Washington Capitals Add Mike Knuble to Skilled Top Line, but Lose Donald Brashear to Rangers

By Tarik El-Bashir
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, July 1, 2009; 11:46 PM

The Washington Capitals acquired precisely the type of player they've lacked in recent seasons, signing rugged veteran Mike Knuble to a two-year contract in the opening hours of free agency yesterday.

Knuble, who spent the past four seasons playing for the rival Philadelphia Flyers, is a 6-foot-3, 230-pound winger who muscles his way to the net, sets up there, then uses his deft touch to slip rebounds past the goaltender. He has scored at least 21 goals in each of his past six NHL seasons, including reaching the 30-goal plateau twice, and is also considered a locker room leader.

"We just felt we needed someone else, a player on [the top] line in particular with [Alex] Ovechkin and [Nicklas] Backstrom, that will go to the net," General Manager George McPhee said. "Mike's made his living there. He was the right guy for us, and we got what we felt was the right deal for him. We replaced a 13-goal scorer [Viktor Kozlov] with a 27-goal scorer, and the team is better as a result."

Knuble, who turns 37 on Saturday, will earn $2.8 million per season, the same amount he earned last season in Philadelphia.

But on a day they welcomed Knuble, the Capitals also bid adieu to a fan favorite. Donald Brashear's three-year run in Washington officially came to an end when the enforcer signed a two-year contract with the New York Rangers, the same team that called for the 37-year-old to be suspended in the Eastern Conference quarterfinals for his controversial hit on Blair Betts.

"We are happy for Brash," McPhee said. "But we couldn't pay that number."

Brashear is set to earn $1.4 million per season, a $200,000 raise over what the Capitals paid him last season. McPhee, meanwhile, reiterated that he feels the Capitals can survive without a heavyweight enforcer.

"How much do you really need them in the big game?" McPhee said. "In the early part of the season you want them, and there are probably up to 10 games a year you wish you had one. [But] we're trying to load up on talent."

Signing Knuble edged the Capitals even closer to the salary cap ceiling of $56.8 million and likely means the team is done signing free agents, McPhee said.

"Probably," McPhee said when asked whether the Capitals were done. "I said [on Tuesday] that we're probably not going to do a lot in free agency unless there was something there that made sense. We did it. It was unanimous amongst our pro staff that this was the right guy."

McPhee said he'll turn his focus to the trade market in an effort to make further upgrades. The Capitals could still benefit from the acquisition of a second-line center to replace Sergei Fedorov, though Brooks Laich has been penciled into that position for now, McPhee said.

"We'll spend the next couple of months talking to clubs and seeing what other things can be done out there," McPhee said. "If there are other things to do, we'll do them."

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