“We didn’t think it was a great class of [free agent] players. It wasn’t a great pool of players to invest in, so we didn’t,” McPhee said on the first day of the team’s development camp in Arlington. “Our roster’s pretty much full. . . . We don’t anticipate doing much more, if anything.”
Widely regarded as a lackluster group, this year’s free agent class featured a handful of centers and solid two-way forwards but few game-changers and a particularly shallow group of defensemen. Given the Capitals’ primary needs of finding a second-line center and strengthening their top-four defensemen, McPhee opted to avoid handing out a contract he might later regret.
Washington has a little more than $8.4 million in space under the $64.3 million salary cap. Salary wasn’t necessarily a concern, McPhee said, as much as contract length.
“The salary you can compete with, but when people get into term that gets to be too long and can ultimately hurt your competitiveness down the road, you try to avoid it,” McPhee said. “People get locked into things that certainly, in the future, you won’t be able to get out of.”
McPhee expects to see Brooks Laich take over as second-line center. Laich, 30, missed all but nine games of last year’s 48-game season with a lingering groin injury but should be ready for training camp in September.
The Saskatchewan native is one of eight players to have anchored the second line over the past four seasons — mostly with mixed results. Ribeiro was the first truly to establish himself in the role, but McPhee is confident Laich will be a strong fit.
While Laich doesn’t possess Ribeiro’s elite offensive skill and ability to quarterback the power play along with Nicklas Backstrom, he plays a better two-way game. Laich, a natural center, should provide better defensive balance for the second line and help drive Coach Adam Oates’s style of play.
“We think it’s time to play him there,” McPhee said. “We want to play a better-pace game. We want more speed, and we think he’s capable of it. We don’t see any real difference in terms of ability to play between a Brooks and — if you look around the league — a Mike Fisher in Nashville or Mike Richards in L.A. or David Backes in St. Louis.”
Oates agreed Laich is a good fit for the important spot.
“No question in my mind he can do that job,” Oates said. “He skates really well. He’s a top NHL player. We obviously missed him a lot of the year, and for me, I just want to see him healthy.”
On the blue line, McPhee hopes prospect Dmitry Orlov, 21, can jump into the NHL full time. Last season Orlov was sidelined twice by concussions and was unable to build on his 60 games in the NHL during the 2011-12 campaign, but there’s opportunity for him to reassert himself in the lineup.
As for the depth lost with Hendricks, McPhee sees Aaron Volpatti and perhaps younger prospects such as Tom Wilson or Michael Latta helping round out the bottom of the forward ranks.
All of those possibilities are why McPhee doesn’t feel pressure to make additions.
“We went through the process and analyzed every player and said does this player fit in with us and at what price and everything else,” McPhee said. “You keep coming back and saying he’s not better than what we have. Or he might be a touch better than what we have, but the guy we have is a good player at the right price. Why do that? We like our team. We’re a solid NHL team.”