After yet another disappointing exit from the playoffs, and given the number of free agents to be from the current roster, I wanted to get a discussion going on how people think our lineup is going to shake out for opening night next year. The combination of long time Caps needing new deals (both restricted and unrestricted free agents) and deadline rental players means that obviously there will be some faces gone from the lineup we iced in our 2nd round collapse come next year.
Going into the playoffs, our forward lines and defensive pairs looked something like this:
Hannan/Erskine (Green started off with Erskine but played with Schultz as well)
Healthy scratches: Beagle, King, Fehr, Sloan (basically assuming Collins won't be back or in AHL)
Injured players: Wideman, Poti
Goalies: Neuvirth, Varlamov (basically assuming these two will be our 2 goalies come start of next year, feel free to debate that)
Out of the playoff roster, 18 of those players are still under contract for next season. Our projected cap space after adding up those 18 cap hits is roughly $8.5 million using this year's salary cap number. The free agents breakdown as follows...
Unrestricted: Arnott, Sturm, Laich, Bradley, Gordon, Hannan
Restricted: Alzner, Varlamov
Commentary: Not getting into exact dollar amounts here, because I have no idea what to expect Varly to sign for or if he has any thoughts of the KHL in his mind...and given the weird extensions some of our D men have received recently I'm not sure what Alzner is looking for/will get. As far as the UFA's go, the only one I'm above 90% sure will be brought back is Gordon. He PK's, he filled in quite fell as our faceoff specialist after getting rid of Steckel's bad contract, and should be fairly cheap. I wouldn't want to commit to more than a 2 year deal given his back issues, but I assume he'll be back. Sturm I don't really expect to be back unless we feel like we need 2nd/3rd line type depth to even out the lines and keep some of the bottom 6 wingers from having to play a line higher than they should be. I wouldn't want to pay him more than $2 million a year either, and preferably on a 1 year deal. Arnott I doubt will be brought back, unless he takes a significant pay cut. Also, GMGM might think Johannson is ready to step up and be the 2C, and Arnott probably would be too expensive as a 3C. The possibility that someone like Eakin might be able to step up and make the roster as 3C also could factor in to the decision, although he might need some time in the AHL before he's ready for that. Bradley I think isn't worth what he will cost, and seems a little redundant after we signed Hendricks to his deal. Laich and Hannan probably end up pricing the other out, and it's possible we might not even bring back either guy. I'd like to keep them both, but Hannan would have to take a pay cut, and I'd only want him on a 2 year deal max, when he'll probably want at least a 3 year deal. As for Laich, many of us believe some team will throw a deal at him that pays him $4 mil a year plus, and I hope we don't pay him quite that much. $3.5 million would be about my limit, and even that I would cringe a little wishing he would take a little less money to stay here if he really wanted to win a Cup in DC.
Based on who we still have under contract, the lines basic framework probably look a little something like this in GMGM's head.
1st: Ovechkin-Backstrom-Knuble (no change, Ovie and Nicky here long term and Knubs on 1 year deal)
2nd: ?-Johannson-Semin (Possibly Arnott at center, but MJ90 I think is likely and Semin on a 1 year deal. Who the other wing on that line is will depend on which UFA's we bring back or if they want to try out someone like Fehr in the top 6)
3rd: Chimera-MP/Eakin-? (If we don't bring back Arnott, Laich, or Sturm, there will be lots of holes to fill on the 2nd an 3rd lines. Maybe a guy like Andrew Gordon gets another look, and if Eakin isn't ready MP could get a longer look at 3C next year...although his chance may have come and gone.)
4th: Hendricks-Gordon-Beagle/Bradley (King might get spot duty if we keep him around to eat nachos again next year, but 4th line is pretty set. Only question is whether or not we bring back Brads, but Beagle has filled in at least capably in limited time and would be fine in a grinding role)
Defense pairings are a little more interesting given the injury status and extension status of Tom Poti. The other wild cards are whether we bring back Hannan and/or decide to trade or keep Wideman. Wideman has one year left on his deal and is a very movable asset, and should be perfectly healthy for the start of next year. I would bet my life on us bringing back Alzner as well. Carlznerson may have hit a bit of a wall at the end of the year, but the sky is the limit with those two as a pairing.
7D and 8D: Erskine and Sloan...although the less of Sloan I see on the ice the better. Depending on Poti's health, Hannan possibly being brought back, and whether or not we keep Wideman...Erskine could see significant time in the lineup again next year. I still think Erskine's best suited to fill that 7D role, but he filled in quite well as a 6D for a lot of the season, and even had stretches of very solid play in the playoffs. It's when he has to be a 5D with a Sloan or a Collins type as the 6D that we should all be worried.
First Fanpost I've ever done, feel free to blast away ;). Only way for me to get the bad taste out of my mouth is to start thinking about how we move forward and what pieces we may need or will be missing from this year's group.