben Lovejoy vs. Derek Engelland
Ben Lovejoy (35 years old): 71 games played with the Dallas Stars and New Jersey Devils, 2 goals, 7 assists, 9 points, 15:50 TOI
Playoffs: 13 games played with the Dallas Stars, 0 goals, 1 assist, 1 point, 18:03 TOI
Deryk Engelland (37 years old): 74 games played with the Vegas Golden Knights, 2 goals, 10 assists, 12 points, 19:53 TOI
Playoffs: 7 games played with the Vegas Golden Knights, 0 goals, 1 assist, 1 point, 23:19 TOI
Hockey-Graph contract projections
Ben Lovejoy: 1 year, $1,501,751 cap hit
Deryk Engelland: 1 year, 1,934,154 cap hit
The case for Ben Lovejoy
There’s a caveat here: Making a run at either of these players almost certainly means the Capitals have traded Matt Niskanen and spread his $5.75 million salary-cap hit around the roster. That would move Nick Jensen up to the second pair.
If you aren’t quite sure about starting the season with Jonas Siegenthaler and Christian Djoos as the third pair then bringing in a cost-effective veteran would make sense.
Lovejoy plays on the right side. He settled in on Dallas’ third pairing after a trade from the New Jersey Devils at the deadline and helped them reach Game 7 of the second round in the postseason. He played a key role on a Stanley Cup champ with the Pittsburgh Penguins in 2015-16 and has the experience you’d be losing if Brooks Orpik retires or just isn’t brought back.
Lovejoy was a primary penalty killer with the Devils and ranked sixth in the NHL in short-handed minutes (241:01). Of the 27 players who topped 200 short-handed minutes last season he was second in shots-for percentage (24.42). He was only on the ice for 19 power-play goals against, again the best in the league in that 200-minute club.
Lovejoy is not an offensive threat with 101 career points and more than a decade in the NHL. But with Djoos, a restricted free agent who made $650,000 last season, and Siegenthaler, who remains on his entry-level deal ($714,166), so cheap the Caps - if Niskanen was moved - could afford a player like Lovejoy even if he ended up as a No. 7.
The case for Deryk Engelland
Also a right-side defenseman and one the Capitals know well. Engelland primarily played next to Nate Schmidt the past two years in Vegas on the top pair. Washington saw him in the Stanley Cup Final last year.
Engelland was still an above-water possession player at 50.51 percent against consistently tougher competition than Lovejoy faced over the course of the season. Playing with the smooth-skating Schmidt, the former Capitals defenseman, had to help. Engelland is probably past that role now at 38 after struggling in the first round of the playoffs against the San Jose Sharks and he is a good bet to transition to a more traditional third-pair role.
Engelland was ninth in short-handed minutes (237:01) last season and 13th in shots-for percentage on the PK out of the 27 players who logged 200 minutes or more. He has 55 games of playoff experience, including that Cup Final series vs. Washington. One issue: While Vegas faces a tough salary-cap situation, Engelland is a Las Vegas resident and an alternate captain. He has great meaning to that franchise. But if he is not re-signed, he again could play the Orpik role on a team that otherwise will have to rely on its young defensemen in depth roles. That’s not ideal, especially if injuries strike.
Who’s your pick? Vote here.
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