Two years ago, shortly after being hired as general manager, Brian MacLellan said he needed to stabilize the Capitals’ defense and went out and signed Brooks Orpik and Matt Niskanen.
One year ago, MacLellan said he needed to find a right wing to play with Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom and went out and acquired T.J. Oshie through a trade and Justin Williams through free agency.
This week, MacLellan identified an increase in team speed and a productive third-line center as the Capitals’ greatest offseason needs.
Can he deliver once again?
If the NHL salary cap rises to its anticipated $74 million this summer, the Caps will have roughly $15.5 million to sign three forwards and one defenseman.
Two of those forwards almost certainly will be Marcus Johansson and Tom Wilson and Dmitry Orlov will be the one defenseman.
Johansson, 25, was awarded $3.75 million in arbitration last summer and had a productive 17-goal, 29-assist season as a second-line left wing and third-line center.
Wilson, 22, earned just under $900,000 last season and recorded seven goals and 16 assists as a third- and fourth-line right wing.
Orlov, 24, earned $2 million last season and produced eight goals and 21 assists.
Let’s assume Johansson is re-signed with a cap hit of $4.5 million, Wilson is re-signed with a cap hit of $1.5 million and Orlov is re-signed at $2.5 million (although all three could be higher).
That would leave the Caps with about $7 million to sign another forward or two.
Let’s also assume that since the Caps are out to improve their speed, unrestricted free agents Mike Richards and Mike Weber are not re-signed and restricted free agent Michael Latta is either traded or not re-signed.
What could the Caps do with that estimated $7 million in cap space?
Would they keep 37-year-old left wing Jason Chimera, who still has the speed to be the first forward on the forecheck, even if it’s on the fourth line? If so, would he be willing to take a one-year deal at his current $2 million salary?
If the Caps kept Chimeras that would leave about $5 million in cap space, which would be enough to land a pretty significant piece (or two) to the forward puzzle.
The free-agent market is not exactly brimming with third-line centers, but would Florida’s Jiri Hudler interest the Caps? At 32, he is still an offensive threat, putting up 16 goals and 30 assists this season, numbers very similar to Johansson’s. And he won a Stanley Cup with Detroit in 2008. Hudler made $4 million last season and likely would carry a similar price tag.
Florida’s Teddy Purcell ($4.5 million) is another pending UFA who at 30 is coming off a 14-goal, 29 assist season. He can play either wing, but is not a center.
Andrew Ladd, 30, and Loui Eriksson, 30, are also UFA wingers coming off big offensive seasons. Ladd, who has two Stanley Cup rings, netted 25 goals and 21 assists for the Blackhawks last season while making $4.4 million. Eriksson, notched 30 goals and 33 assists for Boston while making $4.25 million.
(And then there is a guy named Troy Brouwer, who at 30 years old, is also scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent after an 18-goal, 21 assist season in St. Louis, where he’s racked up five goals and five assists in 16 playoff games. If net-front presence is an issue, Brouwer would address it, but he’s due a sizeable raise on his $3.6 million salary.)
While adding a player like Hudler, Purcell, Ladd, Eriksson or even Brouwer might not address the need for a third-line center, it could give the Caps the flexibility to move Justin Williams to third-line right wing and keep Johansson at third-line center.
MacLellan could also take the trade route.
Dallas Stars center Cody Eakin is signed through the 2019-20 season at $3.85 million and could be a perfect third-line fit in Washington. Or how about Nashville’s 35-year-old veteran Mike Fisher, who will be unrestricted next summer and is coming off a 13-goal, 10-assist season at $4.4 million? Or Montreal’s speedy center David Desharnais ($3.5 million), who had 11 goals and 18 assists this season and will be a UFA after next season?
Whatever MacLellan does, here’s a thumbnail sketch of the Caps’ potential forward lines next season. (Feel free to fill in the Xs):
Alex Ovechkin – Evgeny Kuznetsov – T.J. Oshie
Andre Burakovsky – Nicklas Backstrom – Justin Williams
Marcus Johansson – XXXXXXXXX – Tom Wilson
Daniel Winnik – Jay Beagle – XXXXXXXXXXX
Extras: Stan Galiev