August 21, 2014

Washington Capitals End-of-Season Roundtable, Part V: Free agent frenzy

After a day off, Part Five of our Washington Capitals end-of-season roundtable discusses the Caps seven six five four Unrestricted Free Agents and four RFAs who can consider employment for the 2012-23 season starting July 1. Since our responses were solicited, the Caps re-signed veteran goalie Dany Sabourin to lead the charges in Hershey. traded Tomas Vokoun to Pittsburgh for a seventh round pick in the upcoming NHL Draft, and informed Mike Knuble his services would no longer be required. What should the Caps do with the rest?

Once again, our panelists are Dave Nichols (DSP Editor-in-Chief), Abram Fox (DSP Caps Page Editor), Erika Schnure (Ravings of a Rink Rebel and DSP’s Caps minor league contributor), Andrew Tomlinson (DSP Caps contributor) and respected Caps media Ted Starkey (author of Transition Game and Red Rising), Peter Hassett (Russian Machine Never Breaks) and Adam Vingan (NBCWashington.com and Kings of Leonsis).

Click here to see Part I, “Disappointed or encouraged“, here to see Part II, “How did Hunter do?”, here to see Part III, “Overachiever or underachiever?”, here to see Part IV, “Captain, My Captain“.

So, should they stay or should they go?

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Dave: The Caps started the off-season with seven UFAs (Semin, Knuble, Halpern, Aucoin, Wideman, Vokoun and Sabourin) and four RFAs (Green, Carlson, Perreault and Beagle). We’ve seen the resolution for two of the UFAs, and it would surprise me if any of the remainder call D.C. home next season. Wideman, by virtue of his “All-Star” campaign has priced himself out of Washington, and his play down the stretch and in the playoffs didn’t really say “re-sign me at all costs.” Knuble and Halpern will probably want another year somewhere, but I can’t see either returning here. The Caps probably need to get fresher legs in those spots.

Of all the UFAs left, the one I could see returning to the organization is Aucoin, but hopefully he spends most of (if not all of) the season in Hershey, mentoring the younger players and contributing to another Calder Cup run down there.

I can’t – under any circumstances – see Semin returning to the Caps next season. His production has dropped to the point where the Caps, with their salary cap restrictions, can’t afford to keep him for what he’ll cost on the open market. After hearing Semin’s agent speak a couple of times after the end of the season, he seems intent to test the market, whether that’s here in the NHL or back in the motherland in the KHL. Semin played well at the recent World Championships for winning Russia; perhaps if he’s back in good graces over there, someone will back up a money truck for him. Either way, it seems he’ll be the first of the “Young Guns” to move onto to different pastures.

As for the RFAs, the Caps will certainly sign Carlson and Beagle. I think they’d like to have Perreault back at a moderate price but after bouncing up-and-down for two years and getting snubbed in the playoffs he might want to test the waters. Green will be the tricky one. He requires a qualifying offer of $5 million and with his injury history it would be mildly surprising to see someone offer more. When he’s right, he’s a singular talent on the blue line, but he hasn’t been right in two years.

Abram: I see Aucoin and Wideman returning, possibly.. Knuble displayed a significant decline in play this season, and he’s got enough professional pride and drive to try to sign on with another team that’ll give him more of a chance next season. Halpern was replaced by Beagle, who is younger, bigger, and cheaper. He knows he won’t get many minutes in D.C. if he returns, and his 58.3% faceoff win percentage, 5th best in the league, should make him valuable to another team. Vokoun’s already said he’s gone, and I don’t doubt him.

Semin, I expect to leave. One would think his friendship with Ovechkin, as well as Backstrom, would be incentive to stick around, but his history of one-year deals has shown he’s willing to consider a larger payday. I am certain that he hasn’t made his mind up. As for Aucoin, that depends if he thinks his AHL domination and playoff performance can result in a better shot at the pros, a la Alexandre Giroux a few years ago.

Dennis Wideman averaged a hair under $4 million last season, and will look for a similar contract this offseason. He won’t get that from the Caps, but I can see GMGM wanting to bring him back at a slightly cheaper deal. Both Aucoin and Wideman depend on the identity of Washington’s new bench boss: if he’s willing to give a career AHLer a shot, Aucoin may return, and if he proposes an offensive-minded style of hockey, Wideman may do the same.

I see the Caps retaining all four RFAs. They would prefer to sign Green, Carlson, and probably Beagle to longer deals, but the qualifying offers for each of those players is either at or well below their market value. Perreault was disgruntled with his relegation to the press box, so the team may want to let him walk. However, considering his qualifying offer of $577,500 will probably comprise less than 1% of the anticipated 2012-13 salary cap, I think he’s worth the risk.

Erika: It’s difficult to tell who may be returning with this offsesason’s weak free agent class. I want to say Aucoin will be coming back. Whether that’s with Hershey or Washington is yet to be determined, but his contract is not quite the size of Semin’s, and I don’t know how good of an offer he might get elsewhere.

With Semin it’s always hard to tell what’s going to happen. Much like previous summers, there’s a lot of smoke and mirrors and I’ve learned to expect absolutely nothing when it comes to his agent. Vokoun, I think will definitely not be back. Neuvirth and Holtby are the future of this team.

