The Capitals and the Free Agent Landscape

April 2, 2012; Tampa FL, USA; Washington Capitals left wing Alexander Semin (28) is congratulated by teammates after he scored a goal against the Tampa Bay Lightning during the second period at Tampa Bay Times Forum. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-US PRESSWIRE

Starting at noon on Sunday, the NHL will kick off that annual rite known widely as the Free Agent Frenzy - when newly minted unrestricted free agents will hit the open market and wreak havoc on owners' bank accounts.

And while that could mean a choice free agent or two will be heading to DC, it also means that we will once again have to bid farewell to some players we've rooted for over the last season (or longer). In fact, the process has already begun, with several pending free agents being informed that they would not be back and some having already found new teams.

After the jump, a look at those who could be headed out the door (and some who have already closed it behind them), the legacy they leave behind and some potential replacements.

Jeff Halpern (UFA; Rink Wrap)
Thanks for the Memories: Halpern's second tour of duty with his hometown team didn't last nearly as long as his first, but it was a nice burst of nostalgia for those of us who remember the local boy-turned-shutdown line hero-turned captain and a reminder of why it was so sad when he left the first time around. And while he didn't exactly set the world on fire offensively, he was a good soldier who did his job well (and handled it like a pro when he was benched in the playoffs). This was likely his final go-round with the Caps, and as he heads out into the free agent unknown we certainly wish him well.

Why the Caps Will Miss Him: Great faceoff men are hard to come by, and Halpern has become a great faceoff man. He was that hard-working, third-/fourth-line guy who could win the draws, kill the penalties and give you the same effort night in and night out - while also providing a bit of veteran leadership to a team that needed it.

How the Caps Replace Him: They may have already. One of the reasons that Halpern became expendable this summer was the emergence of Jay Beagle, who capped off an increasingly successful regular season with a great (albeit injury-shortened) playoff performance. Looking outside the organization? An Adam Burish type might fit the bill, as would a Zenon Konopka type. And Paul Gaustad might look halfway decent in a Caps' sweater, too.

Mike Knuble (UFA; Rink Wrap)
Thanks for the Memories: It's kind of amazing to think that Knuble has only been with the Caps for three years; sometimes it seems as though the team's elder statesman has been around forever. But it was almost exactly three years ago that the former Red Wing/Bruin/Ranger/Flyer got the call to join the Caps - and for us fans, it's been a privilege to watch him pull on that red, white and blue jersey every night. The Winter Classic. The 1000th game. The Assist. He may have lost a step or two this year, and the production dipped way below Knuble-esque standards; hell, he only managed one point against the Penguins, a team he has traditionally owned. Still, he's been a great ambassador for the team and one of the classiest guys around, and he will be missed.

Why the Caps Will Miss Him: Aside from that good guy persona that's made him a fan favorite, Knuble's best moments as a Cap were what you'd expect - those times when his big frame was parked in front of the net, waiting for an Ovechkin rebound or a Backstrom wraparound to bury while making life miserable for both the opposition goalie and the defense. And seriously... now who's going to haunt the Penguins??

How the Caps Replace Him: With Knuble goes a wealth of veteran knowledge and composure, the guy who could make the team sit up and listen when he spoke. Travis Moen could make a nice addition in that role if he can be wrestled away from Montreal, and Daymond Langkow's fresh off a nice bounceback year with the Coyotes (although he'd need to take a significant paycut from the $4.5 million contract he had with Phoenix). And speaking of the 'Yotes - it's certainly not an apples-to-apples comparison (or anything short of a complete fantasy) but boy would Shane Doan ever make a nice addition to the Caps' top six.

Dennis Wideman (Signed with Calgary 6/27; Rink Wrap)
Thanks for the Memories: Wideman's tenure in DC stretches back to last year's trade deadline, when he was acquired from Florida; thanks to that horrifyingly icky injury he suffered at the end of last season, however, most of his memorable moments came in the 2011-12 season. And there were plenty to go around, including some very nice goals, a pretty decent shot from the blueline and his first career invite to the All-Star Game. Sure, there were times that his defensive coverage was... well, as horrifyingly icky as that leg contusion. Still, that's the high-risk aspect that comes along with an offensive-minded blueliner, and what he lacked in defensive awareness he often made up for in pure point production.

Why the Caps Will Miss Him: On a team whose power play struggled at times (to say the least) and whose top two offensive defensemen were either injured or slumping, Wideman was often counted upon to be the engine that drove the team. That he wasn't always up to it wasn't entirely his fault, but it was a valiant effort and one the Caps desperately needed this year.

