A little more than a year into his tenure, Capitals general manager Brian MacLellan is realizing that his job is a treadmill of decision-making.
After a relatively quiet weekend in south Florida, where the Caps drafted a goaltender and three defensemen, matching their lowest-ever intake of draft picks -- MacLellan and his staff are back in Washington huddling over the club’s game plan for NHL free agency, which opens at noon on Wednesday.
“We’ll do some free agent meetings and try to get a better handle on what cost is and what players are going to be available for free agency,” MacLellan said.
“… I anticipate not being active right off the hop. I don’t know if we have the money to be able to do that. We’ll see what goes on the first day. We’ll monitor the market, see where the levels are at financially, and see where we can jump in.”
Barring any quick resolutions, the Caps will go into Wednesday’s free agency without contracts for restricted free agents Braden Holtby, Marcus Johansson, Evgeny Kuznetsov, Stanislav Galiev and Chris Brown.
To retain their rights the Capitals are believed to have met today’s deadline for qualifying offers to each of those RFAs.
Defenseman Patrick Wey, who was also on the Caps’ list of RFAs, has reportedly decided to retire because of multiple concussions, including one suffered in a one-sided fight with Nashville Predators enforcer Rich Clune on March 30, 2014, Wey’s first NHL bout.
With contracts for Holtby, Johansson, Kuznetsov, Galiev and Brown still pending, the Caps have just seven forwards, six defensemen and two goaltenders under NHL contracts, leaving them with roughly $20.6 million of cap space to sign five forwards, one defenseman and Holtby.
MacLellan said he’s made a “huge” and “competitive” offer to Holtby, who is expected to carry a cap hit of at least $5 million a year. Johansson, who has arbitration rights, is likely seeking about $4 million a season, while Kuznetsov’s cap hit could fall in the $3 million range.
If those estimates are accurate, MacLellan would have roughly $8.6 million to spend on Galiev, Brown and a free-agent market that will include Anaheim left wing Matt Beleskey [27 years old, 22 goals], Los Angeles right wing Justin Williams [33 years old, 18 goals] and Winnipeg right wing Drew Stafford [29 years old, 18 goals].
Beleskey, whose 22 goals were 13 more than his previous career high, reportedly has attracted interest from a dozen NHL teams and plans on visiting with a few Eastern Conference teams this week.
MacLellan said he was considering bringing one potential UFA to Washington for a visit.
Last year, MacLellan dived headfirst into free agency, signing defensemen Brooks Orpik [five years] and Matt Niskanen [seven years] to a total of more than $67 million.
That won’t happen on Wednesday.
“Last year was different,” he said. “We had specific needs and we were willing to overpay for them and we addressed it. It was a decent free agent market last year. The UFA market had a little more opportunity for teams to grab guys.
“This year is a little tighter. I think it’s a little thinner so it’s going to be more competitive and I think you’re going to have to really overpay to get guys because it’s more competitive this year.”
Asked if the Caps are in a position to overpay, MacLellan said, “No, we’re not.”
With that in mind, MacLellan said he is more likely to address the Caps’ needs through a trade.
“If you’re evaluating both markets, the trade market is the way to go,” he said. “After the draft it becomes less about [trading] picks and more about [trading] players.”