At noon on Tuesday, free agency officially begins in the National Hockey League. At that moment, all the progress made during the interview period, which began last Wednesday, comes to fruition and a flurry of deals blanket Twitter. The Washington Capitals are expected to be buyers, seeking two particular pieces on the open market, perhaps more if the right opportunity arises and the dollar signs properly align.
The priority remains a top-four defenseman, and it seems the Capitals are willing to throw money in that direction to secure the right piece. Despite roughly $12.7 million in cap space, general manager Brian MacLellan has said he wants to find a blue-liner, a veteran backup goaltender for Braden Holtby and then proceed from there, depending on how much money is left. Under this scenario, with a goaltender likely costing no more than $2 million per season — and even that’s a generous estimate for this saturated market at the position — might Washington be aiming for one of the higher-end defensemen? Keep an eye on Christian Erhoff, bought out by Buffalo on Sunday, Anton Stralman, the second-pairing defenseman from the Rangers, and Matt Niskanen, who is expected to be seeking a seven-year deal, according to his agent. But if you want to take a gander at CapGeek’s handy list of unrestricted free agents, there are no shortage of defensemen available. Of course, the list of desirable targets is shorter.
“I think we want some veteran guys back there to stabilize things and allow some of the younger guys to develop, so you put them in the right hole,” Coach Barry Trotz said. “There’s a couple D-men that we’re actually targeting, but probably so are 20 other teams. Teams are smart. They lock up their core for a long period of time. The windows of those guys have changed.”
We’ll be around all day at Kettler Capitals Iceplex in Ballston if any news springs up. Check out some pertinent links at the bottom, right after some quick-hitting notes:
>> On the topic of Matt Niskanen, ESPN.com’s free agency primer noted the connection between new Capitals assistant coach Todd Reirden and the former Pittsburgh defenseman, which should at least give Niskanen and his agent, Neil Sheehy, reason to explore Washington as a destination. Niskanen was expected to trim his list of suitors on Monday, and Michael Russo of the Star-Tribune recently wrote that the Wild are expected to exit of the chase. Here’s more from Russo:
Niskanen has some potential ginormous opportunities, including the potential of seven-year deals. The Wild, as Fletcher has indicated for two weeks and in today’s Insider in the newspaper, is wary adding another super-long deal. Contracts are guaranteed in the NHL and the more long-term deals you have, the less flexibility you have elsewhere, whether that be affording guys you need to re-sign or turning over the roster at times when you feel it necessary. So, this is still very much up in the air just because Niskanen will have the chance to strike it rich. Remember, he doesn’t live in the Twin Cities. He lives on a lake in northern Minnesota, so the lure of “coming home” may not be there as much for Niskanen.
>> One goaltender name that’s popped up has been Tomas Vokoun, the former netminder in both Washington and Nashville. At the latter stop, he worked under Coach Barry Trotz and Mitch Korn, both recently hired by the Capitals. As a member of the Penguins, Vokoun missed last season recovering from a blood clot in his pelvis, but is fully recovered, according to agent Allan Walsh, and ready to return to the NHL. There’s almost no question Vokoun would be interested in returning to the Capitals for a backup role behind Holtby, with the expectation of semi-regular starts whenever Holtby needs a break, but is the interest mutual? The CapGeek list of UFA goalies is long, so Vokoun has competition and Washington has options if, say, the injury risk is too great or the front office feels a been-there, done-that sentiment with the 37-year-old.
Among the list, keep an eye on Carolina’s Justin Peters. Adam Vingan reported recently that Peters has interest in joining the Capitals, and league sources have indicated that interest is mutual. Here’s more from Vingan:
In 20 starts and 21 total appearances last season, the 27-year-old earned a 7-9-4 record with a 2.50 goals against average and .919 save percentage. His identical save percentage at even strength was fourth-best among free-agent goaltenders with at least 21 games played last season.
Peters, who has made 68 career NHL appearances over five seasons, has also personally tormented Washington; in seven career games against the Capitals, he is 4-3-0 with a [1.57] GAA, .938 SV% and two shutouts.
>> The agent for free agent center Mikhail Grabovski, Gary Greenstin, said during a brief telephone conversation Monday that his client has fielded interest from several other teams aside from Washington, and that there was not much update from the Capitals to give. Recently, MacLellan called Grabovski’s contract requests “prohibitive,” so unless the two sides come to mutual ground here, Grabovski might be an afterthought in Washington’s Tuesday plans. There’s no questioning Grabovski’s impact last season, and (when healthy) he provided an answer for the Capitals’ seemingly perpetual second-line center question, but the salary cap is set at $69 million and if MacLellan thinks somewhere around $5 million per year for Grabovski would restrict Washington’s options elsewhere, then the 30-year-old’s stay might have just been a one-year rental.
In today’s WaPo: