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: Capitals free agents
Brett Connolly vs. Brooks Orpik
Brett Connolly (27 years old): 81 games played with the Capitals, 22 goals, 24 assists, 46 points, 13:20 TOI
Playoffs: 7 games played with the Capitals, 2 goals, 0 assists, 4 points, 13:50 TOI
Brooks Orpik (38 years old): 53 games played with the Capitals, 2 goals, 7 assists, 9 points, 15:40 TOI
Playoffs: 7 games played with the Capitals, 1 goal, 1 assist, 18:12 TOI
Hockey-Graph contract projections
Brett Connolly: 3 years, $3,536,091 cap hit
Brooks Orpik: 1 year, $1,150,064 cap hit
The case for Brett Connolly
The Capitals have already re-signed one of their third-line free agents with Carl Hagelin’s new deal. Is there room left for Connolly? There is an argument to be made here. Connolly has made himself comfortable in Washington. He tied his career highs in goals twice (15) and then broke through with a career-best 22. And he is one of the league’s most productive players given his limited ice time.
There are just too many big names in front of Connolly to get him much power-play time. Those 22 goals wouldn’t be easy to replace and GM Brian MacLellan said scoring depth is a concern this offseason. If he is again willing to sacrifice role for a bump in pay and some security then maybe Connolly returns to a place he re-ignited his career. The talent is certainly there as the No. 6 overall pick in the 2010 draft and Connolly is headed into his age-27 season so a three or four-year deal takes care of his prime years.
It might be out of Washington’s hands anyway. Even if the Capitals want to keep him, other teams could use money AND ice time to entice Connolly. But can they strike gold again with another cheap third-line winger as they did with Connolly? That’s not easy to replicate. They could simply sign Connolly and take care of it, but the salary cap is tight.
The case for Brooks Orpik
A leader, a winner, a three-time Stanley Cup champion. Hard to measure what Brooks Orpik has done for the Capitals in his five years with the team. Did the Capitals overpay an aging defenseman when they signed Orpik before the 2014-15 season? Maybe. But it worked out for everyone even after last summer’s buyout and subsequent return. Orpik contributed again last season – though a knee injury limited him and bothered him most of the season. He even scored a game-winning overtime goal in the Stanley Cup playoffs. Some of this will depend on what Orpik wants to do. He said it would be later in the summer before he makes a firm decision on whether to play at age 39.
But while the Capitals have solidified their blueline with the trade for Radko Gudas and have two young players – Jonas Siegenthaler and Christian Djoos – available to play the left side, it’s always nice to have a veteran there. Orpik might not want to play a limited No. 6/7 role even if Washington wants him back. And maybe the Capitals want to give those young players ice time. But Orpik won’t cost much more than they do. Do you bring him back?
Who’s your pick? Vote here.
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