For RFAs, Perreault became very under-utilized at the end of the season and in the playoffs. Heck, Aucoin was above him on the depth chart in a critical postseason. Will he get a qualifying offer from the Caps? Seems to me he’s had a lot of chances to make the roster full-time, and yet he never ends up playing a full season. He might be on the way out.

Andrew: I think the Caps will make a decision on whether to keep Mike Green or Dennis Wideman, as both players essentially have the same role on this team and there is no way Mathieu Perreault, John Carlson and Jay Beagle don’t return. Where it becomes tough to predict is at the forward position. Vokoun is all but gone, Keith Aucoin is a dime-a-dozen player, but Mike Knuble and Alex Semin are harder creatures to find.

Knuble is a natural leader who took a few steps closer to retirement offensively last year, but still has the veteran leadership potential team’s covet. Semin provides almost the exact opposite skills to the Caps, as he has very little leadership ability, but he has one of the most dangerous shots in the league. If they let Semin walk though, the big question now becomes who is the team’s biggest offensive threat behind Ovechkin?

Ted: Of the six UFAs, I would think the Capitals may retain one, perhaps two.

Semin I see as a prime candidate to return to the KHL, and while some NHL teams may offer him a deal not quite in the $6.7 million range he got with Washington last year, I’m not sure if a general manager will stick his neck out and tie up a lot of dollars in the Russian. While he certainly has proven to be one of the most talented players in the NHL, he certainly also has proven to be a player that has some difficulty self-motivating for some games.

Knuble likely will get some offers on the open market, as several teams inquired about his services at the deadline. Although he was scratched the first three of Washington’s playoff games, Knuble showed he still had the ability to generate big plays by setting up Joel Ward’s series-winning goal in Boston and likely should get a decent one-year deal with someone, perhaps – but not likely – the Capitals.

Halpern seemed disappointed in being scratched most of the way down the stretch – and on a team with need of centers – didn’t seem overly likely to return. Perhaps if he has a heart-to-heart with McPhee in the offseason, but seems like Halpern will opt to be a depth center elsewhere.

Aucoin might get a look from another organization, but the Capitals may make an offer to keep him in the system – and help the Hershey Bears. The Massachusetts native was primarily there to help at the AHL level, although his showing the last three months of the season might earn him an offer from a team willing to use a roster spot on him.

Wideman likely priced himself out of the Capitals’ market with the up-and-down season, as he should generate a decent offer from another club the Caps probably shouldn’t match. A good puck mover who filled in during Green’s absence, Wideman showed some of the yips that became a hallmark of his tenure in Boston, and had a significant drop in play after the All-Star Game appearance.

Vokoun made no bones he came to Washington for a shot at the playoffs, and he will move on, perhaps to Toronto or Tampa Bay, likely getting the deal he wanted last summer before the Varlamov trade took out one of his biggest potential suitor.

Only once since the lockout has a big restricted free agent moved (Dustin Penner), and none of the Caps’ four are really going to be attractive enough to other teams to sign to an offer sheet. The likely scenario for Green is the Capitals offer him the qualifying offer of one-year, $5 million, and the defenseman would be wise to sign and see if he gets a more lucrative deal in the following offseason. Washington might be able to parlay his rights into a trade if another team wants a jump on signing him to a long-term deal, but the one-year scenario seems most likely.

With his up-and-down year, I highly doubt any team will entertain a lucrative offer sheet for Carlson, so he will return. Perreault may depart after not being able to stick around in the lineup late, and I would expect Beagle to return to the Caps after the opportunity he had in Washington.

Peter: I wish the question were about what I wanted rather than what I expect. Sigh. I really do see Alex Semin making a return the Capitals if only because he has his moorings here in DC. I think Halpern and Aucoin can make deals with George McPhee, but I doubt the rest of the crew comes back– as much as that breaks my heart in the case of Mike Knuble. For the RFAs, I’d expect qualifying offers to be made to all of them (even Green), but I predict only Carlson and Beagle wear Caps red this fall.

Adam: When looking at the six unrestricted free agents listed (there are actually seven if you can include Dany Sabourin), I can only see two returning: Aucoin and Sabourin, primarily for reasons relating to Hershey. Aucoin proved his worth in his 41 combined games in the NHL this season, but he is also a pillar of the Bears organization as one of the greatest scorers in AHL history. Aucoin might not start next season in Washington, but having him ready and waiting in Hershey could pay dividends once again.

Meanwhile, Sabourin will likely stay as the Bears will need a solid veteran goaltender as Braden Holtby likely joins the Caps full-time next season.

The rest of the UFAs are all gone. My “educated” guesses: Knuble will sign with one more team and end his career there; Halpern will retire after not gaining enough interest in the market; Vokoun signs with either Tampa Bay or Toronto; I have no idea where Wideman or Semin go, but it’s not Washington.

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Next, for Part VI we’ll mull over the Caps’ biggest needs of the off-season, other than, you know, hiring a head coach.

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Dave Nichols is Editor-in-Chief of District Sports Page. He is credentialed to cover the Nats and the Caps, and previously wrote Nats News Network and Caps News Network. Dave’s first sports hero was Bobby Dandridge. Follow Dave’s Capitals coverage on Twitter @CapitalsDSP.

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