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Free Agency Bracket: Mats Zuccarello vs. Micheal Ferland

Free Agency Bracket: Mats Zuccarello vs. Micheal Ferland

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: Third line forward

Mats Zuccarello vs. Micheal Ferland

2018-19 stats

Mats Zuccarello (31 years old): 48 games played with the New York Rangers and Dallas Stars, 12 goals, 28 assists, 40 points, 19:51 TOI

Playoffs: 13 games played with the Dallas Stars, 4 goals, 7 assists, 11 points, 17:07 TOI

Micheal Ferland (27 years old): 71 games played with the Carolina Hurricanes, 17 goals, 23 assists, 40 points, 14:06 TOI

Playoffs: 7 games played with the Carolina Hurricanes, no goals, 1 assist, 1 point, 10:16 TOI

Hockey-Graphs contract projections

Mats Zuccarello: 4 years, $6,203,898 cap hit

Micheal Ferland: 4 years, $4,181,982 cap hit

The case for Mats Zuccarello

If you want to move T.J. Oshie down to the third line, you will need a top-six forward to do that and Mats Zuccarello fits the mold. Jakub Vrana could move to the right on the second line to fit Zuccarello on the left giving you a Zuccarello, Evgeny Kuznetsov, Vrana second line with Lars Eller and Oshie teamed up on the third. That is an incredibly formidable lineup.

Zuccarello may have been limited to just 48 games last season, but he played in no fewer than 77 games in each of the five seasons prior so durability is not an issue. Even being limited last season, he still managed to put up 40 points. Ferland’s career-high is 41 and he produced 40 points last season in 71 games. Those 40 points are about the most Washington can expect from Ferland, but Zuccarello should be expected to hit 50-60 points.

And while Zuccarello was a major factor for the Stars in the playoffs, Ferland completely disappeared. An injury limited him to seven games for Carolina, and he managed just one point in those seven games.

The ultimate case against Ferland is the fact that his first name is Micheal – but he spells it "ea" instead of "ae" – making him the sworn enemy of every hockey writer.

The case for Micheal Ferland

How’s the view from fantasy land? The deciding factor in this comparison is money. If the Caps had unlimited money and could choose only one between Zuccarello and Ferland, you choose Zuccarello. The problem is that the Caps don’t have unlimited money and there is no way they could make Zuccarello fit under the cap without moving a significant amount of salary, more than just Matt Niskanen.

Moving Niskanen could potentially give Washington room to sign a $4-4.5 million player, maybe. See that contract projection above? See how it starts with a “6” for Zucccarello? Case closed. There is no way to make that work.

Zuccarello was a good fit in Dallas and that is where he is most likely to end up.

Ferland is much more affordable and also fills the Caps’ need for a third-line player. He scored 40 points last year with limited minutes and ranked fourth on the Hurricanes in points despite being 16th on the team in time-on-ice per game. Being able to be productive without getting top-six minutes is a skill and Ferland has it.

In addition to his production, Ferland also plays a physical game which would fit in well with Washington as the Caps like to play a heavier game.

Ferland turned 27 in April and is entering his prime. A productive player in his prime that will be $2 to $2.5 million cheaper than the 31-year-old Zuccarello sounds like a good fit for Washington.

Who’s your pick? Vote here:

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How to watch: Capitals vs. Hurricanes preseason Game 3

How to watch: Capitals vs. Hurricanes preseason Game 3

The Washington Capitals remain undefeated in preseason play, thanks to Tom Wilson's clutch overtime goal and a Nicklas Backstrom bouncing saucer-pass-turned-shot

Saturday night, the Caps will get their first crack at the Carolina Hurricanes, who knocked them out in the first round of the playoffs last season. This game is also the first one that comes after the Caps whittled their roster down after the first round of cuts, which included Caps 2019 draft picks Connor McMichael and Aliaksei Protas.

The Caps will face the Hurricanes in the regular season on October 5 at Capital One Arena in their home opener.

CAPITALS-HURRICANES PRESEASON GAME 3: HOW TO WATCH

What: Washington Capitals vs. Carolina Hurricanes

Where: Capital One Arena, Washington, D.C.

When: Saturday, September, 21, 7:00 p.m. ET

TV Channel: Capitals-Hurricanes preseason game will be broadcast on NBC Sports Washington. (NBC Sports Washington channel Finder)

Live Stream: You can watch the Capitals-Hurricanes preseason game on NBC Sports Washington's live stream page.

Radio: Caps Radio 24/7

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I Am The Prospect: Capitals' prospect Alex Alexeyev is focused on one goal - making the roster

I Am The Prospect: Capitals' prospect Alex Alexeyev is focused on one goal - making the roster

Alex Alexeyev is the third Washington Capitals' prospect featured in NBC Sports Washington's I Am The Prospect series. Click here to check out more profiles from I am The Prospect.

Like most prospective NHL players, Alex Alexeyev dreams of the day he gets to lift the Stanley Cup over his head.

“It’s the best league in the world," Alexeyev said. "In childhood, they (are) always dreaming about raising that Stanley Cup. It’s my dream too.”

Standing at 6-foot, 3.5-inches tall, the 19-year-old from St. Petersburg, Russia, was the Capitals' last pick of the first round in the 2018 NHL Draft.

“He’s an untapped resource," Capitals head coach Todd Reirden said. "I was really impressed with him last year, seeing him for the first time."

Alexeyev's journey to the big leagues began three years ago when he made the move from Russia to North America, earning a spot on the top pair of the Red Deer Rebels' roster in Red Deer, Alberta, Canada. It was there in March of this past year that he sustained a "scary" knee injury, almost certainly sidelining him for the time being.

“I was scared and I felt like something (was) definitely wrong with my knee but after some time where I figured out, everyone figured out that it’s not that scary,” Alexeyev said.

Alexeyev rebounded quickly, rehabbing his injury with the Capitals' AHL affiliate, the Hershey Bears.

“The injuries, it’s too bad, but players do get injured and that’s something that can’t be helped, Capitals assistant general manager, Ross Mahoney said. "But he had a really good first half of the season with the Red Deer and exceptional World Junior Tournament, the under-20 tournament.” 

Since then, Alexeyev was a standout at the Caps' Developmental Camp in June.

“He just looks like he’s at a different level than the rest of the kids both physically and ability to play," Capitals general manager Brian MacLellan said. "He’s big, he’s strong, he’s got a good skill level, he moves the puck well, he seems to have a good attitude a good work ethic, I’m excited to see him in training camp and see his progression here as the year goes on.

With the loss of Capitals' veteran defensemen Matt Niskanen and Brooks Orpik, Alexeyev is focused on making the Caps' 2019-20 roster.

“Alex is a really intelligent player," Mahoney said. "I think he’s got great vision on the ice. He has that ability also to be very patient with the puck.” 

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