For some players, free agency is a chance to cash in. Capitals forward Nic Dowd, however, did not want to test the market. On the final year of his contract, Dowd signed an extension with the Capitals on Sunday for three years with a cap hit of $1.3 million.
While $1.3 million is a sizable raise from the $750,000 of his current deal, Dowd may have been able to push for more as a free agent. He is a 31-year-old, right-shot center. That alone carries value. He is good on the faceoff and penalty kill and scored a career-high 11 goals in 56 games in the 2021 season.
Dowd, however, has been watching the market in recent years and decided that free agency just wasn't worth the risk.
"I think free agency hasn't been as friendly in the last couple years to a lot of people," Dowd said. "I mean, it has been great for some players, and I think a lot of times guys can look at it and some guys are very obviously, then some guys sign great deals and maybe it kind of surprises you. And then you see some guys that don't sign big deals, and that kind of surprises you. So, I think the risk assessment was the biggest decision-making process."
The players the flat cap seems to have affected the most are the depth players. While the stars always make top dollar, free agency the last two offseasons has seen a number of good, serviceable depth players have to sign at or close to the minimum if they are signed at all.
Perhaps in a normal year before the pandemic, it would make sense for Dowd to test the market and try to maximize his worth given his position and his skill set. But if current trends continue, it seems just as likely Dowd would not get signed at all.
But it wasn't all about business. Since signing in 2018, Dowd has found a home on and off the ice in Washington.
"I was still trying to solidify myself when I got here, Dowd said. "Obviously last year was my best year individually and they kept the line together, [head coach Peter Laviolette] gave us a ton of responsibility. Just overall it was a great year. Obviously, a lot of things go into it, but I think that this is a great spot to play."
To the Caps, Dowd is an everyday player, but he wasn't that with the Los Angeles Kings or Vancouver Canucks, his two prior NHL teams.
In 2015-16, Dowd played five games for the Kings, but spent the majority of the season in the AHL. He played 70 games the following year, but was traded from Los Angels to Vancouver in 2018. After a 22-point season in 2016-17, Dowd managed just three goals and one assist in 56 total games between his two teams.
In his first season in Washington, Dowd was back up to 22 points, tying his career-high.
Dowd is now in his fourth season with the Caps and his second under Laviolette. In Laviolette's first season, Dowd saw his line's role increase. The chemistry between player and coach is obvious and that's something Dowd wants to keep intact.
"You get a lot of responsibility and you get something that you haven't been given before and you ride with it and you take that opportunity and turn it into success," Dowd said. "I think [Laviolette's] a good coach to play for. You know where you stand with him and you know what to expect and I think within this organization, it's easy to be successful here because you have so many people that want you to succeed. So I think that was also a big factor in why I wanted to stay and remain around this culture."
When it comes to free agency, it is easy to take a very analytical view of it. Family is a factor that is often overlooked by analysts as we do not know how a family may feel about a city or a potential move. While the fit with the Caps is clear, Dowd's family also played a role in Dowd's decision.
Dowd and his wife, Paige, love the area. Their son, Louie, was born here on New Year's Eve in 2019. For a professional hockey player, it can sometimes be hard for a family to put down roots. In Washington, however, the Dowds have found a home and that was something Nic did not want to mess with.
"I've been around a couple of other organizations -- both good organizations -- but this has definitely been home," Dowd said. "And my wife loves it. We love it."