Should They Stay or Should They Go?

Posted by Dave Nichols | Monday, May 09, 2011 | , , | 0 comments »

As we slowly come out of our post-sweep funk, let's take a look at the Washington Capitals impending free agents and start the debate on whether the Caps should try to re-sign the player or part ways with them.  The Capitals have seven unrestricted free agents and two restricted (must extend "qualifying offer" to retain negotiating rights).  Ages listed for start of 2011-12 season.

Jason Arnott  37, UFA, 2010 salary $4.5 million (Season: 73 games, 17-14-31, -6, 40 PIM; Playoffs: 9 games, 1-5-6, +4, 2 PIM): Arnott had four goals and three assists in his 11 regular season games with the Caps.  Revealed in exit interviews he had knee surgery after his seventh game with the Caps post-trade, missing just 15 days and six games.

Arnott looked slow in the latter stages of the season and playoffs, and now we know the reason why.  He provided a boost to the team's leadership, as he instantly added gravitas to the room upon his arrival.  On the ice, he showed flashes of his skill, including an absolute sick play to feed Alex Ovechkin for the tying goal in Game Two against Tampa Bay.  He still carries his size and strength well, but no longer an elite skater, and the knee surgery will only hinder that.

He was able to coax Alex Semin's considerable talent out for a while, but Semin disappeared in the second round, showing "The Enigma" knows no leader.

If Arnott is willing to accept a sizable pay cut to take another legitimate chance at a Cup, the Caps should consider the idea.  But they really should try fill the No. 2 center spot with a considerably younger player.

Scott Hannan  33, UFA, $4.5 million (Season: 78 games, 1-10-11, +4, 34 PIM; Playoffs: 9 games, 0-1-1, +1, 2 PIM): Acquired in December, Hannan's not about the numbers, but about defensive responsibility.  He does a lot of things right that you can't see on TV.  He's always in the right position, and takes some of the best angles in the game to retrieve pucks. He's also one of the most durable players in the game,

Hannan's problem is that while he's game physically, and able against smaller players, he just isn't imposing despite his 6'1", 225 lbs frame, and sometimes just gets beaten in battles along the boards, as he did by the much smaller Martin St. Louis in Game Three, leading to a goal. 

Overall though, he's a terrific defender and was one of the biggest benefactors of the change in philosophy to a more defensively oriented team.  He's going to be pretty expensive to re-sign, and with the Caps stable of defensemen -- including possibly Dmitri Orlov -- this might be a spot where McPhee tries to save money and lets Hannan walk.

Marco Sturm  33, UFA, $3.5 million (Season: 35 games, 5-11-16, +6, 23 PIM; Playoffs: 9 games, 1-2-3, +1, 4 PIM):  Sturm averaged 25 goals a season from 01-02 to 09-10, minus 08-09 when he was injured, so the guy can score when healthy. Unfortunately, most of this past season he was not healthy.  He had knee surgery, probably came back to soon, then missed more time, which led to getting waived by the Kings and subsequent waiver claim by the Caps.

Sturm proved to be quite a competitor, and though and he didn't provide that secondary scoring he's always been capable in his history, he played much more physically than I expected, chipped in on the penalty kill, and was a good soldier, playing whenever and wherever Bruce Boudreau stuck him in

His once-elite speed and skating has really suffered from injuries two of the last three seasons and he's really a shell of the player he once was.  I'd be highly surprised if the Caps rolled the dice on that speed returning at this point in his career.

Brooks Laich  28, UFA, $2.066,667 (Season: 82 games, 16-32-48, +14, 46 PIM; Playoffs: 9 games, 1-6-7, even, 2 PIM): The Iron Man of the Capitals is a fan favorite, do-gooder and resident quote machine.  His goal scoring fell off this season, as did just about everyone's up front, and Laich probably suffered from bouncing between wing and center as much as anything else.  He even spent some time playing the point on the Power Play of Doom for a while, despite being the only player who would consistently park his behind in the crease with the extra man.

In all seriousness though, Laich is going to be McPhee's biggest decision this off-season.  There are already rumors floating that Toronto GM Brian Burke is going to make Laich his off-season priority, and Burke has never met a player he couldn't overpay.  Laich is an incredibly versatile player, as he can play wing or center and plays on both special teams.  He stands to at least double his paycheck, and that's where McPhee is going to have to make the call.

Many Caps fans thought Laich should have been awarded the Captain's C when it went to Ovechkin.  There could be a mini-revolt by the fan base if the Caps let him walk.

