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Posted at 12:33 PM ET, 07/02/2011

Grading the Washington Capitals’ moves on the first day of free agency


Owner Ted Leonsis promised that the Washington Capitals would be active in free agency, and that they were. Here's what you need to know about the three free agent signings and trade the team completed in a span of about three hours on Friday afternoon:

Trade: Semyon Varlamov to Colorado for two draft picks


(Jonathan Newton - THE WASHINGTON POST)

THE GOOD
On the surface, GM George McPhee appears to have robbed Avs GM Greg Sherman blind by shipping the disgruntled goaltender to Colorado for a first-round pick in 2012 and a second-round selection in either 2012 or 2013. McPhee himself acknowledged being surprised by the return.

If the Avs stink next year, that first rounder could be a lottery pick. The pick, and the second, also could be used for trade purposes later this summer or at next year's deadline.

By the end of Varlamov's tenure, even as the sides neared a deal last weekend, there seemed to be some hurt feelings on both sides after Varlamov demanded an assurance from management that he would be the No. 1 goalie going into camp and his Russian agent reportedly ripped the Caps’ medical staff. That stuff often festers.

THE BAD
The 23-year-old former first-round draft pick likely had the highest upside of the Caps' three young goalies, an assessment I have not been shy about sharing and one I stand behind still. What if Varlamov stays healthy and DOES turn out to be the best of the three?

When you trade a prospect of his caliber, you had better be right.

THE FINAL ANALYSIS
It appears the Caps got the better of this deal, but it may be a few years before we know for sure.

Signing: Jeff Halpern


(Claus Andersen - GETTY IMAGES)

THE GOOD
Assuming his health concerns are behind him – the 35-year-old missed 10 regular season games and three playoff contests in Montreal because of lower-body injuries last season – Halpern figures to give the Caps just what they need from a fourth line center. The Potomac, Md., native captained his hometown team during an abysmal rebuilding season in 2005-06, plays an honest game at both ends, is a right-handed faceoff specialist (56.9-percent last season) and can also kill penalties.

Twice during the past three seasons, McPhee has felt the need to add a leadership in the form of a 30-something at the trade deadline. In 2008, it was Sergei Fedorov, previously an alternate captain with Columbus. Last February, it was Jason Arnott, the former captain of the Predators. This season, McPhee didn't wait until the midway point of the season. I don't think that was by mistake.

At $825,000 for one year, Halpern is a relative bargain.

THE BAD
Halpern's long history of knee and groin injuries are a concern.

THE FINAL ANALYSIS
At this stage of Halpern's career, he's a complementary player. Like Arnott, I suspect his biggest impact will be made behind closed doors. Which can sometimes be just as important.

Signing: Roman Hamrlik


(Elsa - GETTY IMAGES)

THE GOOD
A steady performer throughout his 18-season NHL career, you know what you're going to get from Hamrlik on a nightly basis.

He's good enough still to check the opposing team's top line, able to produce offensively (5 goals, 34 points last season) and, with Tom Poti's availability uncertain, was a necessary addition.

Hamrlik can also kill penalties and fill in on the power play, as he did in Montreal last season.

THE BAD
He's logged hard minutes for a long time and will be 39 years old when his two-year, $7 million contract expires. He also might have flashbacks of this goal every time he sees Alex Ovechkin.

THE FINAL ANALYSIS
McPhee mentioned that Hamrlik, a left shot, might be paired with right-handed dynamo Mike Green. That pair, combined with Karl Azlner, John Carlson and Dennis Wideman rounds out a pretty solid top five on the blue line.

Signing: Joel Ward


(Rich Lam - GETTY IMAGES)

THE GOOD
At 30 years old, he's a versatile two-way winger who has risen to the occasion at a time when the Caps have shrunk the past two seasons – in the playoffs. Ward scored a total of 10 goals in 80 regular season contests in 2010-11, then tallied seven in 12 postseason contests as the Predators knocked off Anaheim and pushed Vancouver to six games. The previous postseason, Ward had two goals in six playoff games. Reminds me of Sean Bergenheim, the Lightning third-liner who torched the Caps in the second round.

More perks: Five of his regular season goals came on the power play and he can play either wing.

THE BAD
His goal production has declined each of the past three seasons, dropping from 17 to 13 to 10.  McPhee acknowledged that he was forced to overspend ($12 million over four years) for Ward by “15 to 18 percent” because “16 teams” were interested in Ward's services.

Ward, an undrafted player who attended the University of Prince Edward Island, has been working his whole life to get a contract like this.

McPhee had better hope he doesn't kick his feet up and take it easy this summer. (I know this may come as a shock, but that has happened around here recently.)

THE FINAL ANALYSIS
The Caps needed a bottom-six forward who comes to play when the chips are down – and, given Ward's track record, that's exactly what they got. Too bad the two-time Eastern Conference regular season champs had to overpay for it.

By  |  12:33 PM ET, 07/02/2011

 
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