Lars Eller always looks like he's smelling something fowl.
Caps Future, Part Two: Defense
This is the second part in a three-part series where I am taking a look ahead to next season and putting together what the Caps roster might look like. The first part focused on the goaltending situation; this part will focus on the defensive corps. Two notes to bear in mind with this: First, I am using the 2011-2012 salary cap of $64.3 million (projections for next season range up to $69M). Second, I saved $1.5 million in cap spending in regards to goaltending. Now, let’s take a look at who is currently a pending free agent:
Right now, the Caps have three defensemen who are free agents. Dennis Wideman is an unrestricted free agent while Mike Green and John Carlson are restricted free agents. The qualifying offers for Green and Carlson are $5 million and $826,875, respectively.
Despite losing a year to injury, Green will end up signing with the Capitals. In order to receive due compensation for his rights, Washington would need to get the equivalent of a first round, second round, and a third round draft pick. It’s too high of a price for a defenseman who has yet to shake the label “injury-prone,” and George McPhee has made it clear that he won’t give up an asset unless he thinks he’s getting adequate value on the market.
As a result, expect the Caps to sign him to a short-term deal – no more than two years. While he’s arbitration eligible, Green would be a fool to push the issue given his performance during the last season (or lack thereof, due to injury), so the signing will come at that qualifying offer minimum of $5 million.
As far as Carlson is concerned, he’s due for a raise. Much of his decline in production has come from picking up the slack in Green’s lengthy absence, and playing a role which has never particularly suited him. Given that his d-partner, Karl Alzner, signed a two-year contract that payed him $1.3 million this past season and $1.27 million for next season, John certainly has good reason to expect to move up a paygrade. Expect something in the range of two years/$2 million total (likely with performance bonuses to balance out the amount; the Caps could easily bump him up another portion, especially if they’re hoping to avoid arbitration down the line).
In contrast, Wideman is unlikely to return to the Capitals. He’s had an uphill climb since trading to the Caps, and his poor play after the All-Star Break has done him no favors. In addition, it can be argued that he did more harm than good during this year’s postseason. Consider that the nail in the coffin.
So the question is- who takes his spot?
Until Tuesday, I was content at taking a chance on signing Philadelphia Flyers free agent defenseman Matt Carle (solid play this past season, despite a late injury, and due for a raise). However, when the Chicago Blackhawks signed Johnny Oduya to a three-year, $10.125 million contract extension, it burst that bubble rather quickly. It has pushed Carle’s asking price even further up the escalating blueline scale, and it’s a lot more than what the Caps should be expecting to pay for a second-or-third pair defenseman. Here are three unrestricted free-agents the Caps should be looking at:
Barret Jackman (31). He’s coming off of a four year contract with the St. Louis Blues and tallied one goal to go along with 13 points this past season. He doesn’t have a lot of offensive prowess, but has a solid defensive game and can show leadership in the locker room. Jackman can also be a shutdown defenseman when need be.
Jason Garrison (27). The 27 year old is coming off of a two-year contract with the Florida Panthers. This past season he scored 16 goals and had 17 assists. He may not be the most aggressive player on the ice despite his large size, but is an excellent penalty killer. His ability to move the puck out of dangerous situations and possessing a huge shot from the point will attract many teams to inquire about his services.
Chris Campoli (27). Campoli may be a cheap alternative for the Caps as a 7th defenseman. He’s been a journeyman the last few years (bouncing between Ottawa, Chicago, and Montreal in as many years), but that has the advantage of guaranteeing a reasonable price for his skills. Last year with the Canadiens, he brought home $1.75 million while racking up two goals and 11 assists. While he struggles in defensive zone coverage and is not known for his physicality, he does possess some offensive ability and his speed helps to even out the occasional lapse in judgment.
Out of these three, the most likely of these is Garrison, with an upper-limit of a three-year, $6 million deal. That would give the Caps a $2 million cap hit, and fill the void left by Wideman in terms of offensive production.
The wild-card of the defense corps will be Tom Poti. He should hypothetically be healthy to return for the 2012-2013 campaign, though groin injuries are notoriously touchy (as demonstrated by his “I’m 90, 95%” assessment that saw him on LTIR the entire 2011-12 season). His cap hit this coming season will be $2.875 million, but the Caps have shown that they can win without him in the lineup. He will probably not be back with the team next season and will probably be used as trade bait in the acquisition of a forward.
Who leaves: Tom Poti and Dennis Wideman
Who comes in: Jason Garrison
2011-2012 spending: $22,843,333
2012-2013 spending: $20,810,000
Note: All salary information in this article was gathered from the lovely folks at CapGeek.com.