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: