The Other Free Agent Discussion

As the NHL prepares for the Mid-Summer Classic Stanley Cup Finals, many of us hockey fans find our minds turning (if they haven't already) to the off-season. Trades. The Draft. New uniforms. Free agency. Rookie camp. Ice Girls. Heck, the season ended on Tuesday night for 99.8 percent of us anyway, so the off-season is upon us.

And while we've spent a lot of time talking about which free agents we'd like to see in Capitals red, white and blue next fall, we haven't spent as much time discussing those who may not be a part of the Caps' future.

With all of that in mind, then, let's take a look at the Caps who will become free agents on July 1.

First, there are the unrestricted free agents (UFAs). These are the guys who can go anywhere they can find work and for whom the Caps would receive no compensation should it be somewhere other than D.C.:
  • Bryan Muir (2006-07 salary: $600,000)
That's it (of any significance whatsoever). Before bidding farewell to Muir, I must note that he did finish the season with a plus-3 rating and had more points per game than any full-time Caps blueliner not named Brian Pothier. That said, I can't see Muir fitting into the team's plans next season, but imagine he'll find work somewhere as a 7th or 8th defenseman.

Now come the Restricted Free Agents (RFAs). These are the guys who, because of tenure in the League or NHL games played aren't free to just sign with whomever they please (unless the Caps don't tender the player a qualifying offer, which is basically an offer sheet with a five or ten percent raise, depending on the player's 2006-07 salary). Once the Caps qualify a player, if he signs with another team, the Caps would have the right to match that offer OR receive compensation from that team for poaching their player, as follows:

$773,442 or less - None
$773,442 to $1,171,882 - 3rd round pick
$1,171,882 to $2,343,764 - 2nd round pick
$2,343,764 to $3,515,645 - 1st and 3rd round pick
$3,515,645 to $4,687,527 - 1st, 2nd, and 3rd round pick
$4,687,527 to $5,859,412 - Two 1st's, one 2nd, one 3rd round pick
$5,859,412 or more - Four 1st round picks

In other words, when Buffalo, seeking to replace Daniel Briere, signs Brian Sutherby to a 5-year, $30 million contract, the Caps will get four first round picks from the Sabres. This is pretty much what happened when St. Louis signed Scott Stevens away from the Caps - Stevens was an RFA, the Caps qualified him, the Blues made him an offer that the Caps chose not to match (a decision that likely will be debated forever in CapsNation), and the Caps got five picks in return (the compensation schedule was a bit different under that Collective Bargaining Agreement).

Who are the Caps RFAs this year (and while you're at it, take a sneak peek, if you dare, at next year's RFA class)?
  • Steve Eminger (2006-07 salary: $993,000; Minimum qualifying offer for 2007-08: $1,042,650)
  • Brian Sutherby (2006-07 salary: $800,000; Minimum qualifying offer for 2007-08: $840,000)
  • Jakub Klepis (2006-07 salary: $722,000; Minimum qualifying offer for 2007-08: $758,100)
  • Kris Beech (2006-07 salary: $700,000; Minimum qualifying offer for 2007-08: $735,000)
  • Jonas Johansson (2006-07 salary: $646,000; Minimum qualifying offer for 2007-08: $710,600)
  • Jamie Hunt (2006-07 salary: $635,000; Minimum qualifying offer for 2007-08: $698,500)
  • Matt Stefanishion (2006-07 salary: $635,000; Minimum qualifying offer for 2007-08: $698,500)
  • Brooks Laich (2006-07 salary: $606,000; Minimum qualifying offer for 2007-08: $666,600)
  • Tomas Fleischmann (2006-07 salary: $602,000; Minimum qualifying offer for 2007-08: $662,200)
  • John Erskine (2006-07 salary: $575,000; Minimum qualifying offer for 2007-08: $632,500)
  • Alexandre Giroux (2006-07 salary: $550,000; Minimum qualifying offer for 2007-08: $605,000)
  • Maxime Daigneault (2006-07 salary: $507,000; Minimum qualifying offer for 2007-08: $557,700)
  • Dave Steckel (2006-07 salary: $500,000; Minimum qualifying offer for 2007-08: $550,000)
  • Milan Jurcina (2006-07 salary: $500,000; Minimum qualifying offer for 2007-08: $550,000)
  • Jiri Novotny (2006-07 salary: $450,000; Minimum qualifying offer for 2007-08: $495,000)
Easy enough - qualify everyone (even Johansson, who seems to be a total stiff, despite "having the tools"). If these guys don't play in the NHL, it doesn't count against the cap, if they're not qualified and they walk, the Caps get nothing, and hey, it ain't my money. For historical perspective, the Caps qualified all of their RFAs last year. And the year before that. And the year before that. You get the point - qualifying these guys is pretty much routine and a given. The tougher part will be signing some of them.

We can assume that most of the players above will accept their qualifying offers because, frankly, it's as good as it's gonna get right now. This includes all the guys who have no shot at making the big club next year, as well as some who will.

For example, Laich signed his qualifying offer last year, but may feel he's due a bit more than a 10% raise this time around. But considering that he posted nearly identical numbers as he had the previous season, he should sign his QO (or something similar in annual salary). The same goes for Eminger and Sutherby - neither did anything last year that made me say, "Man, that dude deserves a big raise."

The one player that sticks out in my mind as deserving more than the minimum bump is Jurcina. Jerky really impressed over the course of his "tryout" in D.C., pairing wonderfully with Shaone Morrisonn and finishing with a plus-5 rating in those 30 games despite usually being sent out against opponents' top offensive lines. He has a booming shot, is a big hitter and, at just 23, has loads of potential (as a point of comparison, Zdeno Chara had 2 goals, 9 assists and a minus-27 rating as a 23-year-old).

So how much is Jurcina worth? If you've been reading this blog for a while, you know that I'm a big believer in the importance of a team salary structure. Pothier will make $2.5 million next year, Morrisonn $900,000 and Mike Green $850,000 (those last two will be RFAs next year). In addition, at least one yet-to-be-named free agent defenseman will make more than Pothier (presumably in the vast $3-$6m range). To me, then, Jurcina is worth a deal in the neighborhood of $1.25 million. But if he asked for $1.5m, I'd much rather pay that than take a second round pick to compensate my loss.

UPDATE: I've been corrected - Brian Willsie was NOT qualified last year. I guess rooming with Alex Ovechkin for a year was compensation enough.

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