Matt Bradley  33, UFA, $1 million (Season: 61 games, 4-7-11, -3, 68 PIM; Playoffs: 9 games, 0-0-0, -3, 4 PIM): Bradley's certainly not known for his scoring, but the fourth-line center registered just one point after Feb. 14, the date of his last goal this season.  He's one of the few Caps players that's willing to mix it up and he had 10 fights this season in his 61 games.  Still, Bradley's ice time and shifts dwindled as the playoffs went on; he skated just 4:50 on seven shifts in Game Four against Tampa.

Bradley brings an element of the game when he's most feisty. But anecdotally, his spark just seemed to be missing as the season wore on.  Considering the Caps re-signed Matt Hendricks, a player three years younger and more skilled than Bradley, to do essentially the same job Bradley has for the last six seasons, the handwriting may be on the wall for the veteran winger.  Also, consider the fact that Jay Beagle could also fill the same role at half the price next season with eight year younger legs if the Caps feel they need more grit.

Boyd Gordon  28, UFA, $800,000 (Season: 60 games, 3-6-9, -5, 16 PIM; Playoffs: 9 games, 0-0-0, -1, 6 PIM): Gordon, the fourth-line center, is a faceoff specialist (8th in NHL of players with 100 or more draw), called upon to take defensive zone draws and kill penalties.  He's had a history of back problems, but played 60 games this season. 

Gordon certainly doesn't add anything to the offense but is responsible and considering the team traded away its other faceoff specialist in David Steckel, we could see the Caps re-signing him to a moderately-priced contract such as the one he played with this season.

Sean Collins  28, UFA, $650,000 (Season: 4 games, 1-0-1, +2, 0 PIM; Playoffs: 1 game, 0-0-0, even, 0 PIM): Collins spent most of the season in Hershey, where he compiled four goals and 16 assists (+29) in 73 games.  He was pressed into duty for the Capitals in the playoffs and was exposed as an AHL-level player on numerous occasions in Game Four against Tampa Bay. He just doesn't possess the speed, strength or acumen necessary at the NHL level.

Hershey could sign him as a veteran AHL defender to fill out their usually competetive roster, but he should only be used as an extreme injury replacement in the regular season, and the Caps already have Tyler Sloan signed for another year to play No. 8 defenseman next season.

Karl Alzner  23, RFA, $1.675 million (Season: 82 games, 2-10-12, +14, 24 PIM; Playoffs: 9 games, 0-1-1, -4, 0 PIM):  Alzner played every single game this season, paired with John Carlson, as the de facto top defensive pairing for the Caps.  He was on the ice when the opponent's top line was out, and was the top defender on the penalty kill.

Alzner is a classic stay-at-home defenseman and as he continues to fill out, his physical game will as well.  Something folks lose sight of is that Alzner is 6'3", but just 205, and an off-season in the weight room will help him with some of the more physical power forwards in the league, as well as possession battles in the corners and behind the goal.

As with Hannan, Alzner's positioning and angle play is sublime, well advanced for a player his age and experience.  We anticipate the Caps signing Alzner to a reasonable long-term deal this summer.

Semyon Varlamov  23, RFA, $821,667 (Season: 27 games, 11-9-5, 2.23, .924, 2 shutouts; Playoffs: 0 games): Varlamov changed his sweater number to No. 1 before the start of this season, but he couldn't stay on the ice long enough to earn the job.  He played extremely well when he was able to dress, but could only do so 27 times, watching Michal Neuvirth eclipse him in standing this season.  When the playoffs rolled around, Boudreau stuck with Neuvirth, resisting to insert Varlamov despite his past playoff success.

Varlamov has all the talent in the world, but his injury problems have kept him from playing a full season the last two years, and if the Caps think his is a chronic situation, they won't get caught up in doling out a multi-year deal for an injury-prone netminder.  McPhee has stated on numerous occasions that he values all three of the Caps young goalies (with Braden Holtby), but we could envision a scenario where GMGM trades Varlamov's rights and lets someone else worry about signing him long-term.

Varlamov's agent has also made rumblings about taking his client to the KHL, to which McPhee responded, "If he wants to go to the KHL, let him go." We think that's more of a negotiating ploy by the agent, and Varlamov has stated recently that he wants to stay in the NHL and in D.C.  But he also wants to be a starter, and the possibility of being a No. 1 goalie -- plus a possible huge contract offer from a team in his home land -- might be too much to pass up.