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Capitals unlikely to make big splash as NHL free agency period opens

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When the NHL free agent market opens at noon Sunday, the Washington Capitals won’t be “desperate” to add pieces to the lineup according to General Manager George McPhee.

“I think we’re in pretty good shape,” said McPhee, who typically keeps his offseason plans tightly concealed. Even if McPhee’s contentment with the roster is genuine, it doesn’t change the reality that the Capitals have ample space under the salary cap should they seek to add scoring depth or another experienced defenseman.

“We have good young goalies, the D is complete, we added a skill guy [in Mike Ribeiro],” McPhee said. “We’ll get into it like everybody else does, but if we don’t do anything I wouldn’t be disappointed. If there’s something there that makes sense at the right price, then we’ll do it.”

This free agency period opens with the added wrinkle of labor negotiations between the NHL and its players’ association, and the uncertainty of how a new collective bargaining agreement might limit contracts or alter the salary cap.

The two sides announced a new salary cap of $70.2 million — an increase of $5.9 million from last year — under the current agreement, which is set to expire on Sept. 15. It’s believed that number will change when a new CBA is established, creating a guideline as general managers assemble their teams.

Based on the new cap figure, the Capitals have roughly $20.8 million to spend. If Washington re-signs restricted free agents Mike Green, John Carlson, Jay Beagle and Mathieu Perreault at their qualifying-offer salaries, it would have $13.8 million in space. Even if those players return with raises on new deals, the Capitals will have plenty of room to make competitive offers for free agents.

Whether McPhee elects to use that space at the start of free agency, when teams have a tendency to overpay, remains to be seen.

“It doesn’t mean you have to use [the salary cap space] all now,” McPhee said. “You can use it during the season or at the deadline. It’s expensive to use it now. If you do something, it’s always more than the guy’s worth. The question is how much more, and are you trying to trade him by November because he cost so much?”

Washington addressed its largest offseason need by getting a second-line center in Riberio. It acquired him from the Dallas Stars on June 22, but the team still has needs, specifically a top-six scoring winger and perhaps another solid defenseman capable of slotting into the fourth spot on the depth chart.

Alexander Semin will test the free agent market and has not discussed re-signing with the Capitals, according to his agent, Mark Gandler. While Semin is much maligned for his aloof nature and propensity for taking stick penalties, he was Washington’s second-leading goal scorer behind Alex Ovechkin in each of the past six seasons.

While they have no shortage of blue-collar types, the Capitals will need to bring in a true scorer to make them more than a one-line team offensively.

New Jersey winger Zach Parise, 27, tops the list of free agent forwards and may command upward of $7 million per year. The Capitals could make an interesting pitch now that Adam Oates, his former assistant coach, is at the helm.

After Parise, the group of viable options thins quickly. Someone like veteran Shane Doan, 35, late-bloomer P.A. Parenteau, 29, or even two-way Mikael Samuelsson, 35, could be potential fits with lower price tags.

On the back end, Nashville defenseman Ryan Suter, 27, will be the most sought-after free agent, but like Parise he is expected to come at a premium cost. There’s also a drop off in talent among the available blueliners, but it’s possible the Capitals could work someone like Matt Carle, 27, or Michal Rozsival, 33, into the fold if they want to bring in more experience.

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