How the Caps Replace Him: Dmitry Orlov will likely become a regular part of the team after growing by leaps and bounds last year, but with Wideman setting sail for Calgary's Sea of Red there's still a need for another defenseman to shore up the Caps' blue line. Ryan Suter, Jason Garrison and Matt Carle are the top defensemen available at the moment, but since both options are likely to carry a hefty price tag, the Caps may have to look elsewhere - like maybe helping Bryan Allen continue his tour of Southeast teams. And if the Caps are looking for a partner for Orlov, how about a guy who's already been credited with helping his transition to the North American game and who had a heck of a comeback 2011-12 season in Sheldon Souray? And there's always Joe Corv-...HA. No.

Alexander Semin (UFA; Rink Wrap)
Thanks for the Memories: Sasha, Sasha, Sasha. What can be said about Semin that hasn't already been said time and time again? Insanely talented. Mysterious. Frustrating. The relationship between Alex 2.0 and his team has been an up-and-down one from the start, one that's been filled with immense beauty and headscratching invisibility, annoyance coupled with hilarity... wrapped in one enigmatic package. And so after nine long (loooong) years, dozens of sneaky wristers and more hooking penalties than you can count, all signs seem to point to this dysfunctional relationship coming to an end. Godspeed, Sasha.

Why the Caps Will Miss Him: Because guys with that kind of talent just don't grow on trees, whether or not he always chose to use it. Because 40-goal guys are going to be at a premium in this limited free agent market. And because you know - you just KNOW - that in his first game against his former team he's picking up a hat trick. I mean you just know it.

How the Caps Replace Him: How do you replace a guy like Alex Semin? How do you catch a wave upon the sand? The answer to both is simple: you don't. But you can try, and the first step is bringing in another top-6 forward who can pick up the slack offensively. We've mentioned Shane Doan as a sort of dream scenario, but if you want to talk the ultimate dream, that guy from the Devils would be sort of a decent option. Barring that, Jiri Hudler and P.A. Parenteau are both young-ish wingers who could provide that offensive spark at a slightly more reasonable price tag, as could the not young-ish Mikael Samuelsson. Or if the asking price isn't too high (ha!), perhaps kick the tires on a trade to bring in Bobby Ryan from Anaheim.

And here's a fun little ulcer-inducing limb to go out on: Jaromir Jagr. Remember him?

Tomas Vokoun (Signed with Pittsburgh 6/4)
Thanks for the Memories: Vokoun was the gift that sort of fell into George McPhee's lap last summer, the free agent signing that, at the time, seemed to be the coup to end all coups. Here was a guy who was considered among the League's elite, and he was offering himself to a team that would otherwise have gone forward with two young, relatively untested goaltenders for the bargain price of $1.5 million. And while the results weren't exactly what many hoped for, and his season was cut short thanks to a groin injury, Vokoun did have his moments of brilliance for the Caps. What's more, he gave Michal Neuvirth and Braden Holtby a little more time to mature, evolve, and develop the hunger to be the team's #1 goalie.

Why the Caps Will Miss Him: It may not have been an issue for the team in the playoffs, but just as in any other position in hockey there's something to be said for having a veteran there to serve as mentor, calming presence, sounding board, motivational speaker, etc. With Vokoun signing with the Penguins - and thus becoming dead to all of us - the Caps go back to a rotation of two young, relatively untested goaltenders. And that's not without risks.

How the Caps Replace Him: You know those two young, relatively untested goaltenders we keep talking about? Time for them to become young, battle-worn goaltenders. Both have been through tough regular season stretches and both have faced the rigors of the postseason - look for one (or both) to be more than happy to step in. And if the team at some point finds itself needing a veteran presence in net, those guys are always available.

Mike Green (RFA; Rink Wrap)
Thanks for the Memories: Green was part of that stellar 2004 first round trio that included Jeff Schultz and, of course, Alex Ovechkin; since then we've seen him evolve from a baby-faced defenseman on a leash to a an offensive (albeit oft-injured) juggernaut whose speed and grace going from one end of the rink to the other is unlike anyone else. And despite some often unfair criticism, he's actually turned into a pretty good defenseman in his own right. When he's healthy, he's the guy who makes the power play tick, who gets plays going, who can take care of business in his own end with his speed and physicality. When he's healthy.

