Just when you thought GM George McPhee was "done" making deals this off-season, he goes off and does it again.  Mid-day Saturday, on his birthday no less, McPhee signed veteran goalie Tomas Vokoun to a one-year deal, reported to be worth $1.5 million.  It was another stunning move for an organization that has now turned over a quarter of their active roster in a week's time.

Less than 24 hours after announcing to all that he was finished chasing free agents, and specifically saying the team would compete next season with Michal Neuvirth and Braden Holtby as their two goalies, McPhee went out and signed the veteran netminder many thought could complete this team.

If you're ever invited to play in a poker game with McPhee, politely decline.

Vokoun, who also celebrated his 35th birthday Saturday, went 22-28-5 with a 2.55 GAA and .922 SV% in 57 games for a Florida Panther team last season that finished last in the Eastern Conference last season.  The 12-year veteran with the Panthers and Nashville Predators owns a lifetime 2.56 GAA and .917 SV%.

Vokoun was expected to be one of the more sought after free agent goalies available, but McPhee was able to snag Czech native for a quarter of what some experts thought he might go for on the open market, and more than $1 million less this season than Colorado gave to Semyon Varlamov and equal to what Florida gave Jose Theodore.

"We are excited to add an elite veteran goaltender to the Capitals," McPhee said via press release. "We now have a nice blend of talent, depth, experience and youth in the goaltending position."

"I'm very excited to join the Washington Capitals organization," Vokoun said in the same press release. "It is a terrific team with a lot of talent and I look forward to doing everything I can for us to reach our ultimate goal of winning the Stanley Cup."

McPhee has now acquired five veteran players in the last week.  It's an easy pattern to recognize that McPhee definitely saw weaknesses in the Capitals lineup and took significant strides to address those needs.  Vokoun was the capper though.  Neuvirth and Holtby were both excellent last season in their starts for the Caps -- both even carried the team at times when the lineup struggled.

The team easily could have come into the season with the Neuvy/Holtby pair to start the season and made additions if they saw fit.  But in Vokoun, McPhee seized an opportunity to be pro-active and upgrade at a position that wasn't even a priority.  Vokoun will bring presence to the cage for the Caps.  Neuvirth and Holtby are both tremendously talented, and Vokoun is only on a one-year contract and is, after all, 35, so it's not like the Caps are signalling that they are unhappy with their two young netminders.

But Neuvirth seemed to lose some luster down the stretch last season as he carried the workload of the No. 1 guy through the playoffs, and Holtby, for all his talent and confidence, still could use another season in the "A" to work on his maturity and decision-making during play.  It's a position of great flexibility for McPhee, being able to stash perhaps his best long-term goalie at Hershey for another season. 

It's also an embarrassment of riches for the team that had the best record in the Eastern Conference last season to have three goalies they can comfortably turn to at any time.

The signing moves the Capitals even closer to the salary cap for the upcoming season, with contracts for Karl Alzner and Troy Brouwer still due.  McPhee has his work cut out for him to make all the pieces fit under the constraints of the cap.  It's entirely possible we will see some players that are under contract traded in the upcoming weeks.  We could see defenseman Tom Poti bought out or enticed to retire.

McPhee has all summer to make things work out.  With what he's done in the last 36 hours, anyone want to bet against him?

Busy Day at Kettler

Posted by Dave Nichols | Friday, July 01, 2011 | , , , , , , , | 0 comments »


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.

Capitals Trade Varlamov to Colorado

Posted by Dave Nichols | Friday, July 01, 2011 | , , , , , | 0 comments »

Ending their involvement in the strange saga surrounding goaltender Semyon Varlamov, the Washington Capitals traded his rights to the Colorado Avalanche in exchange for Colorado's first round pick in the 2012 entry draft, plus a second round pick in either the 2012 or 2013 draft.  TSN reports the Capitals have their choice of the second round picks.

Colorado's first round pick could very well be a lottery pick in next year's draft, as they were the third worst team in the NHL last season and expect to be in a serious re-building mode.

