The offseason continues for Capitals players, but the job never stops for management. While the Caps don’t have much money to work with under the salary cap this summer, general manager Brian MacLellan and staff are still watching the conference finals closely for players who might fit next year’s roster.
With that in mind, here’s a look at where the free agent “stock” of each pending unrestricted free agent in the Western Conference Final stands now through three games between the Sharks and the Blues. Game 4 is tonight at 8 p.m. on NBC Sports Network.
NOTE: This list includes only UFAs.
SAN JOSE SHARKS
Joe Pavelski, F
Sharks captain isn’t going anywhere. You can’t imagine him playing for another team. He missed six playoff games due to a head injury and received a rousing standing ovation when shown on the scoreboard at the SAP Center. He has four goals and nine assists in 11 playoff games. At age 34 Pavelski is good where he is. Not the player he once was, but a true leader and the heart-and-soul of a San Jose team looking for its first Stanley Cup.
Joe Thornton, F
The long wait for a Stanley Cup has been brutal for Thornton, now a third-line center at age 39. He’s come so close so many times with the Sharks and this could be his final chance. He's still a force on the ice, though not the dominant offensive player he once was. Thornton has 10 points (four goals, six assists) in the playoffs. He will finish his career with San Jose.
Gustav Nyquist, F
Nyquist has been a playmaker on the top line at right wing with 10 assists and a goal in 17 games. He produces without a ton of power-play time and had a great regular season after being acquired from the Red Wings at the trade deadline on Feb. 25. Nyquist had a $4.75 million cap hit this season. In line for a raise at age 29, but probably too expensive for the depth scoring Washington needs.
Erik Karlsson, D
He will be one of the most sought-after defensemen on the open market after playing the final season of his contract with the Sharks. The long-time Ottawa Senators blueliner still has great offensive gifts at age 28. He showed that again by scoring the controversial overtime winner in Game 3 against the Blues. Karlsson has 15 points in 17 Stanley Cup playoff games. The Caps already have their Carlson (John) on the right side so this one is not an option for them.
Joonas Donskoi, F
A roller-coaster playoffs for Donskoi, who has scored 14 goals each of the past two seasons and been a fixture in the San Jose lineup for four. He was a healthy scratch the first three games of the first-round series against Vegas but returned to play three games before getting hurt in Game 6.
Donskoi missed the next five games, but he’s made an impact since returning in Game 5 of the second-round series against Colorado. His one goal this postseason was a huge one. It proved to be the game-winner in Game 7 against the Avalanche. Donskoi has played on the fourth line in every game of the Western Conference Final against St. Louis. Think of him as Washington’s version of Andre Burakovsky. His age (27), experience and versatility should entice teams looking for depth scoring this summer. Maybe the Caps?
Tim Heed, D
A depth defenseman who played in 37 NHL games this year and just two in the playoffs. Held his own in minimal ice time at even strength (20:01) and was on the ice for one San Jose goal. Not an impact free agent. At 28 just hoping to find a team in need of depth on the right side.
Micheal Haley, F
A rugged fourth-liner whose toughness got him in the lineup early in the Vegas series in the first round. Haley has appeared in nine playoff games. He doesn’t have a point. On his second and probably last go-around with the Sharks.
ST. LOUIS BLUES
Patrick Maroon, F
A true hometown hero in St. Louis, where he was born, Maroon has three goals and three assists in the playoffs. A big man at 6-foot-3, 227 pounds, Maroon is tough to move from the front of the net. But he’s also 31 and on his fourth NHL team and he’s only topped 20 goals and 40 points once. He does have 63 games worth of playoff experience, though, so he could be a good fit on a third line somewhere. The Capitals probably want more speed than Maroon would provide. They already have enough big bodies (Tom Wilson, Alex Ovechkin) with more pure skill. Maroon scored the overtime game-winner in Game 7 of the second round series vs. Dallas, but it’s unclear he can get more than the one-year, $1.75 million deal he signed with the Blues last summer.
Carl Gunnarsson, D
Injuries limited Gunnarsson to just 25 games during the regular season. He has appeared in nine playoff games, but his time in St. Louis appears to be dwindling after five seasons. Gunnarsson played the final two games of the first-round series against Winnipeg and all seven games against Dallas in the second round before getting hurt in Game 7. He returns tonight against San Jose in Game 4 in place of the injured Vince Dunn. At best the Swede is a cheap depth defenseman this offseason at age 32.
Chris Thorburn, F
Tough year for a 13-year NHL veteran who played one game for the Blues and then was dispatched to the AHL for the rest of the season. He was recalled for the playoffs but has yet to appear in a game. Soon to be 36, his career is likely over.
Michael Del Zotto, D
Split 42 games between Vancouver, Anaheim and the Blues this season, but has not appeared in a playoff game. St. Louis picked up Del Zotto at the trade deadline on Feb. 25 for depth they haven’t needed. He turns 29 next month so he should still garner some interest in a similar role, but after signing consecutive two-year deals with Philadelphia and then Vancouver he likely won’t get much more than a one-year minimum deal. The Caps could probably find a better option if they need a veteran No. 7 defenseman who won’t play much.
MORE CAPITALS NEWS:
- Free Agent Stock Watch: Bruins rattle Justin Williams
- Caps Mailbag Part 1: What should the Caps have done better in the playoffs?
- Caps Mailbag Part 2: Is it time for the Caps to move on from Braden Holtby?