Heading into this offseason, the Caps identified their biggest need as a top-six winger - but with a relatively weak (and therefore overpriced) pool of forwards available July 1, GM Brian MacLellan seemed to be leaning towards filling that need via trade rather than free agency.
Ah, but things move pretty fast in the NHL... and that once-weak group of unrestricted free agents has grown over the last few days, with cap-strapped teams looking to free up some dollars by buying out pricey contracts. Players like P.A. Parenteau, Brad Boyes and our old friend Alexander Semin have found themselves suddenly thrust into free agency ahead of today's deadline - and they could end up being a bargain for whatever team is able to acquire them.
While the Caps seemed wary of delving into the high-priced world of free agency this year, the addition of these new names to the pool could offer a lower-priced solution. So who's available?
Brad Boyes (RW)
Former Team: Florida Panthers
Previous AAV: $2,625,000
Why the Caps should sniff around: Boyes is probably not the guy you want filling a top-line winger role, but if the Caps wanted to use some in-house talent in that spot and instead shore up their middle six, he might not be a bad option. After a couple of down years with the Islanders and Buffalo, Boyes has put up some decent numbers over his last two seasons in Florida, with 35 goals and 74 points in 156 games.
Over the course of his 13-year career, Boyes has been strong at even strength, with a Corsi-for % below 50% just twice in that span and 60 of his last 74 points being scored five on five. He's one of those "does the little things" guys, playing on the power play and chipping in with takeaways and the occasional faceoff win, but also has an offensive upside that could provide a secondary-scoring boost as needed (and has historically been a shootout stud, if you're into that kind of thing). And coming off of an AAV under $3 million, he may be one of the cheaper options available.
Why the Caps should steer clear: He's been a decent scorer over the years, but the consistency hasn't necessarily been there for Boyes - and having just turned 33, those offensive numbers are more likely to continue to dip. Even his shootout goals took a hit last season. And while the underlying numbers are strong overall, he hasn't gotten quite the offensive output that the Caps may be looking for, having cracked the 20-goal mark just once in his last eight seasons (and just three times in his career overall).
P.A. Parenteau (RW)
Former Team: Montreal Canadiens
Previous AAV: $4,000,000
Why the Caps should sniff around: A late draft pick (9th round) in 2001, 32-year-old Parenteau has only been a regular NHLer for the last five seasons - but he's been fairly successful since gaining a toehold in the NHL, with double-digit goal totals in four of those five years, and 227 points in 347 games overall. Parenteau's been a very good possession player despite playing on some pretty horrible possession teams (like last year's Montreal squad or the 2012-2014 Avalanche teams), and is able to play on the power play or at even strength.
Parenteau never quite found a place in the Canadiens' lineup, sitting out as a healthy scratch on a number of occasions - which could make him hungry for a bounceback season with a new team.
Why the Caps should steer clear: The fact that Parenteau was a healthy scratch on an offensively-challenged Montreal team is a bit of a red flag, as were his struggles overall last season. He's 32 and has played in parts of just seven seasons, with none of his stops lasting longer than two seasons... another red flag, if only because it shows he's yet to find a lineup where he fits. He's also had difficulty putting up points in the playoffs (just 15 games overall, and five points total), and his offense has dipped in each of his last two seasons, in part because he hasn't played more than 56 games in either one.
Viktor Stalberg (LW)
Former Team: Nashville Predators
Previous AAV: $3,000,000
Why the Caps should sniff around: Stalberg is a big-bodied winger with a Cup ring, a member of the 2013 Blackhawks (and a casualty of the last time Chicago ran into salary cap issues). At just 29, he's the youngest on this list - and the one with perhaps the most to prove, after a disappointing two-year run with the Predators that included a brief demotion to their AHL team in Milwaukee. He's not a particularly prolific scorer, but has had some extremely strong years in terms of possession (most of which, not surprisingly, coincided with his time in Chicago) - and he's got the potential to put up some offense and provide a bit more of that "heavy" game the Caps seem to be leaning towards these days.
Why the Caps should steer clear: With just one 20-goal season under his belt, and single-digit goal totals the last three years, Stalberg is simply not at the offensive level the Caps are likely looking for to fill a top-six role. What he brings to the table, they've pretty much already got. Add in the fact that he's never averaged more than 15 minutes of ice time a night in his career, and has very little experience on either the power play or the penalty kill, and there's just not that much there that should be interesting in Stalberg's game for the Caps.
Alexander Semin (RW)
Former Team: Carolina Hurricanes
Previous AAV: $7,000,000
Why the Caps should sniff around: For a team that has at times struggled to get secondary scoring - particularly since Semin's departure from DC three summers ago - bringing in a guy who is capable of putting up at least 20 goals in a season wouldn't be the worst thing in the world. Bringing in one who has some familiarity with most of the current Caps, and chemistry with several of them,
Why the Caps should steer clear: There's a lot to love about what Semin can potentially bring to the table; his underlying numbers are gaudy, his offensive instincts and wrist shot second to none. But the key word here is "potentially", and that's been the knock on Semin his whole career - what he's capable of and what he does on a consistent basis are often two different things. We've seen this movie before, and it doesn't generally end well.
He's also on the wrong side of 30, and has struggled to stay healthy in recent years, playing in less than 70 games in each of his last three seasons (and only cracked 70 in three of his ten seasons overall). Add in the fact that he's not exactly a Trotzian player, to say nothing of the fact that he's had a bit of a tense relationship with former teammate Troy Brouwer (and former/current adversary Brooks Orpik)... and this is probably not a great match.