Apparently, Colorado feels Varlamov's injury history and the drama surrounding the possibility of him playing in the KHL next season are non-factors to surrender such a bounty for the 23-year old netminder.

Varlamov was 11-6-5 last season for the Caps -- including a win New Year's Day in the Winter Classic -- with a .912 save percentage, but injuries to his groin and knee held him to just 27 games.  Terrifically talented but somewhat enigmatic, Varlamov just couldn't stay on the ice enough for the Caps to dedicate themselves to his being their No. 1 goalie.

The deal leaves the Capitals with three goalies with NHL experience: Michael Neuvirth, Braden Holtby and Dany Sabourin.  It will be interesting to follow the Caps during the free agent signing period to see if they bring in a veteran backup, or roll with Neuvirth and Holtby, both young goalies with success in the NHL already.

Capitals Bring Back Area Native Jeff Halpern

Posted by Dave Nichols | Friday, July 01, 2011 | , , | 0 comments »

The NHL free agent frenzy started at noon today and it didn't take too long for the Washington Capitals to make a mark, signing veteran center, and Potomac, MD native, Jeff Halpern to a one-year deal, reported to be worth $825,000, according to TSN.

Halpern, who started his career with the Caps, will center the fourth line and be used as a faceoff specialist, much in the same role that UFA Boyd Gordon has filled the last several seasons.  Moments after the news of Halpern joining the Capitals, it was reported that Gordon signed a free agent contract with the Phoenix Coyotes.  Gordon was the current longest-tenured Capital until today.

Halpern went 11-15-26, +6 with Montreal last season, and finished the year with a faceoff percentage of 56.9%.

Here's the press release from the Caps:
ARLINGTON, Va. – The Washington Capitals have signed free agent center Jeff Halpern to a one-year contract, vice president and general manager George McPhee announced today. In keeping with club policy, financial terms of the deal were not disclosed.

Halpern, 35, played 438 games for the Capitals from 1999-2006 and captained the team during the 2005-06 season. The 5’11”, 198-pound center has recorded 214 points (87 goals, 127 assists) in his career with Washington, including a career-high 46 points (19 goals, 27 assists) during the 2003-04 season. In 17 playoff games with the Capitals, Halpern has tallied four goals and five assists.

The Potomac, Maryland, native collected 26 points (11 goals, 15 assists) in 72 games with the Montreal Canadiens last season. He logged the second-most shorthanded minutes (2:20) per-game amongst Canadiens forwards and helped lead the team’s penalty kill unit which ranked seventh in the NHL. Halpern also finished second on the team in faceoff percentage (56.9%) and registered one goal in four playoff games.

Halpern has collected 342 points (142 goals, 200 assists) in 792 career NHL games with Washington, Dallas, Tampa Bay, Los Angeles and Montreal. In 34 career postseason playoff games, Halpern has recorded seven goals and six assists.

Halpern first joined the Capitals as an undrafted free agent on March 29, 1999, and made the NHL club as a rookie in 1999-2000.. He has represented the United States in the 2004 World Cup of Hockey and five World Championships (2000, 2001, 2004, 2005, 2008). While in Washington, Halpern was an active member of the community, helping launch Halpern’s Hometown Heroes to benefit local charities.

Halpern played youth hockey for the Little Capitals and former captains Rod Langway and Dale Hunter were among his favorite players. He played junior hockey in Canada and prep school hockey in New Hampshire before enrolling at Princeton University in 1995-96. One of only four players to be named Princeton’s MVP three times, Halpern was the team captain as a senior. He finished his college career ranking first all-time at Princeton in games played (132), third in career points (141) and assists (81) and tied for fifth in career goals (60).

Strange, Busy Days for Capitals

Posted by Dave Nichols | Thursday, June 30, 2011 | , , , , , | 0 comments »

The last week has brought little in the way of hard news, but plenty of rumors, agent talk and innuendo surrounds the Washington Capitals as the Free Agent period is set to start tomorrow.  Let's take a look at what we've heard over the last few days.

