PHILADELPHIA — Speaking after a tedious, relatively uneventful first round of the 2014 NHL draft, when the Washington Capitals tried and failed to move up from their No. 13 spot before drafting Czech winger Jakub Vrana, General Manager Brian MacLellan said contract negotiations with his team’s only unrestricted free agent have hit a recent snag.
According to MacLellan, “the money is a little bit prohibitive right now” in Washington’s effort to re-sign center Mikhail Grabovski, who joined the Capitals for the 2013-14 season after Toronto bought out his contract. He made $3 million from Washington last season, and is owed $1.79 million per year from Toronto through 2021 per the buyout, but several outlets have speculated that Grabovski is seeking a multi-year deal somewhere around $5 million per season. An individual with knowledge of the situation called that figure “close.”
MacLellan said he has twice spoken with Grabovski’s agent, Gary Greenstin, while in Philadelphia. Earlier this month, Greenstin said in a telephone interview that Grabovski had interest in returning to the Capitals and liked living in D.C., where he flourished last season, scored 35 points and led all Washington forwards with a 51 percent Corsi-for. But unless the two sides can reconcile their financial differences, Grabovski will be headed elsewhere and the Capitals will try filling another second-line center void in-house, most likely with either Evgeny Kuznetsov, Brooks Laich or Marcus Johansson, according to MacLellan.
“I think we need to address some areas financially,” MacLellan said. “Trying to get to a comfortable number that we can work with.”
Told by a reporter, “that can be tough,” MacLellan replied, “Yes it can.”
With the cap ceiling set at $69 million on Friday by the NHL, the Capitals have $12.83 million in space to spend on free agents or trade acquisitions. Though the league’s unrestricted free agent interview window opened Wednesday, MacLellan said the he has only spoken with one free agent because draft preparations consumed all of the front office’s attention. There was only one trade during Friday’s first round involving current NHL players, when Nashville acquired forward James Neal from Pittsburgh in exchange for forwards Nick Spaling and Patric Hornqvist.
“There was some activity,” MacLellan said. “I think the no-trade clauses have clogged it up a little bit, because not everyone can participate in them. I thought there’d be a little more than there was, actually.
“There’s a few things we pursued. They fell through. We didn’t get it done.”
With the free agent interview window overlapping with the NHL draft, and all executives converging on the Wells Fargo Center, MacLellan said the discussions have been active, even if they haven’t amounted to much action yet. However, the rookie general manager said he did not foresee trading for a pending free agent to acquire his rights before the signing period begins on July 1.
“I think the way they’ve structured free agency this year, a lot of the conversations have gone on over the past few days,” he said. “I think there’s probably a lot of teams that think they have a shot at a guy. And if that doesn’t come to fruition, I think you’ll see a little more action maybe to cover themselves, try to fill holes they do have.”
MacLellan maintained that Washington’s priority remains upgrading the blue line, but it sounds like the Capitals will, at the most, sign only a pair of free agents. Any further acquisitions will likely come on the trade market.
“The next couple days are critical,” he said. “We have a couple free agents we’ve targeted and we’re going to pursue them. Hopefully we get one, maybe two.”