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Posted at 12:25 PM ET, 05/21/2012

Breaking down the Capitals’ unrestricted free agents


Mike Knuble, left, and Keith Aucoin are unrestricted free agents. (Bruce Bennett - GETTY IMAGES)
General Manager George McPhee has many decisions to make this summer about how the Capitals’ roster will look in 2012-13, from deciding which new faces to bring in and which familiar ones to keep in the fold.

Of the players on Washington’s NHL roster, six are set to become unrestricted free agents on July 1, meaning they can sign with any team they choose. So here’s a look at those six players and whether they fit into Washington’s plan moving forward.

Before getting started, one note: For offseason purposes players’ salaries, not salary-cap hits, are listed.

Also, keep in mind that while the NHL CBA is set to expire on Sept. 15 and it is uncertain what changes will be made to the current framework general managers across the league are still tasked with constructing teams.

Keith Aucoin
2011-12 salary: $525,00 | Age: 33
2011-12 regular season NHL stats: 27 GP, 3G, 8A, +4 / Playoffs: 14 GP, 0G, 2A, -2.

Aucoin earned the trust of former coach Dale Hunter and his staff this season, but it’s tough to gauge whether that will help the veteran with a prominent AHL career crack an NHL roster next season. The undersize center may draw more interest this summer thanks to his time in Washington this season, but for all of Aucoin’s work he still hasn’t shown he can duplicate his offensive prowess from the minor leagues at the NHL level.

If he returns to the Capitals’ organization, it’s likely he could see time between Hershey and Washington once again.

Jeff Halpern
2011-12 salary:
$825,000 | Age: 36
2011-12 regular season stats: 69 GP, 4G, 12A, -1 / Playoffs: 2GP, 0G, 0A, -1

Halpern made it clear on breakdown day that he intends to play next season and hopes he has “options” after a disappointing end to 2011-12 that saw him fall out of favor with the Capitals’ coaching staff and spend several weeks sitting as a healthy scratch.

Brought in to anchor the fourth line, kill penalties and take key faceoffs, Halpern saw his time diminish as others – most notably Jay Beagle – received more responsibility in the same areas. Increased reliance on players such as Beagle made Halpern expendable to Hunter, and it’s possible that could be the case for the Capitals as a whole regardless of who the new coach is.

Mike Knuble
2011-12 salary: $2 million | Age: 39 (Turns 40 on July 4)
2011-12 regular season stats: 72 GP, 6G, 12A, -15 / Playoffs: 11 GP, 2G, 1A, +3

While he is a well-respected presence in the dressing room and a net-crasher unlike any other the Capitals have, Knuble lost a step in 2011-12, which marked the first season since 2001-02 that he failed to record 20 goals.

It’s unclear whether Washington would be interested in bringing back Knuble, even at a lower salary. The veteran winger let his frustration be known as he was benched late in the regular season, and even with Hunter’s departure, it’s possible he may have reached a natural separation point with the Capitals. Knuble said on breakdown day that he wants to continue playing, but the question is whether there will be any options available to him on the open market.

Alexander Semin

Semin could be a cap casualty, whether he wants to return to D.C. or not. (Elsa - GETTY IMAGES)
2011-12 salary: $6.7 million | Age: 28
2011-12 regular season stats: 77 GP, 21G, 33A, +9 / Playoffs: 14 GP, 3G, 1A, -4

The Russian winger’s agent, Mark Gandler, recently said that his client wasn’t happy with his role in Washington last season. While a return to the Capitals hasn’t been ruled out, it seems unlikely Semin will re-sign with the team that drafted him unless adjustments are made.

Letting Semin go would free up valuable space under the salary cap and also open up a spot among the top six forwards. The Capitals could allocate some of the funds saved from not re-signing Semin to bring in another scoring threat on the wing, a second-line center or perhaps both. For those fretting about the loss of Semin’s offensive output, if the Capitals continue along their defense-first path they could easily take a committee approach to make up for it regardless of who else they might sign in the offesason.

Tomas Vokoun
2011-12 salary: $1.5 million | Age: 35 (Turns 36 on July 2)
2011-12 regular season stats: 48 GP, 25-17-2, .917 save percentage, 2.51 GAA, 4 shutouts / Did not play in postseason

The veteran goaltender is perhaps the easiest case of all the impending free agents given that Vokoun said he “wasn’t planning on being back” in Washington next year. From the Capitals’ perspective, it makes sense to part ways with Vokoun given that youngsters Braden Holtby and Michal Neuvirth are both under contract and in need of playing time.

Vokoun signed with the Capitals only when the free agent marked bottomed out in the summer of 2011, leaving him with few options. According to his agent, Allan Walsh, Vokoun’s first choice is to play in the NHL next year.

Dennis Wideman
2011-12 salary: $4.5 million | Age: 29
2011-12 regular season stats: 82 GP, 11G, 34A, -8 / Playoffs: 14 GP, 0G, 3A, -7


An all-star last season, Wideman could be a commodity on the free agent market. (Toni L. Sandys - THE WASHINGTON POST)
Wideman saw a drop-off in his offensive production and overall performance after being names a first-time all-star, and the downturn continued into the postseason. Despite that trend, Wideman may still command a sizable new contract in both salary and term on the open market that the Capitals may not be willing to offer.

There is a rather shallow free agent pool, particularly among offensive-minded defensemen who can also play significant minutes like Wideman, which may make him a key target for teams looking to add a scoring punch from the blueline. Washington has five defensemen already under contract, not counting restricted free agents John Carlson and Mike Green (who can be easily brought back), so the team would be able to withstand Wideman’s departure.

Later Monday, we’ll take a look at the Capitals’ restricted free agents. Stay tuned.

By  |  12:25 PM ET, 05/21/2012

 
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