Updated 1:51 p.m.: NHL free agency is set to open in a little less than a month, but the Capitals are no closer to reaching an agreement with gritty forward Matt Hendricks.
Negotiations on a new contract for the versatile Hendricks were ongoing throughout the season, but the two sides have not discussed a new deal for the Minnesota native since April 3, the day of the trade deadline, according to his agent.
“There has been no progress at all. We haven’t even talked,” Hendricks’s agent, Michael Wulkan said in a phone interview. “Matt said from day one that his preference is to stay in Washington, but we were negotiating and then it stopped. They know our position.”
Hendricks, who will turn 32 on June 17, solidified his place as an NHL regular during his three seasons with the Capitals and became an important component of the roster. In 203 regular season games with Washington, Hendricks has 18 goals and 24 assists.
While he doesn’t light up the scoresheet, Hendricks earned the respect of all those who played with him by being willing to do everything from fight, kill penalties, fill in on the top lines, score clutch shootout goals or simply keep his teammates laughing.
Those traits, and his reputation as a reliable blue-collar player, are why Hendricks could be a sought-after free agent and will likely receive a raise on the $800,000 salary ($825,000 cap hit) he received last season. The New York Rangers are reportedly interested in his services, and they’re likely not the only ones.
As much as Hendricks would like to stay in Washington, where he and his family have made a home, Wulkan said that the forward isn’t limiting his options. The closer it gets to July 5, the tougher it will be to not see what offers are available, Wulkan said.
“He’s not scared of going to free agency,” Wulkan said. “His preference was to stay in Washington but we can’t do a deal when we haven’t heard from anybody. This is an opportunity for him to get a deal that he deserves.”
For a player like Hendricks, who didn’t break into the league until he was 28 years old and has only become entrenched on an NHL lineup over the past few seasons, this is the best opportunity of his career to earn a significant contract.
Hendricks, who is back in his offseason home of Plymouth, Minn., admitted it’s tough to balance his fondness for Washington with ensuring he gets what he believes is a fair deal.
“Number one on my list is to be back in Washington and play for the Caps. I’ve made a home there and it’s been great. I’ve found a niche with that team, that organization. I’m treated professionally every day as a man,” Hendricks said in a phone interview Friday. “But at the same time there is the business side of it where you want to get market value as a player. That’s your goal. I’ve done a lot to this point to get here.”
With the salary cap dropping to $64.3 million next season, it will be interesting to see what the market value will be for Hendricks.
Last summer Brandon Prust, 29, a similarly versatile forward but with 18 goals and 46 points over two seasons prior to becoming a free agent, signed a four-year, $10 million contract ($2.5 million cap hit) with Montreal. In late March Tampa Bay signed Nate Thompson, 28, a gritty forward the Lightning rely on to kill penalties and perform spot duty on top lines, to a four-year, $6.4 million contract ($1.6 million cap hit). Hendricks is likely to fall in the range between those two deals on the open market.
“I wouldn’t be doing my job — the business side of it is I need to try to make what I can when I can. I have a family to think about, which comes first and foremost over everything else,” Hendricks said. “You never know how long you’re going to play, but I would like to take a good shot at this one and make it a good contract that I’ll be able to play and be happy with.”