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Matt Hendricks at near $2 million for three or more years wouldn’t make much sense for the Caps

Hendricks Smiling

Hendricks Smiling (Photo credit: clydeorama)

NHL free agency season is here and Washington Times columnist Mike Harris writes that the Washington Capitals should do two things that will “be worth every penny spent.” He suggests the team “go all in on Vinny Lecavalier (The Flyers have since signed him)” and “bring back Matt Hendricks.”

Harris says, “Hendricks, who made $850,000 last season, will have a few other suitors and probably should be able to command about $2 million a year for three years or so. For the Caps, it would be money well spent.”

I love the way Hendricks plays and mean no disrespect to Harris, but if the salary cap-challenged Capitals sign Hendricks for near $2 million per year for three or more years as Harris suggests, General Manager George McPhee should immediately be drug tested. As hard as losing Hendricks might be for some Caps fans and as important a role player as he’s been for Washington, the 32-year-old, bottom-six forward is replaceable, just as fan favorite Matt Bradley was.

If Washington were a rebuilding team or one with boatloads of room to spend under the salary cap, perhaps $2 million per year to a player like Hendricks might be possible. But at this point, with other holes needing to be filled and higher-upside, young players like Karl Alzner and Marcus Johansson to be re-signed, there are cheaper ways to replace Hendricks if his price tag ends up being as high as $2 million per year.

Aaron Volpatti and his $575,000 salary, Michael Latta (acquired along with Martin Erat in the trade for Filip Forsberg, yet rarely talked about compared to the other two pieces of that trade) and 2012 first round draft pick Tom Wilson could all get an opportunity to fill that role at a smaller cap hit than Hendricks would come with at the price Harris wants the Caps to sign him for.

Much like Hendricks in some ways became the new Matt Bradley for Washington, someone can become the new Matt Hendricks. As great as guys like him are to cheer for and to have as teammates, the Caps cannot afford to give Hendricks a substantial raise given the other contracts on their roster and the other ways their remaining cap space could be used to further solidify it.

Kundratek a low-risk bargain at $575,000
On Tuesday, the Caps re-signed defenseman Tomas Kundratek and the deal really couldn’t be much better: $575,000 a year for two years, with the 2014-15 portion being a two-way contract, which would pay him $150,000 if he’s in the American Hockey League (AHL). Kundratek is only 23 and showed potential this season in 25 games with the Caps. If he becomes a regular in the Caps line-up over the next two seasons or even is just a reliable seventh defenseman or call-up from Hershey, Kundratek’s contract is a bargain. If Kundratek doesn’t pan out, at $575,000 a season, he’s a low-risk option that can likely be dealt easily, released or kept in the AHL.

What’s next for the Caps?

Some of the Caps fanbase on Twitter and other social media outlets seems a bit uneasy about the fact that the Caps have not yet made a big splash in the free agency market.  While certain players may have made some sense (i.e. PA Parenteau), I’m in no way bothered by the Caps lack of activity thus far.  I would rather the team save the cap space to address needs at a date later than July 1st than rashly fill a hole in a manner that will likely prove to be inadequate or with a contract that will become regrettable.  That being said, there are holes on this roster that need to be fixed, most notably, a winger to replace Alex Semin on the second line.

The Caps filled a major hole on the roster by acquiring Mike Ribeiro from the Dallas Stars. However, with the impending departure of Semin via free agency, the Caps still have some work to do in terms of their top 2 lines.  Given the lack of top-6 talent on the free agent market, the Caps may be best served to make a deal for a winger to play on one of the top two lines, which brings us to scenario one…

Trade for Bobby Ryan or a similar player.

This scenario was brought up recently over at Japers’ Rink with the hypothetical package of Dmitri Orlov, Marcus Johansson and a 1st round pick going to Anaheim for Bobby Ryan.  For a good debate on the value of that deal, head on over and read the comments section.  For my purposes here, I’ll assume the value makes sense for both teams.  If this trade were to happen, or one for a player similar to Ryan, the Caps group of forwards would look like this:

Ovechkin-Backstrom/Ribeiro-Brouwer

Perreault-Backstrom/Ribeiro-Ryan( or similar player)

Chimera-Laich-Ward

Crabb-Beagle-Hendricks

Is Perreault a top-6 winger? No.  But could he be a serviceable option given the quality of the players on his line as well as the quality of the other lines?  I would vote yes.   The top two lines would have plenty of scoring and prove difficult to play against with physical players such as Ovechkin, Brouwer and a Ryan-type player.  I see no question marks with the third and fourth lines listed above, they’d make Dale Hunter proud (and probably be his first and second lines).

However, we can play arm-chair GM all we want, but it doesn’t magically make Bobby Ryan or a similar player available and/or affordable.   So what if the Caps can’t bring in a second-line winger?   What if the contract or asking price for such a player is currently at a level that will do more harm than good for the Caps?  This bring us to scenario 2…

Sign Jason Arnott

This comes with a disclaimer. Ultimately, the Caps need a to acquire a 2W, not Jason Arnott. Without acquiring a winger to play on the second line, the Caps are not legitimate Cup contenders.   But what if nothing makes sense? Should the Caps stand pat?  Depending on the what’s available, possibly, but I hope it doesn’t come to that.   Instead, the Caps should put a band-aid on the situation and wait until a trade for a 2W opens up.  A band-aid type fix would involve bringing in a player on a short-term, low-risk deal so as not to handcuff the team should a 2W becomes available.   To me, the easiest way to do this is to sign a player to solidify the center spot on the third line to free up Brooks Laich to play wing on the second line.  Of all of the available free agents, Jason Arnott strikes me as the player best suited to serve in this role.  He’d likely be available on a one-year deal for a reasonable amount of money.  The forward lines would then look like this:

