Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final between the Montreal Canadiens and Tampa Bay Lightning starts on Monday. The Capitals are not in the Stanley Cup Final this year, but there are a number of pending free agents who are. Those are the players Caps fans and general manager Brian MacLellan should be watching to see if there are any potential fits to pursue in the offseason.
When going through this exercise, you quickly discover two problems. First, there is very little that the Caps actually need. The results have not been there in the playoffs the last three years, but really, on paper, this roster is stacked. Second, they have no cap room so even if you talk yourself into a player, the next question is, yeah but at what cost?
With that in mind, however, let's look at some of Montreal's pending free agents to see if there are any potential fits for Washington.
F Joel Armia
Joel Armia scored seven goals and seven assists playing fourth-line minutes with a $2.6 million cap hit. Even if that number comes down, which it should, fourth-line depth is not something the Caps need and they especially can't afford to overpay for it.
F Phillip Danault
Danault has been absolutely brilliant in the postseason for Montreal as a shutdown center. He has confounded opposing offenses about as much as Carey Price has and that's saying something.
Danault bet on himself in a contract year, turning down an extension offer for six years, $30 million in January. While that means there's a chance he could hit the open market, it also means he will probably be way too pricey for Washington.
With Evgeny Kuznetsov, Nicklas Backstrom, Lars Eller and Nic Dowd at center, there's no room for Danault. The only reason this would be an option at all is if Washington decided to move on from Kuznetsov and even then, I'm not sure I like the fit.
Moving Kuznetsov and bringing in Danault would mean losing a lot of offensive potential. Is a center lineup of Backstrom, Danault, Eller and Dowd good enough to win a championship? Perhaps on a team with a more defensive style of play it is, but I do not think the Caps are set up to play and win that way.
D Erik Gustafsson, Jon Merrill
The Caps already have too many left-shot defensemen. They can't afford anymore, especially players who play limited roles like Gustafsson and Merrill who are averaging 9:31 and 13:09 of total ice time per game in the postseason.
Washington has a crowded blue line. A lot would have to happen before the team could even think about adding, especially on the left.
F Artturi Lehkonen (RFA)
Lehkonen scored the overtime goal that sent the Canadiens to the Stanley Cup Final. I doubt he makes it to free agency, but he is 25, he has not had great offensive production the last three seasons and he is arbitration-eligible which could all mean he ends up being a cap casualty in the offseason.
Despite the goal, Lehkonen's biggest contribution this postseason has been playing with Danault on a shutdown line for Montreal.
A young, defensively responsible player with high potential is the type of player the Caps should be targeting if they feel the need to bolster their offensive depth. Lehkonen could make some sense depending on what his price tag would be.
F Jesperi Kotkaniemi (RFA)
Montreal is not going to let Kotkaniemi get anywhere near free agency. Moving on.
F Corey Perry, Eric Staal and Tomas Tatar
These are the type of players that would have made complete sense for Washington two or maybe even one year ago: low-risk, cheap veteran players with a potential for a high reward. Perry certainly fits the mold of the "tough to play against" type of player MacLellan covets. At 30, Tatar also probably has a few more miles left in the tank and just seems to be a player who has fallen out of favor with his current team. Just last season, Tatar recorded a career-high in points, 61, despite playing just 68 games. In 2020-21, he had only 30 points and has appeared in only five games during this playoff run.
Having said that, did anyone watch the Caps last season and think to themselves that this roster needed to get older?
All three of these players could potentially be useful for the Caps, but not on a roster that desperately needs to add some youth.