I've been looking at the summer 2009 free agents, and I'm having trouble seeing anything the Caps could do or should do other than re-sign some of their own players.
First of all, here is the NHL Numbers free agent widget. You can use the drop-down menus to generate different free agent lists. And here's their Washington Capitals page. I used the NHL Numbers numbers to create an updated version of JP's salaries spreadsheet for 09/10. (JP,feel free to do anything you want with that spreadsheet).
First the facts:
The following Caps players are signed through the 09/10 season: Ovechkin, Nylander, Semin, Clark, Backstrom, Laich, Bradley, Steckel, Green, Poti, Pothier, Alzner, Erskine, and Theodore (also Varlamov and Neuvirth). That's 8 forwards, 5 defensemen and a goalie (with two potential backups).
Assuming the backup goalie costs about 850k (the approximate amount Varlamov and Neuvirth are already signed for, and about what Johnson made in 2008), that's about $48 million. So if the salary cap doesn't change much (and indications are it won't for this year), the Caps probably have between 8-9 million of space.
My last fanpost covered the question of buying out Nylander and Clark. I'm assuming neither will be bought out.
The following Caps players are RFAs: Fehr, Gordon, Morrisonn, Jurcina, Schultz.
The UFAs are Johnson, Brashear, Fedorov and Kozlov.
Theo is the man for at least another year. What's interesting is that Brent Johnson made the same in 2008 as either Varlamov or Neuvirth will next year, so if he re-ups for the same price, the team's going to have an 850k backup one way or the other. This doesn't affect the cap at all -- they can choose whoever is best for the team.
Free agent goalie cap hit: $0
You have to expect next year's top six to include Poti, Alzner, Green, who are already signed.
Pothier will be on the last year of his contract in 09/10. He's the biggest question mark. If he is healthy and plays well enough to earn his cap hit, the team is in good shape. If he can't play, the team has his salary to play with using the LTIR exemption like they did this year. Worst case scenario is that he's capable of playing, but plays poorly. That could lead to a buyout, which would free up 1.667M in 09/10, but it would also cost the team 800+K in the crucial 2010 offseason when they're trying to re-sign Semin and Backstrom. So that's not a good option. Bottom line is that Pothier either earns his way onto the top 6, or his salary is used to pay for a replacement (either by LTIR or buyout). Pothier or his replacement is the fourth top-six defenseman.
I'm sure the Caps will re-sign Schultz. I could see him getting a long term deal for between 1.5M and 2M a year, but if he doesn't I figure he'd be around 1 Million. That's defenseman number 5.
Erskine is already under contract. He's either a sixth or seventh defenseman.
Morrisonn is a fascinating question. It'll take 2 Million to keep him. If Pothier can't play or doesn't play well, I think Pothier's cap money goes to keeping Mo. If Pothier is healthy and plays well, then 2 Million for Mo might be hard to justify, given the situation with forwards discussed below. A lot it depends on how Mo plays in the playoffs.
I think Juice is overpriced at 900K, and he probably won't sign for less. I don't see him coming back. You can get that value a few hundred thousand dollars cheaper with someone like Kronwall (a UFA). But if Juice has a good playoffs, he could earn that salary. I don't see any way the team can keep all three of Pothier, Juice and Mo.
The Hershey callups other than Alzner haven't really impressed me (Sloan, Collins, Helmer). If the team doesn't keep Mo or Juice, I wouldn't be surprised to see them pick up a cheap free agent 6/7 defenseman from somebody. But after looking at the UFA defensemen around the league, none of the big names look all that attractive at what they will cost.
The Caps have 8 forwards under contract, but although I don't think Nylander will be bought out, I also don't think the team can count on him for a major role next year. So the team needs to sign 5 forwards to be sure it has 12 who can play. I think Fehr and Gordon will be re-signed for less than 2 Million combined.
With Fehr and Gordon in the fold, the centers are Backstrom, Steckel and Gordon. The right wings are Chris Clark and Eric Fehr. Laich can fill in at either of those positions, but it's pretty clear that the team is missing a 2nd line center (unless Nylander can step up) and a top line right wing. After looking at the free agents, I can't find anyone who makes more sense for the price than Kozlov and Fedorov. The two of them this year cost 6.5 Million combined, but one would hope Fedorov (4 Million) might agree to a pay cut. Kozlov has been a bargain at 2.5 Million.
I don't see Brashear coming back. That leaves the team short one forward. That last forward probably has to be someone who is currently at Hershey, signed for 700K or less. Chris Bourque is my bet.
I think about 3-4 Million goes to Schultz, Gordon, Fehr, and a forward from Hershey. At that point the team has 2 goalies, 6 defensemen, and 10 forwards (not including Nylander). That leaves a 4-6 Million budget for a second line center (Fedorov?), a top line right wing (Kozlov?), and a seventh defenseman. That's pretty tight, so don't expect any major moves to pick up a big name.
Semin, Backstrom, Fleischmann and Neuvirth are RFAs in the summer of 2010. Semin already makes 5M a year, but Backstrom only makes 850K. You have to bet that both with get raises, and Backstrom's will be very big. And everyone seems to think the salary cap could drop -- maybe significantly.
Pothier and Theodore are UFAs in the summer of 2010. That's 6 M of cap hit. Assuming Kozlov and Fedorov sign 1 year deals, they would also be UFAs. By replacing Pothier with Carlson, Theodore with one of the young goalies, and Kozlov and Fedorov with young players (maybe Bouchard or Perrault or Osala), the team can fund the salary increases for Semin and Backstrom.
This exercise makes me realize how good a job GMGM is doing. The team clearly has a plan. Things are tight, but that just means they're maximizing the resources available to them. The team is definitely not in cap hell. A few pieces of bad luck could put them there (Pothier playing poorly in 2009, no young goalie panning out in 2010, injuries at any time to Ovechkin, Backstrom or Green), but that's true of every team.