Ovechkin-Backstrom/Ribeiro-Brouwer

Laich-Backstrom/Ribeiro-Perreault/Johansson

Chimera-Arnott-Ward

Crabb-Beagle-Hendricks

I wouldn’t have a lot of faith in this team contending for the Cup, but I don’t think it’d be a disaster over the short term, either.  The intention here is to put a band-aid on the 2W situation until a legitimate one hopefully becomes available via trade during the season.  This is  certainly not an ideal option, but it’s better than signing Player X, who is questionably adequate to play as a 2W for the duration of his contract, to a deal that will be harmful to the team’s cap management.

Regardless of what the Caps end up doing, I like the patient approach they have opted for thus far.  Doing nothing to address glaring needs is generally a better approach than addressing those needs in an inadequate or fiscally irresponsible manner.  That being said, signing a player such as Arnott makes sense for the short-term.  The would allow Laich to fill-in as a 2W while also not handcuffing the team financially when/if a 2W becomes available.

Possible free agent target: Brad Boyes

The Capitals top-6 forwards are in need of reinforcements. With Alex Semin set to become an UFA and depending on if the Caps have Brooks Laich penciled in as a 2W or 3C next season, the Caps currently have as few as 4-top 6 forwards on their roster right now (Ovechkin, Backstrom, Brouwer, and newly acquired Mike Ribeiro).  These kind of players don’t come cheap, via trade or free agency.  With a particularly thin free-agent market this year, the price for top-6 forwards is likely to be even more inflated than usual.  The Caps have smartly not locked themselves into any crippling free agency deals with such players in recent memory, and it wouldn’t be smart to start now.  That being said, George McPhee would be smart to look for a player with top-6 potential but who has certain questions marks that will keep the money and term of the deal within reason.  On the free agent market this year, a player that fits that mold is Brad Boyes.

Over the course of the 2007-08 and 2008-09 seasons, Boyes played in all 164 games and totaled 76 goals and 62 assists (a 0.84 PPG average).   However, in the 3 seasons since then, Boyes has totaled just 38 goals and 91 assists in 210 games (a 0.61 PPG average).  Boyes was particularly mediocre this season in Buffalo when he totaled 8 goals and 15 assists in 65 games.  So why should the Caps take a look at Boyes?

At 29, Boyes is unlikely to again reach the numbers of 4 years ago, but he is plenty young enough to still be a productive player when put in the right situation.  Last season, Boyes played just 13:10 per game and spent time on the Sabres 4th line.  While some may see a player whose production has fallen off a cliff, I see a player with a lot to prove who could be had on a cheap one year deal.  He likely will be signed to a low-risk/potential high value type deal.  Another positive is that Boyes, while primarily a winger, can play center when called upon.

There are reasons to hesitate signing Boyes and there are certainly valid concerns that his days as a top-6 forward are behind him.  However, in a day and age when many free agent contracts get bloated to regrettable levels, taking a flyer on Boyes, if he is under the radar, may be worth the risk for the Caps.

What should the Caps do with free agent Alex Semin?

Of the six players on the Caps roster that are set to become unrestricted free agents, none has garnered as much attention so far as Alex Semin.  Recently on Twitter, we asked what people thought the Caps should offer Semin or how they should replace him if he signs elsewhere.  Here are some of the responses:

Semin’s agent has already said that his client won’t accept a one year contract this time around.  He has also said a lot of other things that I chalk up to posturing, that his client didn’t exactly support when asked about the comments.

Russia forward Alexander Semin lines up for a ...

Russia forward Alexander Semin lines up for a faceoff against Slovakia during the 2010 Winter Olympics (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Neil Greenberg wrote a great piece on Semin’s value, in which he advocated bringing  Semin back on a 1 or 2 year deal for about $6 million per season.  There was also a great FanPost on Japers Rink that took a look at Semin’s value using some fancy charts.

Perhaps I’m getting ahead of myself when talking about Semin’s value when so many Caps fans seem opposed to even bringing him back.  I don’t want to rehash what we’ve already spent plenty of time on in previous posts, but perhaps you should reevaluate your opinion of Semin if you think he’s lazy and should not be brought back under any circumstance.  I also think anyone who opposes bringing back Semin needs to propose how we replace him.  This team needs more top-6 forwards, not less, and if Semin walks then the holes in the top-6 become even more glaring.

If the Caps don’t re-sign Semin, the decision better be part of a larger overhaul set to take place this summer.  Letting Semin walk and taking a business-as-usual approach to the rest of the off-season will result in a team with even deeper flaws than the one we watched over the past season.

Given that I’m not George McPhee, I don’t have the benefit of knowing what options are available to the Caps if they decide to go with a larger overhaul this off-season.  That being said, I don’t see a better option out there than bringing Semin back if the contract makes sense.  I’d absolutely not go any longer than a four year term, and I’d be much more comfortable with a two or three year deal.  In terms of dollars, I wouldn’t go over $6 million per year under any circumstance, and would be much more comfortable with a cap hit in the $5-$5.5 million range.  Unless a major overhaul takes place, specifically to the Caps top-6 forwards, I don’t see how this team gets more competitive by letting Semin walk away.

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