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Six free agents who could help the Caps

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Six free agents who could help the Caps

When the Capitals made the decision to part ways with Alexander Semin, Mike Knuble, Jeff Halpern, Cody Eakin and Dennis Wideman, a total of 46 goals went with them.

Theoretically, the Caps gained back 18 goals with the acquisition of center Mike Ribeiro from the Dallas Stars.

And while general manager George McPhee may say hes happy starting next season with the lineup he has, its no secret the Capitals could use a top-line right wing and a No. 4 or 5 defenseman if they hope to compete for the Southeast Division title.

Last year, McPhee was a busy man on July 1, signing Roman Hamrlik, Joel Ward, Jeff Halpern and Ryan Potulny, while also completing a trade with Colorado that sent goaltender Semyon Varlamov to the Avalanche for a first-round and a second-round draft pick in the 2012 draft.
The NHLs biggest shopping day begins at noon on Sunday and today well take a look at six forwards the Capitals may want to consider when the bell rings on Sunday:

Zach Parise, DevilsAge: 29
Position: Left wing
Last season: 31 goals, 38 assists, 60 points
2001-12 salary: 6 million
Skinny: Parise is the biggest fish in the pond and many speculate that could result in a contract of at least six years and a cap hit in the 8 million range. The Minnesota Wild, Detroit Red Wings and Pittsburgh Penguins are believed to the front-runners, but Parise had a strong relationship with Adam Oates in New Jersey and that cant be underestimated if the Caps plan on making a push for Parise, who is strong in every area of the game.

Shane Doan, CoyotesAge: 36
Position: Right Wing
Last season: 22 goals, 28 assists, 50 points
2011-12 salary: 4.55 mill
Skinny: Doan would prefer to stay in Phoenix but with the teams future uncertain, he may look to sign a two- or three-year contract with a Stanley Cup contender. He is a playoff-tested warrior who would bring a wealth of experience and leadership to the Capitals locker room.

P.A. Parenteau, IslandersAge: 29
Position: Right Wing
Last season: 18 goals, 49 assists, 67 points
2011-12 salary: 1.25 million
Skinny: Some say he benefitted from being on a line with John Tavares and he did. But he still put up big numbers and his 49 assists would have led the Capitals by a wide margin. The downside is that he is more of a set-up guy than a sniper and the Caps already have two set-up men in Nicklas Backstrom and Ribeiro.

Ray Whitney, CoyotesAge: 40
Position: Left Wing
Last season: 24 goals, 53 assists, 77 points
2011-12 salary: 3 million
Skinny: Say what you want about his age. Whitney put up more points than anyone on the Capitals last season and would be a perfect fit as a No. 2 left wing behind Alex Ovechkin. That would also allow Jason Chimera to play his more natural role of third-line left wing.

Dustin Penner, KingsAge: 29Position: Right Wing
Last season: 7 goals, 10 assists, 17 points
2011-12 salary: 4.25 million
Skinny: Penner has fallen a long way since scoring 29 goals as a rookie with Anaheim in 2005-06, but the guy has now won two Stanley Cups one with the Ducks and another with the Kings and has produced 30 points 10 goals and 20 assists in 60 career playoff games.

Jaromir Jagr, FlyersAge: 40
Position: Right Wing
Last season: 19 goals, 35 assists, 54 points
2011-12 salary: 3.3 million
Skinny: Crazy, right? Everyone in Philly thought the same thing last summer and by all accounts Jagr was a stand-up guy in the locker room and a great influence on the Flyers younger players. And he helped the Flyers knock the Penguins out of the playoffs, which has to count for something. George McPhee would probably shudder at the thought and so would most Caps fans.

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Why the trade for Radko Gudas could signal the end of Brooks Orpik’s tenure with the Caps

Why the trade for Radko Gudas could signal the end of Brooks Orpik’s tenure with the Caps

The Carolina Hurricanes ended the Capitals’ season in the first round of the playoffs and quite possibly Brooks Orpik’s career with it. The 38-year-old defenseman said at the team’s breakdown day that the decision for what comes next, whether retirement or playing another season in the NHL, would have to wait.

