One of the summer goals for Capitals general manager Brian MacLellan was to upgrade the fourth line. It took one day of free agency to accomplish that.
At least Washington hopes so. It signed unrestricted free agents Garnet Hathaway (Calgary Flames) and Brendan Leipsic (Los Angeles Kings) on Monday afternoon. With Nic Dowd entrenched as the fourth-line center, Hathaway would be the right wing given the Capitals gave him a four-year, $6 million contract with a $1.5 million average annual value. They joined third-line right wing Richard Panik, who signed a four-year deal for $11 million and a $2.75 million cap hit.
“The thing I like about Panik and Hathaway is that they both skate well,” MacLellan said. “Garnet had good north-south speed. Panik is a really good skater for his size. So, I don't think that we're sacrificing on the speed side to add heaviness. I think we got big players that can skate and play well.”
The other depth forwards on the roster competing for playing time are Travis Boyd, who is under contract at $800,000, and Chandler Stephenson, who was tendered a qualifying offer worth $715,000. One of those players could be in trouble.
Washington has to re-sign restricted free agent Jakub Vrana and would have $3.57 million left for a bridge deal once Djoos signs. But add in another forward for a 23-man roster and that math starts to get unlikely at under $3 million left for Vrana.
But that decision is for another day. For now, adding to the fourth line was a priority.
“I'm really excited, obviously. I know a lot about the team, obviously playing against them,” Hathaway said. “It's a difficult team to play against. It seemed like a good fit because we play a similar style. Obviously, it's a winning culture there too. It's something that I'm really excited to be a part of. I know that no one in that room wants that to change, so we want to win games and that's exciting and I can't wait to join them.”
Hathaway has had quite the journey to get here. He played four years of college hockey at Brown, but was never drafted. He played a full year in the AHL in 2014-15 before making his NHL debut with Calgary the next season in 14 games. He gradually increased that to 26 NHL games in 2016-17, 59 and then 76 last year when Hathaway scored a career-high 11 goals with eight assists (19 points).
Hathaway is a good penalty killer. He can fight, with 13 in his career, though that’s obviously less necessary in the modern NHL. A hard two-way game with some scoring upside is the appeal here. The Capitals won’t be much fun to play against with Alex Ovechkin, Tom Wilson, Radko Gudas and Hathaway around. That’s a heavy team with enough speed to get by.
“I think they built this team so well, I don't think there's a void that you can really point at,” Hathaway said. “I want to go and I want to complement the guys that are there right now. They have a lot of skill, they have a lot of scoring and they have guys that are tough and play a physical game. So, I want to continue on the growth I have in my career right now and I want to continue to be hard to play against. That's something I hope I can help with them.”
Meanwhile, Leipsic joins his sixth NHL club and he’s still just 25. Maybe it’s too soon to just hand him a spot so there could be competition there at left wing. Leipsic split last year between Vancouver and Los Angeles. The Canucks waived him in December. Once a third-round pick by Nashville in 2012, Leipsic has 13 goals in 126 NHL games, but five goals and 13 assists in just 45 games with the Kings. It’s an interesting flyer on a player in his age-25 season.
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