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2009 NHL Free Agency: What The Caps Should Do

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Around the League, GM's are getting their hunting permits in order as they prepare for the opening of free agent season on Wednesday, and even the most hardened fan can't help but have at least a little Christmas Eve-like optimism that maybe this year Santa their team will surprise them with more than could have hoped for. Here's a quick look at where the Caps stand as of right now:

Pending UFAs: Donald Brashear, Alexandre Giroux, Brent Johnson, Viktor Kozlov (signed with Ufa), Sergei Fedorov (signed with Magnitogorsk), Staffan Kronwall

Pending RFAs: Chris Bourque, Eric Fehr, Boyd Gordon, Milan Jurcina, Shaone Morrisonn, Jeff Schultz

Salary cap space: Approximately $10 million

Projected budget: $56.8 million (i.e. the cap, though they likely won't spend to that point to leave room for injuries and mid-season/deadline acquisitions)

Key needs: The trendy pick is defense, but the Capitals already control seven NHL-caliber defensemen (eight if you count Karl Alzner) and right now the team's top two right wings are Chris Clark and Tomas Fleischmann, and the second line center is Brooks Laich.  In other words, this team needs help up front a lot more than they need help on the back end and finding a wing for the top line and a center for the second should be top priorities right now.  If the team manages to fill those holes (and has any salary cap space left) they can start looking to upgrade their blue line or for another top six right wing.  It's important to remember, though, that Nicklas Backstrom and Alexander Semin both become restricted free agents after next season, so the team will need to be wary of any significant multi-year contracts.

Potential free agent targets include: Mike Knuble, Erik Cole, Robert Lang, Taylor Pyatt, Mikael Samuelsson, Mike Cammalleri, Jason Williams, Brian Gionta, and Nik Antropov (and perhaps some of the lower priced blueliners listed on Mirtle's big board, like a Johnny Oduya - a late-round George McPhee draft pick that got away)

What our rivals want: Pittsburgh wants to find a legitimate top six winger other than Chris Kunitz (or to just keep everyone they had when they... well, you know).  Philadelphia (desperately) wants to find someone to take Daniel Briere off their hands in order to allow them to have an option besides Ray Emery in net for next season. Carolina wants Erik Cole to stay and to figure out what the hell happened to Rod Brind`Amour this past season.

So there's a snapshot of what the Caps' situation is heading into free agency. Any and all thoughts on this assessment are welcome in the comments, and be sure to check in on what the other teams around the League are thinking via the SB Nation NHL Free Agency Hub, which should be your number one source for home team analysis on all the free agent wheelin' and dealin'.