“I'm in no rush in terms of deciding on my future in terms of hockey,” Orpik said. “That'll be a more health-related decision down the road."

Whether Orpik wants to come back for one more year in the NHL will be up to him, but the decision on whether to re-sign with the Caps may have just been decided for him.

On Friday, the Caps traded defenseman Matt Niskanen to the Philadelphia Flyers in exchange for Radko Gudas. Most people hear the name Gudas and think of him as a dirty player who can’t play the position, but he is actually a decent defenseman. The media in Philadelphia selected Gudas as the most outstanding defenseman for the Flyers in 2018-19. Plus, his penalty minutes have decreased in each of the past four seasons from 116 all the way down to 63 last season. For reference, Tom Wilson had 128 and Michal Kempny had 60. It’s still high, but it signals a player making a conscious effort to stay out of the penalty box.

Gudas has been suspended four times in his career and he certainly will be watched very closely by the NHL’s Department of Player Safety. One big hit could mean a lengthy suspension. That is a definite concern, but in terms of just his play, there is value there as a third-pair defenseman.

With Gudas in, that will almost certainly push Orpik out.

The move gives Washington six defenseman under contract for next season. Teams will usually keep seven for the regular season, enough for three pairs and one extra. Christian Djoos is a restricted free agent and will presumably be back as well, giving Washington seven blue liners.

Djoos had a down year last season, but he did play a third-pair role on the team’s Cup run and he is only 24. It does not make sense to give up on Djoos after one bad year just for one more year with Orpik who will be 39 at the start of next season.

Given Washington’s salary cap situation, the Caps do not have room for an eighth defenseman. If Orpik were to return, it would mean pushing someone else out. The only of those seven defensemen that would make sense to even consider moving for Orpik would be Gudas.

Gudas would not be the first player in the world to be traded and then flipped or bought out soon after. Ironically, the same thing happened to Orpik last season when he was traded to and then quickly bought out by the Colorado Avalanche.

A buyout here, however, would make no sense. According to CapFriendly’s buyout calculator, a buyout would only give Washington $1,166,667 of cap relief and most of that would go to a new Orpik deal making it pointless. Yes, you still have the $3.405 million of cap space the team would have opened up in the trade, but if the plan all along was to re-sign Orpik and ship out Niskanen, then why not just trade Niskanen for draft picks? Then you get his full cap off the books instead of having to go through the trouble of buying out Gudas and having him count against the cap for the next two seasons. That would make no sense.

As for flipping him and trading him to another team, what would the team get for him that would make it worthwhile? You cannot bring on salary or it defeats the purpose so the Caps’ options for a return would likely be limited to players of the same caliber and cap hit. What would be the point of that?

Prior to this deal, Djoos and Jonas Siegenthaler were the most likely candidates to play on the third pair next season. Both are left shots. Gudas is a right-shot defenseman which now gives Washington three with John Carlson and Nick Jensen. Gudas also plays with a physical edge. Sometimes he goes too far with it, but so long as he can control himself, he would add the physical presence to the blue line that the team stands to lose with Orpik gone.

There is no reason to trade for Gudas unless the team intended for Gudas to play a role next season. General manager Brian MacLellan chose to trade for a player who is a right-shot, physical, third-pair defenseman which is pretty much exactly the hole they needed to fill on their blue line and essentially the spot Orpik will be vacating. That did not just happen by accident.

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Why the Caps had to trade Matt Niskanen

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Why the Caps had to trade Matt Niskanen

In an ideal world, you keep players like Matt Niskanen.

A veteran defenseman with years of experience, a player who was given hard minutes during Stanley Cup playoff runs in 2015, 2016, 2017 and 2018 and excelled, a soft-spoken, but blunt man unafraid to say when his team played like hot garbage. These are not guys you look to trade. 