--First off, we know Brooks Laich will be back.  He re-signed Tuesday before testing the open waters. Laich's new contract immediately sparked debate about how it would affect the construction of the rest of the roster, and the team's ability to chase after free agents, both their own and any available on the market

--Wednesday we spent all day reading about how oft-injured goalie Semyon Varlamov was eschewing the NHL to go home to his motherland and play for rubles in the KHL.  Of course, his agent and his father spent much of the interview trashing the NHL, the Caps, and American doctors.  Oh, and by the way, there is no hard evidence of a contract yet.  Just sayin'.

--Thursday brought us some actual news and some quality independent reporting.  After hearing that he cleared waivers, the Caps bought out the final year of  D Tyler Sloan's contract, thus reducing his cap hit to a mere $233,333, according to reports.  Sloan will be an unrestricted free agent Friday at noon.

--A little later on Thursday, our friends and fellow independent media folks at Russian Machine broke a story quoting Matt Bradley's agent saying that "there's been no [contract] offer and we're not expecting one."  This comes as bad news for the #needmoreBradley crowd, but with the 33-year old winger's drop in production last season and Matt Hendricks new contract to fill essentially the same role for less, the writing was on the wall for the fan favorite.

--And in other RFA news, Karl Alzner's agent says the sides have "a gap to work on."  I think Caps fans have very little worry that Alzner won't be rockin' the red next season, but his contract certainly will impact the cap space and ability to chase free agents.

--Oh, and in news pertaining to former-Caps, Jaromir Jagr is still missing (link includes gratuitous full-mullet shot).

All in all, a busy week for hockey in the middle of the summer. When the free agent signing period opens Friday, that's when the real fun begins.

Brooks Laich Remains a Capital; Signs Six-Year Deal

Posted by Dave Nichols | Tuesday, June 28, 2011 | , , | 0 comments »

The Washington Capitals announced today that they re-signed forward Brooks Laich to a six-year deal, reportedly worth $27 million.  It's a bold move to retain one of the hardest-working players in the game, an integral part of this team and organization.  While the cap hit of $4.5 million per season is steep for a second-line player, he would have been one of the more attractive free agents available on the market had the Capitals allowed him to test the waters.

With the acquisition of forward Troy Brouwer, GM George McPhee signalled that he wants this team to be tougher.  Re-signing Laich, one of the players on staff that does do the dirty work, furthers those goals.

The size of Laich's salary immediately had fans contemplating other moves within the organization to create space under the league's salary cap.  The Capitals have several other restricted free agents, including Karl Alzner, Semyon Varlamov, Mathieu Perrault  and newly acquired winger Troy Brouwer.  The team made qualifying offers to each of those players (and minor leaguer Francois Bouchard), so the Caps retain the rights to the players and the right to match any contract offer made to them after the players officially receive their RFA status at noon Friday, July 1.

"We are very pleased to have Brooks Laich continue his career as a Washington Capital,” said GM George McPhee via team press release. “Brooks has excelled as one of the League’s finer two-way players and is just entering his prime. His combination of size, speed, versatility and leadership makes him a valuable part of our club."

"I’m thrilled to make the commitment to remain a Capital,” said Laich. “It is a wonderful organization with terrific fans and I’m very happy to continue to call Washington home for many years to come.”

The 6’2”, 215-pound center set career-highs in goals (25), assists (34) and points (59) during the 2009-10 season and scored 20 or more goals in three straight seasons from 2007-2010. In 475 career regular-season games, Laich has recorded 237 points (100 goals, 137 assists) and is a plus-14. In 37 career playoff games, he has tallied seven goals and 16 assists for 23 points.

The Wawota, Saskatchewan, native is second among active Capitals players in franchise games played (474), fifth in points (237), third in goals (100) and fifth in assists (137). Laich is 15th amongst his 2001 draft class in points but is one of only three players in the top 15 to be drafted later than the third round.

Both Laich and McPhee will be available to the media later today.