Well we have once again gone through another week of the NHL off season and with the opening of the free agent signing period, there has been some news around the league, though so far there haven't been too many surprises. On a sadder note, former tough guy and enforcer extraordinaire Bob Probert, died suddenly this past week at age 45. Probert suffered chest pains and collapsed while boating with his family and friends. Here's the lik to a couple of new articles on his passing - here - and here is his Obituary from the New Orleans Times - Picayune.
In the Unrestricted Free Agent signings of the past week, so far only two members of the Washington Capitals 2009-2010 organization has been involved.
On Friday July 2nd, twenty-seven (27) year old defenseman Milan Jurcina, agreed to a one year, $1,000,000 contract with the New York Islanders. The contract is a $375,00 pay cut from the deal Jurcina was awarded last season, after he filed for arbitration. It will be interesting to see what the Capitals do for their 7th and/or 8th defenseman this coming season. Given the way things are around DC right now, this was probably inevitable, however I for one feel that Jurcina at $1M even is a far better deal and use of a roster spot than John Erskine, whose grit and drive as well as personality I lover at $1.25M or Tyler Sloan, who just doesn't seem to have any intimidating, physicality to his game, despite bringing a versatility that neither "Juice" nor Erskine possess, at $700K. That said, if the choice was resigning Juice or not making space for either Karl Alzner or John Carlson on the roster so they get the ice time they'll need early in the season to develop into the players they have the potential to become, I'm okay with this. That said, I think at the end of the day, while he is only signed to a one year contract with the Islanders, Jurcina is likely to be a solid blue liner for Islanders for several years to come, and at an even $1M, they'll likely feel they got a bargain as the season progresses.
On July 3rd, twenty-nine (29) year old forward Alexandre Giroux, a perennial AHL scoring leader for the Hershey Bears signed a 1 year two way deal with the Edmonton Oilers. It's never fun to see a good go leave the organization but given it didn't look like Giroux was likely to get much ice time in DC this coming season, and he's been the leading goal scorer 2 of the past three seasons as well as the overall leading scorer in the AHL the other of the three, here's hoping the Oilers give him a good long look at the NHL level of play this upcoming season, and that he is able to translate that into a 20 goal season. He has toiled at the AHL level for 9 seasons now and has only been able to get a total of 31 games at the NHL level, despite being a prolific scorer with 0.483 goals per game and 0.899 points per game in 636 games in the American Hockey League. In short and IMHO, this guy deserves "his shot" and I hope the Oilers give it to him. If they do and they put him on a second or third line with a decent play maker, he might surprise others with a 20+ goal season but it won't surprise those of us in Caps Nation who've seen his sweet hands from time to time when he's been called up. Personally, he's a guy I wouldn't have been surprised to see give Tomas Fleischmann a run for the money on his roster/contract spot this season had the Capitals opted to resign him and/or vice versa. I don't blame or have any issue with this move on either side though. Like I say, Giroux deserved a shot at the NHL and right now the Caps forwards positions are deep; and as I also said in an earlier post this summer - it needs to be "up or out" so the Bears and the Capitals can make room for some new, and/or younger blood as well. If as it appeared, Giroux wasn't likely to be one of those guys to be fighting for forward # 8-13 on the roster, then both he and the Capitals made the right decision. Good luck Alexandre and here's to the hope that we'll see you in an Oilers Sweater on March 9, 2011 here at Verizon Center.
In other free agent news over the past week, the Capitals also signed Bruins backup goaltender Dany Sabourin, a 29 year old, 10 year pro with 59 games of NHL experience on the second day of free agency. What role and where Sabourin will play (Hershey or Washington) the majority of the 2010-2011 season remains to be seen. That said Sabourin was signed to a one year two-way deal where his 2010-2011 NHL salary is reportedly $525K and his 2010-2011 AHL salary will be $250K. Basically at the NHL level, Sabourin's 2010-2011 salary would be $75K less than it was with the Bruins last season, while his AHL salary would be $25K more than it was last season. Overall, I think this is a good move by both the Capitals and Sabourin. Sabourin is pretty well assured of playing at least at the AHL level next season with a fair amount of ice time. He'll get exposed to some more good coaching from Arturs Irbe and the Capitals/Bears Coaching Staff. The Capitals get another goaltender who could, with enough ice time, prove to be a solid contributor at the NHL level and who though fairly well traveled has 57 games played over 5 seasons in the NHL and has played in a number of good organizations. Further, he's a bit more mature than the other three goalies in the Capitals pipeline and might surprise us all with what he can do. Overall it wasn't a big cost for a good deal of insurance that GMGM was able to obtain.