Unless, of course, they have a $5.75 million salary-cap hit for the next two years and your team desperately needs to clear space for other priorities. The Capitals made that long-expected move on Friday when they traded Niskanen to the Philadelphia Flyers for defenseman Radko Gudas. 

In a vacuum, this is a loss. Niskanen by all accounts has been a better defenseman than Gudas. But they are also on different career trajectories. Niskanen struggled, especially early last season. He is 32. There’s at least a chance we’ve seen the best of him, though he’d argue by the end of last season he was closer to his normal self.

“Not totally shocked, but it caught me a little off guard,” Niskanen told reporters on a conference call Friday. “I knew once the NHL season was over, from now until the draft is typically when things happen.  Not really shocked, a little surprised. I knew this is the time of year when these things can happen and I knew what kind of situation Washington was in, so I knew there was a possibility.

Gudas, 29, is going in the opposite direction – though his ceiling is surely lower than Niskanen’s is at his best. He’s cut down his penalty minutes each of the past three years. He’s of limited offensive value, instead a classic stay-at-home defenseman who’s become effective at limiting the high-danger chances when he’s on the ice. 

And that role won’t have to be a big one. The Capitals have an in-house replacement for Niskanen on the right side of the second pair with Nick Jensen, who is really the on-ice key to this trade. 

Jensen, acquired at the trade deadline from Detroit, was immediately signed to a four-year contract extension sight unseen. The writing was on the wall for Niskanen then. Caps GM Brian MacLellan basically said it out loud at breakdown down when he acknowledged retaining scoring depth is a priority and that he likely would have to move salary. These dots weren’t difficult to connect. 

Gudas is the plug-in defenseman on the third pair who allows Washington’s coaching staff to pick and choose which young player – Jonas Siegenthaler, Christian Djoos or whoever – they want to use on a given night. Both players are natural left-side defensemen.

If Jensen can find the comfort level he’d reached with the Red Wings, then MacLellan will have a more balanced roster. Immediately he can focus his leftover resources on the third and fourth lines. Maybe that means re-signing Carl Hagelin. Early indications are that’s a priority. 

But with about $13.49 million in cap space, according to the uber-helpful web site Cap Friendly.com. there is a little breathing room now to take care of restricted free agents (RFAs) Jakub Vrana – expect him around the $4 million mark on a bridge deal – and maybe Andre Burakovsky (a $3.25 million qualifying offer or less than that if they buy out his final two years of restricted free agency). 

But now let’s look at the long-term implications of the Niskanen trade. Gudas is a free agent after next season. That Niskanen money is gone just in time for contract extensions with center Nicklas Backstrom and goalie Braden Holtby.  

The Capitals will lose the bonus overage ($1.150 million) they have to pay defenseman Brooks Orpik this year - whether he plays with the team or not (a return seems unlikely now). Gudas’ cap hit is $2.345 million. The salary cap should also rise again from $83 million. Without moving more salary, keeping both Holtby and Backstrom seems like a long shot. 

Speaking with Holtby on Saturday at the Capital Pride Parade, he insisted to NBC Sports Washington that he hadn’t heard anything from his agent about contract talks beginning. That’s something you’d expect to happen this summer - or not at all if Holtby rightly pursues a top-level goalie contract. 

Montreal goalie Carey Price has a $10.5 million cap hit, New York Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist is at $8.5 million and Columbus goalie Sergei Bobrovsky could hit double figures as he enters the free agent market this summer. 

Backstrom, too, a bargain for nine years now, will want a raise. He now has the 20thhighest cap hit for a center ($6.7 million). You’d have to think he’d seek well over $8 million. Teammate Evgeny Kuznetsov has had a $7.8 million cap hit since 2017.

Niskanen knew all of this, of course. He understands the business side of the sport. A player with his own moral code, who was always, always at his locker when he made a mistake in a game or when someone had to account for a poor team performance, leaves Washington after five years with a Stanley Cup and few regrets. It’s what he came here to do.  

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