Tomorrow marks the opening day of NHL free agency and the Washington Capitals look to be at least mildly active with holes to fill, but General Manager George McPhee and the organization needs to pinch their pennies and save for the future in their moves.
The team made a big splash in free agency last year signing free agents like Joel Ward and Roman Hamrlik to contracts not exactly team friendly. Both players’ contract lengths and cap hits were not supposed to matter though, as they were supposed to help Washington bring the Stanley Cup home for the first time. Looking back now, Washington wasn’t as successful as they should have been, failed to improve on their previous playoff best and ultimately fell short of their goal, with Ward and Hamrlik providing little in the way of support. Now the team is saddled with two bad deals, two players who do not fit what they are looking for and cap hits they can not do anything about.
Perhaps the best news for GMGM is the fact this year is a new year. Part of the beauty of sports is the fact every year is a fresh start for a team. Owners and general managers can find new pieces and spare parts to combine and start another run at the elusive Cup. Despite being able to forget some of the mistakes of the past, the Caps need to remember how painful those big contracts will be heading forward and find solid players at the right price.
There are a lot of big name free agents out there for the Caps’ taking, guys like Ryan Suter and Zach Parise. Despite the two of them being tremendous talents, Washington should not even consider adding them. Yes they would be top players, but the risk of adding another bad contract to the books prevents the team from potentially locking up its star players like John Carlson and Karl Alzner in the future and also rebuilding if needed. Instead, the organization needs to add productive players who have short term deals.
Guys like Jiri Hudler, Niklas Hagman and Carlo Colaiacovo are players who are above average, but more importantly wont demand long contracts or high salaries to fill a need. Washington has holes on their top two lines and on their top defensive pairing and need to think smarter, not harder, when it comes to filling those holes. Look at an organization like the Detroit Red Wings, who have continued to fill their roster holes with lower priced castaways and aging veterans to the tune of two Stanley Cups and three finals trips in just over 10 years.
Fans may clamor for the big names in free agency, but the organization needs to resist the temptation, since this team could either be on the brink of long term success or catastrophic failure. Even if it may be a negative outlook to take, thinking the team in its current construction might not fair well, it is one the Caps need to keep in the back of their mind. Whoever they sign, they need to be able to jettison quickly, just in case they do have to reshape the team. Nothing can hinder a rebuilding or reloading plan more than a bad contract, just look at the Montreal Canadiens with Scott Gomez, so the Caps must make sure they do not give a player too much money or too many years.
There are a plethora of options out there for McPhee to peruse and ultimately offer deals to, he just has to make sure they are the right player at the right price. He has made mistakes in signings before — see Jagr, Jaromir — but has also shown a smart frugal sensibility by signing highly productive players like Mike Knuble and Matt Hendricks. Good players at better prices are available this year, it is just up to McPhee to make sure he finds them to ensure this team can succeed for years to come.