In other Washington Capitals news, three RFAs have filed for salary arbitration: Eric Fehr, Tomas Fleischmann, and Jeff Schultz. At the end of this process an arbitrator will now decide on the salary each is entitled to for the 2010-2011 season. The Capitals then have 48 hours to accept that determination and offer contracts to the player or he is immediately an Unrestricted Free Agent. As readers here can probably surmise, from my perspective, both Fehr and Schultz are likely going to get raises to which they are entitled out of the process. Of course the process itself leaves a bad taste in everyone's mouths and that's not a good thing - take a look at where the Caps are right now with both Shoane Morrison and Milan Jurcina after having gone through this process over the past two years with each of them. However, as we've seen the process may result in a solid salary for the player and a fair deal for the team like it did in both those cases. That said, having a team's management basically put in a position where in front of an arbitrator they have to list every flaw in a players game while the player and his agent have to put together their best case for how valuable the player is despite the fact he probably did not win either the Norris, Hart or Vezina Trophies the prior season if he is in arbitration. In the end it usually leaves some in management with the feeling the player has some unrealistic aspects to their self image, and the player with the feeling that his skills and loyalty to the organization aren't universally valued by management. Oh well for my two cents, I hope that's not how it ends up going for Jeff Schultz or Eric Fehr. If in the end Tomas Fleischmann ends up with a similar contract to last season , or finds himself moving on, I'm okay with that too. In the end I think all three will find themselves back with the Capitals and I'll likely feel about Flash's 2010-2011 contract what I felt about Jurcina's - while a little on the high side nothing that the Capitals shouldn't pay to keep him and see how things play out for the first 20-30 games of the regular season.
Elsewhere around the NHL the biggest deal/free agent signing so far, in terms of size of contract has ended up being former Predators' d-man Dan Hamhuis' 6 year, $27M (avg cap hit: ) deal with Vancouver. Number 2 on the list has been center Matt Cullen's 3 year, $10.5M deal with Ottawa. These were/are two guys I wouldn't have minded seeing in Capitals' sweaters next season, but not at those prices/terms. So I guess I'm just one of those guys with champagne tastes and a beer budget. Others in the "blogsphere" wanted to see Ottawa blueliner Anton Volchenkov in a Capitals sweater next season, instead, we'll see him in a Devils sweater, playing under a 6 year $25.5M deal. While Paul Martin, formerly of New Jersey will patrol the blue line in Pittsburgh's new arena for the Penguins under a 5 year, $25M contract; also going to Pittsburgh is Zbynek Michalek who will be playing for the Pens under a five year $20M deal after having a great season last year in Phoenix. The Pens made some room for these two by letting veteran Sergei Gonchar become an UFA; Gonchar signed with Ottawa on day 1 of Free Agency - 3 years, $16.5M. In the end, it's clear none of the available blue liners who could really help the Capitals immediately were affordable without some major subsequent moves by them, With John Carlson and Karl Alzner likely ready to step up; a healthy Tom Poti going into a contract year, and two time Norris Trophy finalist Mike Green and the NHL's 2009-2010 +/.- leader Jeff Schultz all likely back next season and on the roster, making such a move at this point just doesn't seem to make sense to me. Of course I'm not one who feels the Capitals need to make major changes to the roster on the blue line, I'm thinking the current players just need to work a little more strength training into their physical conditioning regimine, and they just need to look to hit more and use their God given size to better advantage. Speaking of that, righ now, of the remaining available UFA defensemen, Shaone Morrisonn and Joe Corvo look to me to be two of the best available. Morrisonn's 163 hits last season leave him at #4 in hits for the season of the remaining available UFA defensemen. Corvo's 23.29 minutes TOI/game put him at number one on the list of all available UFA skaters based on that statistic for 2009-2010. It wouldn't surprise me to see Sha-Mo back at the Capitals at ~$1.5M per for two or three years and Corvo back in Carolina for a similar salary to what he made last season.
