When he addressed the media a few days after the Capitals were eliminated by the New York Rangers in the second round of the Stanley Cup playoffs, general manager Brian MacLellan said one of his priorities for the summer would be finding a top-line right wing to play alongside Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom.
At the time, he said he would be more likely to find that player in a trade and not through free agency. MacLellan reiterated those thoughts following Saturday’s NHL’s draft, saying he will monitor the cost of free agency when it begins at noon on Wednesday, but is not in a position to overpay like last year, when the Caps spent more than $67 million on defensemen Brooks Orpik and Mat Niskanen.
Assuming the Capitals commit roughly $5 million in cap space to restricted free agent goaltender Braden Holtby and a combined $7 million in cap space to RFA forwards Marcus Johansson and Evgeny Kuznetsov, MacLellan would have an estimated $6 million to spend on a top-line right wing and a seventh defenseman.
For what it’s worth, the Islanders, Rangers, Penguins, Canadiens and Senators also have cited the need for a top-six forward, which could drive up the prices paid on Wednesday.
If MacLellan indeed decides to fill the Caps’ need through free agency, here is a list of right wings that might interest him:
Justin Williams, Los Angeles Kings
2014-15 stats: 18-23-41 in 81 games, 15:49
2014-15 cap hit: $3.65 million
Scouting report: A three-time Stanley Cup champion and the Conn Smythe winner in 2014, Williams is a proven playoff performer who appears to have some tread left on his tires despite 918 career regular season games and 115 playoff games. Williams plays a strong two-way game with a bit of an edge. Much like Joel Ward, the Caps probably would prefer a two-year contract, but Williams will seek four years and could get $4 million per. Williams has said he wants to stay in L.A., “but if not, I’m going to try to restart my career somewhere else, turn the page and try to win as many hockey games as I can. I’m at a point in my career where it’s not all about money, it’s about winning for me.”
Drew Stafford, Winnipeg Jets
2014-15 stats: 18-25-43 in 76 games, 16:29
2014-15 cap hit: $4 million
Scouting report: At 6-foot-2, 214 pounds, Stafford has size, skill and a willingness to drive the net, making him a perfect complement to Ovechkin and Backstrom. Stafford has consistently been in the 20-goal range, topping out at 31 goals in 2010-11. At 29 he’ll be seeking at least four years and likely will command $5 million or more in average salary.
Erik Cole, Detroit Red Wings
2014-15 stats: 21-18-39 in 68 games, 14:32
2014-15 cap hit: $4.5 million
Scouting report: Even at the age of 36 Cole has proven himself as a hard-charging, in-your-face power forward who can finish. At 6-foot-2, 210 pounds he could give the Caps’ top line a heavy element and he can play the diamond on the power play. He can also slide down and play a second or third line role and be effective. He likely won’t get more than two years and he’d come at a palatable cap hit, probably in the $3.5 million range.
Chris Stewart, Minnesota Wild
2014-15 stats: 14-22-36 in 81 games, 15:52
2014-15 cap hit: $4.15 million
Scouting report: He’s got great size [6-2, 231] and a powerful shot, but for the most part, Stewart has fallen short of expectations, spending seven NHL seasons with four different organizations. Stewart has 30-goal potential but has hovered in the 15-goal range the past four seasons and may have trouble increasing his salary because of it. If the Caps can sign Stewart for two or three years with a cap hit of about $4 million, he might be worth the investment. Anything higher, they’d probably pass.
Michael Frolik, Winnipeg Jets
2014-15 stats: 19-23-42 in 82 games, 17:30
2014-15 cap hit: $3.3 million
Scouting report: Frolik plays a high skill game and can find holes to release a quick shot. His 19 goals last season represented his highest output since 2008-09 and 2009-10 when he netted back-to-back 21-goal seasons in his first two years in Florida. Frolik won a Cup with the Blackhawks in 2013, recording three goals and seven assists in 23 games while averaging 13:09 of ice time.