Many might look at Matt Hendricks, a fourth-line grinder with just 17 points in the past two seasons combined, and think that the Capitals could simply replace him if they can’t come to terms with the impending unrestricted free agent. None of those people are his teammates, though.
“There’s always going to be some changeover from year to year but he’s one of those guys you’re not going to replace what his impact is in the room and what he does on the ice,” Jason Chimera said. “It’s not and easy job when you go out there and fight guys twice his size, he sticks up for a lot of guys on the team and creates energy when people don’t have energy. A lot of guys don’t bring that, but he brings that.”
While Mike Ribeiro may be the most high-profile Capital set to become an unrestricted free agent on July 5, the team also has a tough decision to make with Hendricks.
In the three seasons since he arrived in Washington on a pro tryout contract in the fall of 2010, Hendricks has become an integral part of the lineup.
He’s become a key penalty killer, demonstrated his willingness to drop the gloves if necessary and his unwavering work ethic garners the respect of teammates and coaches alike. Off the ice, he’s a vocal presence who lightens the mood with his ever-present sense of humor but also can hold his teammates accountable and encourage them to do more.
“He fights, he hits, he’s a good leader in the dressing room. He scores big goals and he’s got that shootout move that not many guys can do. I’ve tried it. I can’t do it,” Jay Beagle said. “He’s a total package player, really. You need those guys on your team and those role players. He’ll go down and take a puck off the face if he has to block one. He’ll do it. He’s a good role player and those guys are hard to come by.”
All those qualities are why the gritty, versatile forward is likely due to receive a raise from the $800,000 he earned this season, whether it’s from the Capitals or another team. There will most certainly be interest around the league if Hendricks reaches free agency — Larry Brooks of the New York Post is already reporting that the Rangers would likely put in a call to the forward.
Hendricks hopes to return to Washington, where he, his wife and young twins have made a home, but he understands the business side of the game. Hendricks and the Capitals have had discussions about a new contract throughout the season but it’s unclear if the two sides will reach an agreement or if the Minnesota native will test the open market.
“It’s a big part of the business when it comes to players’ salaries,” Hendricks said. “You want to get what you feel you deserve and what is right, and that’s what happens in the negotiating process.”
General Manager George McPhee acknowledged Hendricks is “really valuable” to the Capitals’ efforts, but at the same time noted the reality of what might be possible under the salary cap. According to Capgeek.com, Washington has roughly $6.2 million in space under next year’s salary cap of $64.3 million as things stand now.
“When you’re in a cap world, sometimes you just don’t have choices,” McPhee said. “This is what you have to work with and if it doesn’t fit for them you move on, you get someone else and that’s the world we live in now.”
For as much as his teammates want to see Hendricks return, they too understand the limitations of a salary-cap environment. But while the Capitals can go find someone more salary-cap friendly to fill his place in the lineup, there’s no way to calculate whether anyone can truly provide the same multi-faceted elements as seamlessly as Hendricks has.
“It’s hard, though, with just the way everything works and trying to fit all the guys in under cap and the amount of players and this and that and him being in the position that he’s in,” Karl Alzner said. “It would [stink] to see a guy like that go. He’s the type of guy that every guy, every team wants to have.”