Why the Caps Will Miss Him: If the Caps should be unable to come to terms with the pending restricted free agent, they'll be losing one of the better young offensive blueliners in the game right now - and it's not as if he'd be easy to replace, either. Doubt the Kings are planning to part with Drew Doughty anytime soon.

How the Caps Replace Him: Ryan Suter. Matt Carle. Nick Lidstrom's clone. The price is too high if you're replacing a Dennis Wideman, but if Green goes, at least two of those guys need to get a serious look from the team. Or they could go the opposite of the slick, puck-moving defenseman and try to convince San Jose to give them Douglas Murray, who is rumored to be on the block. Yes, please.

John Carlson (RFA; Rink Wrap)
Thanks for the Memories: His 2011-12 season may have been one we'd all like to forget - until the playoffs rolled around, that is - but Carlson is still one of the game's more promising young defenseman and, sophomore stumble aside, he's probably only going to get better. Carlson made a name for himself in a very short span of time, going from overtime hero in the World Juniors for Team USA to late-season callup and playoff star in the 2010 first round series against Montreal. Since then he's developed into one-half of the team's top defensive duo, helping partner Karl Alzner shut down the opposition's toughest lines night after night and doing so with a skill well beyond his age.

Why the Caps Will Miss Him: Carlson's got the skill, he's got the physicality, and we learned in the Boston series that he's got a fair amount of chippiness to him, as well - when it all comes together he's going to be something to see (and he's already pretty darn fun). It would be a shame to see him put it all together for some other team.

How the Caps Replace Him: Should the soon-to-be RFA hit the road, look no further than the guys who could replace Green in a similar situation - Suter, Carle, maybe a Filip Kuba or Pavel Kubina for a bit more experience on the blue line.

Mathieu Perreault (RFA; Rink Wrap)
Thanks for the Memories: Perreault has turned into something of a feel-good story this year, as the kid who seemed destined to be stuck in the purgatory between the AHL and the NHL for the rest of his career. He finally made the opening night roster out of training camp for the first time last fall, but it was in December when an injury to Nicklas Backstrom opened the door for Perreault - and he ran right through it. Perreault was never going to replace Backstrom, but his performance in Backstrom's absence made a lot of people sit up and take notice, as he really seemed to raise his game just when the team needed it the most.

Oh, and if you're looking for a memorable Matty P moment... this. What a trooper.

Why the Caps Will Miss Him: Because no one scores a goal with his face quite like Perreault does. Plus, the fact is there's just not a whole lot out there in free agent land that fits the same mold as a Mathieu Perreault - someone who can chip in on offense but surprisingly fit in fairly well on the third- and fourth-lines without missing a beat.

How the Caps Replace Him: Like we said, pickings are slim right now via the free agent route, although Parenteau could be that guy if the Caps were so inclined (and would likely be an upgrade) - as could Alexei Ponikarovsky, coming off a pretty decent season with the Stanley Cup Finalist Devils. If the Caps would prefer to go the trade route, someone like Patrik Berglund in St. Louis might be an interesting option, as well.

Jay Beagle (RFA; Rink Wrap)
Thanks for the Memories: The man whose name launched a thousand puns has been on a similar path as Perreault, toiling in the minors for the past few years and serving as a swing player between Hershey and DC. And, like Perreault, he made the roster right out of camp this year - but his season didn't have quite the same storybook feel to it, as Arron Asham made sure it was an injury-shortened campaign. Beagle managed to work his way back from a concussion, though, and back into the lineup just in time to become one of Dale Hunter's go-to guys down the stretch and into the postseason. He picked up two points in the playoffs (an amazing pace considering he has just ten regular season points in his entire career) and was easily one of the team's best players before another injury cut his playoff run short.

Why the Caps Will Miss Him: There may not be many guys who work as hard as Beagle does, and while he'll never have the skill that some of the top guys have you can't underestimate the work ethic and heart that he's brought to the rink every night. It's one of those things that can't be quantified but you know it when you see it, and Beagle's got it.

How the Caps Replace Him: If the Caps were somehow unable to lock Beagle up, they might look at the team that beat them this past spring and go after Brandon Prust to replace him (although it would be an upgrade in salary for sure). Jay McClement might be an interesting fit, as well, while also fulfilling the team's quota of guys named "Jay" - always a priority.

****************


**List excludes those who were not permanently on an NHL roster. Other unsigned free agents within the organization:

UFA - D.J. King, Keith Aucoin, Sean Collins, Kyle Greentree, Jordan Henry
RFA - Christian Hanson, Joel Rechlicz

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