Washington Capitals GM George McPhee met the media Monday on the first day of Development Camp. His most intriguing comments came right up front when asked about the NHL Free Agent signing period, and the Caps reluctance to enter the market for a second-line center with the departure of Mike Ribeiro to Arizona on a four-year deal.
McPhee was up-front in his assessment, stating that he wasn’t impressed with the players available. And for those few that the Caps did take interest in, he wasn’t impressed with the contract demands.
“We didn’t think it was a great class of players,” McPhee said from Kettler Capitals Iceplex. “Not a great pool of players to invest in, so we didn’t. There were a couple of players we had interest in, but when the numbers get the way they were going in terms of salary or term, we stayed away.”
“We didn’t really make any offers, we just knew where they were going,” McPhee continued. “Usually the issue is the term. Salary you can compete with, but when people get into term that’s too long, you can ultimately hurt your competitiveness down the road. We try to avoid that.”
The conversation naturally turned from the free agent crop to the Caps two UFAs they allowed to walk — Ribeiro and Matt Hendricks.
“We made our best offers at the trading deadline, with both of [those] players. We liked both of those guys a lot — as people, as players — but we made our decisions around the trading deadline, in far advance of July 1. You can’t wake up [at the start of the free agency period] and say, ‘What are we going to do?’.”
What McPhee didn’t do is chase either player and sign them to long-term, salary cap crippling deals. Both players signed four-year deals at higher rates than they commanded on their last contract, something the Caps were obviously — and correctly — reluctant to do.
So if the Caps aren’t going to obtain a 2C, who will they turn to in-house? How about their jack-of-all- trades, Brooks Laich? In a perfect world, the Caps would have Laich centering a third line with Jason Chimera and Joel Ward, players whose natural ability might seem to jive better with the lunch-pail Laich.
But McPhee sees Laich as a suitable player to fill the role.
“If you look around the league, it’s a hard position to fill,” McPhee noted. “ How many teams these days have a couple of elite centers? Five or six, maybe? Generally, you need a really good two-way player to play there, which is why we’re looking at Brooks Laich to play there now.”
“We had him there in the playoffs a couple years ago, liked it a lot. He’s a natural center. We think it’s time to play him. He gives you the size and speed you’re looking for, the good two-way play you’re looking for, the face-offs… we think he’s capable of it. We don’t see any real difference in terms of ability to play between a Brooks and, if you look around the league, a Mike Fisher in Nashville, Mike Richards in L.A. or David Backes in St. Louis. Same type of players.”
Time will tell if McPhee is right. Since Sergei Fedorov left, the Caps have been looking for that elusive second-line center to provide scoring assistance and take some of the burden off their top scoring line. Last year, they finally had that, as Ribeiro turned in what has proved to be a consistently productive season, especially on coach Adam Oates’ revised power play.
What seems certain is that the players the Caps have on their payroll today is the squad they’ll enter camp with. How those players will be deployed is the million dollar question.
But as their opponents in their new division make additions to their roster they feel will help them be better teams, the Caps are obviously, and maybe disappointingly, standing put.