Another possible second line center for the Capitals I've talked about in the past is/was Saku Koivu of Anaheim. He resigned with the Ducks on day one of free agency - 2 years, $5M ($2.5M/year). Too bad for us Capitals fans, but I think that's a fair deal and good contract for both Anaheim and the 35 year old Finn, Koivu.
Of course, the news everyone seems to be waiting for is where will Ilya Kovalchuk end up. Of all the remaining available unrestricted free agents, the 27 year old Russian sniper is the most prolific, proven offensive talent available. He's also likely the most expensive. According to PuckDaddy and other sources, the LA Kings have made their best and final offer for Kovy and have been judged as falling short by him so now the "derby" for his talents next season are down to two teams - the New Jersey Devils, a player in the game from day one; and surprisingly, the New York Islanders. Puck Update explores what Kovalchuck could mean to the Islanders. Here's some details on what went on between Kovy and the LA Kings who many thought had the inside track in the quest for his services. Earlier this week, James Chen over at From the Rink, wondered aloud if Kovy's demands were sabotaging his contract talks. Who knows, I mean he has apparently turned down a 12 year $101M deal and another shorter $70M contract offer this past season, son we know his demands are pretty big and it's not all just about money or a long term commitment to HIM, it also appears he's also looking to end up with a team who has a long term commitment to excellence.... All that said, the latest rumours over at TSN have him getting closer to a deal to stay in New Jersey.
Okay now back to thinking about the Capitals and next season- given Hamhuis, Leopold, Gonchar, Kubina, and Eaton are blue liners that have all been inked to deals, and centers Saku Koivu, Matt Cullen, and Matthew Lombardi are all under contract off the market. Lombardi inked a three year $10.5M deal with normally frugal Nashville after the Predators "lost" Dan Hamuis to Vancouver. Bottom line is looking at who is left on the UFA market as of this morning July 6th, and what the Capitals need, there's only a few guys I'd consider looking at/talking to if I were GMGM.
Defensemen: Andy Sutton, Brian Pothier, Joe Corvo, Jay McKee, Willie Mitchell, and Shoane Morrisonn. I know that doesn't sound all that great and it's not. I'm not talking about offering these guys any sort of big money, long-term deals. I'm just willing to think that offering them each two year deals at basically what they made in 2009-2010 wouldn't be a bad investment/move if you were GMGM.
Centers: John Madden, Jeff Halpren, Lee Stempniak, Rafi Torres, and Mike Comrie. Again looking at these guys as offering them deals at 1-2 years and similar salaries to what they made last season. I say that because if Eric Belanger isn't worth a three year deal to the Capitals right now, and he isn't, then none of these five guys are. Bottom line here is that if I were GMGM, I'd seriously be trying tot talk to Stan Bowman about a deal that could bring Patrick Sharp to the Capitals, give the Blackhawks some solid prospects/young player(s) (Fleischmann, cough, cough, and one or two others) and additional Cap Space, while keeping Semin since the whole reason to get Sharp is to make sure we have two solid, scoring lines.
Other than that, if I'm GMGM - I'm promoting from within and pushing the team to improve throughout the regular season and peak going into the playoffs. The other thing I'm telling these guys this upcoming season, is streak or no streak, everybody is going to be fully fit and well rested throughout the middle of the season when they play in the lineup. If they are not, then they'll be in the pressbox or a scratch for some other reason - even if the Capitals go an win 25 straight at some point during this upcoming REGULAR season. The whole point will be to play solid hockey, have a good seed going into the playoffs and be ready to win 16 games in the post season. I really feel that whole streak thing ended up having a lot of less than fully desirable unintended consequences.
Anyway, is it September yet?
LETS GO CAPS!!!