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 defense

Carl Gunnarsson vs. Ron Hainsey

2018-19 stats

Carl Gunnarsson (32 years old): 25 games played with the St. Louis Blues, 3 goals, 4 assists, 7 points, 15:56 TOI

Playoffs: 19 games played with the St. Louis Blues, 1 goal, 2 assists, 3 points, 14:57 TOI

Ron Hainsey (38 years old): 81 games played with the Toronto Maple Leafs, 5 goals, 18 assists, 23 points, 20:15 TOI

Playoffs: 7 games played with the Toronto Maple Leafs, no goals, 1 assist, 1 point, 20:23 TOI

Hockey-Graphs contract projections

Carl Gunnarsson: 1 year, $731,159 cap hit

Ron Hainsey: 2 years, $3,715,530 cap hit

The case for Carl Gunnarsson

The Caps are going to need a No. 6/7 defenseman should Brooks Orpik retire or if the team elects not to re-sign him. If you do have to replace Orpik, why would you go with someone just as old? Hainsey is 38 and there is no reason to go that old when there are younger alternatives.


Gunnarsson was the hero of the “Boston Pee Party” when he scored the overtime winner in Game 2 of the Stanley Cup Final after declaring to head coach Craig Berube at the urinal he just needed one more opportunity. Gunnarsson had just seven points in the regular season so no one should expect a ton of offense, but the point is he delivered when it mattered most.

When he is not playing the overtime hero, he is a third-pairing, stay at home defenseman who can play on the penalty kill which is pretty much exactly what the Caps need on a third pair that will likely cycle between him, Christian Djoos and Jonas Siegenthaler.

Take a look at Gunnarsson’s contract projection. You can’t beat that price. Sure, those projections came out before he won the Stanley Cup, but even if his price goes up, it will not be significant.

Compare that to Hainsey. A two-year deal for over $3.7 million per year to a 38-year-old player? No thanks.

The case for Ron Hainsey

Projections are a good starting point for these salaries, but in this case I think this one is just plain wrong. Hainsey will probably want two years instead of one given his age, but if he wants term, his price tag is not going to be anywhere close to the $3.7 million Hockey-Graphs projects so let’s settle down on that one.

At the age of 38, Hainsey had a bigger role on the Maple Leafs—playing over 20 minutes a game—than Gunnarsson had at 32. Yes, age is a concern and you have to wonder how much Hainsey has left in the tank, but the Caps won’t ask as much from him as Toronto did. He will be a third-pair player cycling in with Djoos and Siegenthaler. After averaging over 20 minutes through 81 games last season, is durability really an issue considering the Caps will need him to play 50-60 games at 15 minutes? Probably not.

Hainsey provides everything Gunnarsson does, but he is a better player. He is a better penalty killer, a better defenseman and will be a better mentor to the two young players he would primarily be working with.

Sure, Gunnarsson scored that overtime winner in Game 2 of the Stanley Cup Final. It was also his first goal of the playoffs. It was a clutch moment, but don’t let that fool you into thinking Gunnarsson is suddenly a clutch producer.

Who’s your pick? Vote here: