Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Ranking Washington's Top Potential July 1st Targets

Tomorrow is July 1st, the first day of free agency. Last year the Caps made a huge splash, signing Matt Niskanen and Brooks Orpik to huge contracts. Both signings worked wonders this year, as the Caps' defense was the best it had been in years.

This year the Caps have more holes to fill due to the likely departures of Eric Fehr and Joel Ward. Jay Beagle was re-signed yesterday to a 3 year, 5.25 million dollar contract, keeping the Caps' center depth relatively solid.

Where the Caps need more depth is on the wings. After Alex Ovechkin, there are no real difference-makers on the Caps. What the Caps need most is a first-line right wing or a good second-liner who can push Andre Burakovsky to the first line.

Once the Caps extend Braden Holtby (who I hope won't receive any offer-sheets) they should be set on both D and in goal. Here is my take on Washington's forward lines right now:

Ovechkin - Backstrom - xxxxxxx
Burakovsky - Kuznetsov - Brouwer
Johansson (assuming he re-signs) - Beagle - Wilson
Laich - Latta - Chimera
xxxxxxx - trade/signing

The Caps really need to fill one roster spot, but that (1RW) is an extremely tough hole. The Caps need an elite 1RW, and whether that can be found via a free agent signing or a trade, the Caps really need a dynamic player in that spot.

The Caps currently have $52,878,459 paid in the cap right now, assuming Phillipp Grubauer is Holtby's backup and Justin Peters is in Hershey. That means the Caps have $18,521,541 in cap space.

Assuming the Caps sign their RFA's to the following contracts:
Braden Holtby: 6 years @ 6.5 million per
Evgeny Kuznetsov: 3 years @ 3 million per
Marcus Johansson: 3 years @ 3.5 million per

That will leave $5,521,541 in cap space for the Caps to go after their 1RW. That being said, that isn't a hard and fast number, as the Caps could gain cap space by getting rid of Troy Brouwer or Brooks Laich and replacing one of them in the roster with Stan Galiev or Chris Brown.

With that said, here is my personal ranking of potential targets for the 1RW spot:

11. Martin St. Louis - UFA, 40 yo. Starting the list is the oldest player on it. St. Louis has been the bane of Washington's existence for most of his career, and after an underwhelming season last year he seems to be finally slowing down. Working in his favor are the facts that he'll be relatively cheap and has lots of experience. However, he's now on the wrong side of 40 and is unable to play top line or even top six minutes, which means Burakovsky will need to play on the first line.

10. Justin Williams - UFA, 33 yo. Many analysts see Williams as a great fit for the Caps, but personally I don't see it. The last time he scored 30 goals was 2006, and he hasn't hit 50 points since 2012. He would bring some good playoff experience, but he's on the wrong side of 30 and would command at least $4.5 mil, which I don't think he's worth.

9. T.J. Oshie - Trade, 28 yo. Oshie's name has been linked to the Caps as well, and while he's one of the younger players on this list and has a decent cap hit, just over $4 mil a year, he's only hit 20 goals and 60 points once in his career, so he wouldn't be a good fit on the top line. In addition, he's still under contract, which means we'd need to pry him out of St. Louis and may need to overpay. Not really worth it, in my opinion.

8. Michael Frolik - UFA, 27 yo. Frolik has really intrigued me as a potential signing. His offensive numbers leave something to be desired, but he shouldn't command a huge contract, something around 3.5-4 million AAV. In addition he is very strong defensively and would be fabulous on the PK. However, his lack of high-end potential knocks him down a bit on the list.

7. Patrick Sharp - Trade, 33 yo. Sharp has been the most discussed player on the list, and is probably the most likely target on the list. With the Blackhawks' cap crunch they really need to cut some salary, which means the Caps should be able to get him for pretty cheap in spite of his insanely high asking price. He is also one of the best players offensively on this list, but knocking him down is the fact that he will be 34 by the end of the year and has a cap hit of $5.9 million, meaning the Caps would need to trim salary elsewhere.

6. James van Riemsdyk - Trade, 26 yo. JVR is a personal favorite of mine because of his age and his scoring potential. He can be depended on to pot 20-30 goals and 50-60 points when he's healthy and he's on a very good contract, just a 4.25 million cap hit. However, the price required to get him would be astronomical considering how young he is and how important he is as a center of Toronto's rebuild. Although he would be a great fit on the first line, the high trade price may not make it worth it anyway.

5. Eric Fehr - UFA, 29 yo. Yes, you're reading the name right. I think Fehr would be an excellent fit on the first line if the Caps are able to re-sign him. He was very good in that spot at the beginning of last season, in my opinion. Working in his favor are the facts that he would not cost all that much and he would bring a Mike Knuble-esque net presence that would really help OV and Backy on the first line. Unfortunately, according to his agent he will not be returning to the Caps, but one can dream.

4. Brandon Saad - RFA, 22 yo. Before today, Saad would have been even higher on my list, but after being traded today to Columbus, the chances of him signing an offer sheet are highly unlikely. That being said, it may be worth it to offer something anyways, maybe around the lines of 5 x 5.5 mil, given his already strong scoring talent and his extremely young age. However, the extreme likelihood that Columbus will probably match anything within reason drops him down a little.

3. Radim Vrbata - Trade, 34 yo. Yes, Vrbata is on the wrong side of 30, and yes he comes with an expensive cap hit. However, unlike most of the other players on this list, Vrbata is a proven 30 goal scorer and is coming off a year where he was Vancouver's only all-star representative. Playing with Backstrom and Ovechkin could allow him to put up a career year, and he only has one year left on his contract, so it may be worth the risk.

2. Alex Semin - UFA (bought out), 31 yo. I nearly published this post at noon, and if I had Semin would not have been on this list at all. His being bought out by Carolina completely changes the outlook on him. Right now he has the lowest value possible, meaning that he could be had cheap. Plus, he may look as a DC homecoming as the perfect way to resurrect his career, and I don't see why he wouldn't love to play with OV and Backy again. Signing him to a short term deal in the $2-2.5 mil range could be worth it in the end.

1. Vladimir Tarasenko - RFA, 23 yo. At the top of the list is perhaps the most unattainable player on it. Tarasenko is coming off a season where he cemented himself as one of the top players in the NHL and was voted to the league's second all-star team. I fully expect St. Louis to match any and all offer sheets he signs, but if I'm the Caps I'd be more than willing to overpay for him. Plus, I think he'd relish the opportunity to play with Ovechkin and Kuznetsov in DC. I would be content offer sheeting him at somewhere around $7.5 mil AAV and trying to shed salary elsewhere if he signs and St. Louis doesn't match. If I'm the Caps, Tarasenko is my number one target for the 1RW spot.

These are my top potential targets for the Caps' open roster spot at 1RW. Here's hoping that the Caps can find themselves a difference maker at 1RW this offseason, or at the very least don't go Sweeney themselves like Boston. Enjoy Free Agency tomorrow, and as always, Go Caps!

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