CAPITALS SIGN VETERAN FREE AGENTS HALPERN, HAMRLIK AND J.WARD
The news rolled in quicker than most people could keep up with.
Jeff Halpern returned to the team he grew up with and Boyd Gordon walked. Then, in a shock to everyone's system, Semyon Varlamov was traded away. There was a brief lull. Then, all hell broke loose.
Roman Hamrlik. Joel Ward. A couple of veteran scorers for Hershey. And at the end of it all, GM George McPhee reassured Washington Capitals fans he had enough money to sign RFAs Karl Alzner and Troy Brouwer, acquired just a few days ago.
Head spinning yet?
Yes, the activity at Caps headquarters on this, the first day of the NHL free agency period, was fast and frenzied. At the end of the day the Caps got tougher and stronger, if not dangerously close to the NHL's salary cap.
McPhee told the media the team was done in his press conference after the signings were announced and reiterated that he still had the room to get deals for Alzner and Brouwer completed. According to Capgeek.com, a widely respected website that tracks salary numbers for all NHL teams, the Caps have just over $2 million space remaining with the players they currently have under contract. Until proven otherwise, we'll defer to McPhee that Alzner and Brouwer will indeed be in red at the start of play this season.
The players acquired today all have one thing in common: toughness. Halpern isn't known for his hitting, but he's a faceoff and penalty kill specialist that will assume Gordon's spot on the fourth line. Hamrlik, 37, is an 18-year NHL veteran known for his big left-handed shot. Ward, a 30-year old right winger, led Nashville forwards in blocked shots last year and was their playoff darling, scoring seven goals and six assists in 12 games. He had 29 points in the regular season.
The other thing all three players add, obviously, is experience. All are established, veteran players and combined with Brouwer -- acquired last week for the Caps first round pick in the 2011 entry draft -- further reinforces the idea that McPhee has adopted a "win-now" philosophy. The other thing it signals, in no uncertain terms, is that he felt the team as constructed last season was the reason they did not advance further in the playoffs, and not any imagined deficiency in his coaching staff.
The net for Varlamov was a coup: Colorado's first round pick next season and a second round pick in either the 2012 or 2013 draft. After it became evident in the past week that the player had no designs of returning to Washington, and in fact demanding that he be implanted as starter as a condition of said return or he would take his talents to the KHL, McPhee made quite a haul for a player that he was going to lose anyway.
If indeed McPhee is "done" tinkering this off-season, he got quite a bit accomplished in one day. Ultimately, the team got older and more experienced without sacrificing long-term assets, and in fact acquired a potential lottery pick in next year's draft to boot. Quite a day.