Over the span of an Independence Day weekend, the 2010-11 Washington Capitals started to become the 2011-12 Caps.
A Russian was traded. A former captain returned. An all-star free agent was signed.
Hey, remember hockey?
Since the NHL Draft on June 24th, all hell has broken loose on George McPhee’s BlackBerry. It’s not “rebuilding,” since the core remains the same and the team remains on the short list of Cup contenders. It’s also more than “tinkering,” given how significant the holiday weekend was for the Capitals. Now with the second-least space under the salary cap (per CapGeek) remaining, it seems that short of another big trade the new team is beginning to come together. Call this a “refresh,” a “reload,” or a “re-tooling.” Whatever you want to call it, the status quo will not carry over into the new season. If the result next year is the same, it will at least be reached with a new set of personnel.
Re-signing C/LW Brooks Laich
At 4.5 million dollars per year for six years, Brooks Laich is nothing close to a bargain. If he had Matt Cooke’s disposition, he probably would’ve be left to free agency, and/or been worth about a million bucks a season less. While this isn’t giving an aging Derek Jeter $17M a season for time served, Laich’s value rests in his status as fan favorite and locker room leader as much as it does in his prowess as a top-6 forward. He’s probably not the solution for the dreaded second line center conundrum, and probably will not be 4.5 million dollars useful in 2016-17, the last season of his contract. A caveat about Laich is that his maturity makes him seem physically older, at least to me. Really, he just turned 28 and still has a lot of good hockey in front of him.
Losers: Slight loss for Capitals
Grading the Deal: B+
Letting Boyd Gordon Go, Signing Jeff Halpern
Boyd Gordon was the longest-tenured Cap, and a prototypical “hard work” guy who sold out most shifts to make his line-mates better. A quieter presence than Laich, “Gordo,” was still a leader beyond his years (27) and will be missed in the D.C. locker room. Notice how it’s impossible to not write about long-tenured departing free agents like they’re dead? Gordo wins by getting a $1.3M deal to do the same things in Phoenix, a price the Caps probably can’t afford for their 4C. Enter Jeff Halpern, Potomac, MD native and former captain of the ill-fated 2005-06 Capitals. Halpy returns to Washington a 35 year-old vet who can fill Gordon’s spot and provide leadership backed by nearly 800 NHL games and playoff experience the last two seasons. More importantly, he comes at a bargain-priced $825k on his one-year deal.
Winners: All parties
Losers: People who bought Boyd Gordon jerseys
Grading the Deal: A-
Letting Matt Bradley and Marco Sturm Go
Marco Sturm was a Capital for what seemed like about 15 minutes. For the $2.25 million Vancouver gave him, and as awkward as his fit was in D.C., “happy trails,” I say. Matt Bradley logged six seasons for the Caps and carved out his own special corner of the Caps universe. He became a fighter, often to his own peril, and never stood down when courage was needed. He cleared pucks and hit hard. He inspired his own trending topic Twitter. Bradley ended up getting $950k a year for two seasons in Florida, which seems like it could’ve been a reasonable price point for the Caps to keep Bradley around for the sake of team chemistry. With Matt Hendricks also on the roster and ready to drop ’em, couldn’t the Caps have bought out D.J. King and kept Bradley as the 13th or 14th forward at a little hometown discount?
Winners: Bradley, Sturm, Panthers
Losers: Canucks, Slight loss for Capitals
Grading the Deals: B
Trading 26th Pick of 2012 NHL Draft to Chicago for Troy Brouwer
Apparently the Caps didn’t have anyone on the board at 26 that they were in love with. The Caps shipped the pick to the Blackhawks, who took QMJL standout Phillip Danault with the selection. Many a mock draft had the Caps taking Vladislav Namestnikov with that pick, given their predilection toward Rusophilia. Apparently the Caps weren’t impressed with his 68 points in the OHL this season, or were concerned about fitting “Namestnikov” on a jersey. He was picked a selection later by Tampa Bay, so the Capitals will learn up close and personally if they let one get away here. Brouwer could be a nice complimentary piece, provided the Caps can hold him as an RFA.
Winner: Edge to Blackhawks
Losers: Slight loss for Capitals
Grading the Deal: Incomplete
Signing RW Joel Ward for 4 years, $3M per
Joel Ward is a nice enough player. He is a very good defensive, physical forward and has a penchant for scoring in big spots. So, essentially, another Jason Chimera? At $3M? George McPhee himself admitted that they overpaid by “roughly 15 percent.” Ward isn’t really top-six guy, so in addition to the financial bite this takes out of the 2011-12 Caps, it also may force a move or demotion for the injury-bugged Eric Fehr.
Grading the Deal: D+
Signing D Roman Hamrlik for 2 years, $3.5M per
Tons and tons of experience here. The Caps would usually look to add a vet to the mix in the second half of the season (Sergei Federov, Jason Arnott, etc.) but instead have elected to add a 35+ year-old player to the mix for a full campaign. Hamrlik isn’t getting any younger, but still skated 22 minutes a night for Montreal this past season. This move also in essence could’ve included “letting Scott Hannan go” seeing as how the UFA defensemen will command around this figure for his services. There was no question the Capitals needed help on defense, but this move doesn’t address it long term or even in total for this season. Still, nice to add a hungry player with almost 100 playoff games under his belt and no Cup to show for it.
Winner: Hamrlik, Capitals
Losers: Scott Hannan
Grading the Deal: B-
Trading G Semyon Varlamov for a 1st and 2nd round draft pick
I really wanted Varly to develop into the goalie he can be here in Washington. This season, though, it was clear that at some point he was going to have to move on to move up. I wrote three weeks ago that it was hard to believe we’d get $.60 on the dollar for him, given his history of injuries, RFA status, and the possibility he would bolt to the KHL. Maybe the Avs got a future All-Star goaltender. They probably didn’t. In exchange, they gave up what will likely be a top selection in next year’s draft and a future 2nd rounder. The Capitals got some clarity in their goaltending situation, moved a disgruntled player, and added to the asset pool in the picks. In other words: flawless victory.
Winner: Varlamov, Capitals
Grading the Deal: A+
Signing G Tomas Vokoun for 1 year at $1.5M
Which is a funnier concept for a “Hitler Reacts” video? Colorado gives up two high value picks for Varlamov, or the top FA goaltender’s market price drops inexplicably and the Capitals somehow upgrade the goaltending corps by adding a two-time all-star as backup for peanuts? It would seem this pushes Braden Holtby down to Chocolatetown for the moment, which is fine for a 21 year-old netminder who is still developing. Somebody pinch me.
Losers: Slight loss for Vokoun
Grading the Deal: A+
Dave Gilmore lives in Baltimore, works for a sports-oriented non-profit, and writes “The Win Column” for Baltimore Sports Report. He is currently working on a novel about college football. Find him on Twitter @dave_gilmore.