Earlier this week as the Washington Capitals packed up their equipment bags, taped bundles of sticks together and prepared to make trips to offseason homes, they did so confident of what will await them when they return for training camp in the fall.
While there will certainly be some roster alterations following Washington’s first-round playoff elimination, there is no doubt about who will coach, like there was last summer after Dale Hunter’s departure. And no speculation about what type of system they’ll use, or how long a leash the bench boss might have, either, like there was in 2011 with Bruce Boudreau.
For the first time in three years, the Capitals enter the offseason with a sense of stability. Coach Adam Oates and his pressure-based system that they grew into over the 48-game compressed season will return.
“Each year we kind of didn’t know what to expect, and with Adam it’s so consistent,” said defenseman Mike Green, who has played for four coaches in his eight-year NHL career. “I know exactly what I need to do to prepare myself for next season and that’s key. I think that everybody does, and if we can all be on the same page from that aspect then we’ll be back.”
Everything from individual training regimens and workout plans to how General Manager George McPhee assembles the roster are made a little simpler, because there’s no guessing about how the coach will want to organize the team and the style he wants to use.
The main questions for the Capitals this offseason pertain to how McPhee could tweak the roster. Will pending unrestricted free agents Mike Ribeiro and Matt Hendricks return? If not, how will they fill the void? Will there be enough room under the salary cap for a top-six forward or a significant addition on defense?
McPhee wasn’t divulging his intentions when he spoke to reporters Wednesday, and went so far as to say that he doesn’t believe more than tinkering will be required.
“Not a whole lot,” McPhee said when asked how much roster change was needed. “We played really well. I liked the way we were playing. . . . We’ve been pretty solid in all areas.”
Washington has just more than $58 million committed to 19 players for next season, according to Capgeek.com. That leaves roughly $6.2 million in space under the $64.3 million salary cap that will be in place for the 2013-14 season — and it could be a tight squeeze.
McPhee said he has not discussed the possibility of using a compliance buyout, which allows teams to buy out players without a salary cap hit, with owner Ted Leonsis. Under the new collective bargaining agreement, teams are permitted two compliance buyouts over the next two years.
The Capitals are expected to re-sign restricted free agents Karl Alzner and Marcus Johansson, who are both in line for raises on their $1.285 million and $900,000 salaries from last season, respectively.
As for the unrestricted free agents, defenseman Tom Poti said he doesn’t plan to return, and it wouldn’t be surprising if the organization parted ways with seldom-used wingers Wojtek Wolski and Joey Crabb, either. When considering options with Ribeiro and Hendricks, however, things are a little more interesting.
Ribeiro filled what was a persistent need at second-line center, helped run the NHL’s best power play in the regular season and finished with the second most points (49) on the team. The 33-year-old pivot wants a lengthy contract that would allow his family to put down roots, though, which might not fit in Washington’s long-term plans.
“It has to be four or five years,” said Ribeiro, who previously turned down a three-year, $14 million contract offer from the Capitals.
Hendricks, 31, established himself as a solid two-way grinder in the NHL with Washington, taking on roles from fighter to penalty killer to unexpected shootout artist. He’s more than a versatile role player, though, and his sense of humor and upbeat personality have become an important component of the dressing room. If the Capitals won’t offer a raise from the $825,000 salary he earned this season, there’s a good chance some other team will.
“I hope I’m back here in Washington. My wife, kids and I have made this our home, and we’ve come a long way here in the three years that I’ve played here,” Hendricks said. “You want to get what you feel you deserve and what is right, and that’s what happens in the negotiating process.”
With enough possibilities to juggle, even the tight-lipped McPhee acknowledged that knowing that Oates will continue to set the tone for the Capitals makes his task more straightforward.
“I know what Adam likes now, and we like the same sorts of things, so that’s nice,” McPhee said. “It makes that process a lot easier. I know the way that he wants to coach, so we’ll try to do things that fall within his system, certainly.”