The extended free-agency contact window issued by the NHL will create a logjam of late-June bustle in Philadelphia, where team officials will convene to make their picks for the 2014 draft, knowing full well that the fellow general manager across the hotel lobby might just be in contact one of their pending unrestricted free agents. It will be a busy weekend, suffice to say, one barreling toward July 1, when the free-agency market officially opens and all that interview work comes to fruition.
So where do the Washington Capitals stand amid the fray? On a recent teleconference, rookie general manager Brian MacLellan made it clear he and his staff are focusing their offseason energies onto upgrading the blue line and finding a veteran backup goaltender to complement Braden Holtby. Re-signing Mikhail Grabovski as a second-line center a distant third, given the organization’s confidence in its in-house options, for better or worse.
But Grabovski is Washington’s only unrestricted free agent and the team has zero restricted free agents on the active roster. So, if MacLellan desires, he can turn his full attention to the trade market and make a splash this weekend, meeting his new front-office peers, especially given that the organization’s first-round draft pick at No. 13 is unlikely to have an immediate impact on the roster, and might serve as a better trade chip than anything else.
“I think there seems to be bigger names being talked about in the trade market,” MacLellan said. “We’ll see if that really comes to fruition. I think with the cap going up, there might be a little more room for trades to happen. I’ve talked to probably half the managers so far, and will continue to have conversations with them throughout the week. If there’s a chance that something’s a good fit for us, I don’t think they’re going to give centers and defensemen away, but I’m going to explore it.”
Whether offseason additions come through free agency or a trade – or both — remains to be seen, but if the Capitals decide to seek a deal, who might other teams want in return? Here are some speculative options — a connect-the-dots exercise based on past buzz, perceived market value and the Caps’ current roster construction.
1. Troy Brouwer: With an MBA in finance and a background in investment consulting, MacLellan should know plenty about selling high. Last season, Brouwer finished second in goals on the Capitals with 25 – less than 50 percent of Alex Ovechkin’s “Rocket” Richard Trophy-winning total – and was at once useful on both the power play, where he played the diamond and wound up scoring a career-high 12 goals, and penalty kill.
But with a surplus of right wingers on the roster, such as Ovechkin and Joel Ward, not to mention the possibility of more ice time for Tom Wilson and Riley Barber down the line, Brouwer’s recent production could entice some teams to take a look. He is currently under contract through 2015-16 for $3,666,667 per season.
2. Joel Ward: Ward set career highs for both points and goals while also logging minutes on both the penalty kill and power play. Though his numbers may ultimately regress – Ward’s shooting percentage was 18 percent, much higher than his 14.5 percent career average — Ward has an attractive expiring contract ($3 million, up after 2014-15) and, like Brouwer, his future beyond that is unclear given Washington’s surplus at right wing.
That said, MacLellan has placed an emphasis on open, reciprocal communication lines between him and first-year coach Barry Trotz, who coached Ward for three seasons in Nashville. If Trotz has his druthers, he may want the familiar face around, which would likely nix any inkling to shop Ward. And Ward was part of Washington’s most productive line last season alongside Jason Chimera and Eric Fehr.
3. Dmitry Orlov: He’s young (22 years old), effective as a puck-moving defenseman (51.3 percent Corsi-for) and holds an attractive contract (two years, $2 million per year left on his current deal). But the Capitals need someone like Orlov, who can protect his zone particularly when paired with more offensive-minded linemates like Mike Green. The two shared 54.4 percent of Orlov’s even-strength ice time last season. Besides, Orlov would give Washington a solid option if Green were to leave for free agency once his contract expires following this season. Speaking of Green…
4. Mike Green: A perennial trade rumor candidate with decent advanced metrics last season (team-high 51.7 percent five-on-five Corsi-for) but 10 more goals allowed (53) than scored (43) during his five-on-five ice time, Green struggled with consistency over his healthiest season since 2009-10. But he’s in a contract year, a $6,083,333 cap hit expiring after 2014-15, so any team assuming Green would do so with limited risk.
That said, MacLellan expressed confidence in Green when asked directly if he would consider flipping him this offseason, and trading Green would fly in the face of MacLellan’s sell-high policy.
“No, I think our priority is to get Mike Green on track here,” he said. “I think certain circumstances last year might have hindered his performance. I guess I’m open to trading anybody, but as of right now I think we’d like to bring Mike Green back.”
5. Any of their young defensemen: A host of young blue-liners is waiting in the wings, such as Nate Schmidt, Cam Schilling, Connor Carrick, Patrick Wey, Madison Bowey and Christian Djoos. Schmidt and Schilling are restricted free agents seeking new deals; Carrick is under contract through 2015-16 on the active Capitals roster. All are highly regarded within the organization, but unless Washington shops some of the aforementioned blue-liners, it’s unlikely any them is the Caps’ immediate answer as a top-four defenseman, the team’s biggest current need.
As with Green, the Capitals were bullish on their young defensive corps. Of course, the right deal can sway anyone, but assistant general manager Ross Mahoney, in charge of amateur scouting, preceded MacLellan on the recent teleconference by basically running through the depth chart.
“We’re happy with the development of the young defensemen that we have,” Mahoney said.
But if the right suitor comes along, similarly high on the development of Washington’s young blue-liners, looking to swap them for a more experienced, immediately available experienced center or defenseman, would the Capitals listen?
“It sounds like there’s more names being talked about than what I’ve heard about in the past,” MacLellan said. “I don’t know if that translates into actual trades, but there seems to be a lot of conversations. There’s more names involved than there has been in the past.”