A bunch of questions for this week's 'Bag were overcome by yesterday's events, but not all of them were, so let's dive right in:
I love this question. The way I see it, there are seven names that can even reasonably considered (and one or two may just be on sentimentality). Here's my list, alphabetically, along with some Caps-only vitals (via Hockey-Reference):
So here's how I rank them, based on individual greatness while a Capital: Langway, Stevens, Green, Gonchar, Hatcher, Murphy, Johansson. And I think reasonable minds could disagree on the ordering of Green and Gonchar (and I'm not sure I'd push back much). But Green's star shone brighter, albeit it not as long, so he gets the nod from me here. He'll be missed.
[Ed. note: Rob's answer] Looking at the Caps' roster, it would be really great if the could find a way to address that third center position internally, but it's just not going to happen. Jay Beagle just got a three year extension but he's not really a 3C. He could step in to play there in a pinch, but if this is going to be a dangerous team it's going to need to push Beagle to his natural 4C spot. Brooks Laich, and his $4.5M cap hit, would be great to put at 3C because then the team would get some use out of that $4.5M, solve a critical spot in the lineup, and open up more options for other guys to get chances on the wing. I don't think Laich has that much game left in him so barring an unforeseen advancement in his game this summer, he'll be back bouncing between the third and fourth line wings next year. Not ideal. That means the Caps are still going to need to add a center to the roster, and do so on a tight budget.
I think ideally the Caps would love to stick with the devil they know, so Eric Fehr would be the priority. Fehr knows the team and the system, the team knows Fehr and is responsible for developing him into the versatile player he's become. Just a few years ago it would have been inconceivable to consider Fehr a credible option as a 3C, but now he's a guy that can play wing or center, and that's valuable. Of course, Fehr and his agent also see that value, which is why he hasn't signed yet. But the longer Fehr remains unsigned, the more likely it is other teams aren't willing to meet his price. The injury history is likely a part of that as well, which is troubling for a guy who is going to be playing such tough minutes, but that's a risk that will always be there. I still think there's a decent chance the Caps can find a number that works for the team and for Eric Fehr, and that would be the preference. But if Fehr finds greener pastures elsewhere, there are still a couple guys out there that could provide some center depth.
There are a couple good players with major question marks on the free agent list: Jarret Stoll and Rich Peverley. Stoll is coming off a recent drug possession conviction, and that may scare some teams away. He was a great 3C for the Kings' Cup teams, and he's young enough that it makes sense to think he can still bring that level of game. Unfortunately, the drug conviction probably won't bring his price down enough for the Caps to be able to afford him (he's coming of a deal with a $3.25M cap hit) so that's an unlikely option. Peverley is dealing with a heart condition that almost had him retiring from the game, and while he's publicly said he wants to make a comeback, that's a scary issue and I don't know that the Caps are in a position to sign him if they aren't 100% positive he can make it through the season without that heart issue coming up again. If their doctors are satisfied, Peverley is a versatile depth addition.
The last two unrestricted guys that stand out to me are Stephen Weiss and Mike Santorelli. Weiss is getting long in the tooth, and didn't seem to add much to the Red Wings last year, but he's a veteran guy who has played difficult minutes for virtually his entire career, including when he was still a top-six guy. A short term deal would make sense for the Caps, but Weiss may be looking for something longer as this is likely his last shot (similar to Joel Ward's situation). Santorelli was a bit of a late bloomer, but he had a strong season last year and was picked up by Nashville to provide some depth on their playoff run. He's got less of a track record than the other options, but he should be cheaper, and he's younger so he's got fewer miles on him and may hold up better.
Finally, if the Caps want to make a splash, they could try to trade for Chicago's Marcus Kruger. The guy has been thrown to the wolves in Chicago, and his defensive ability has allowed the offensive stars to flourish with easier assignments.He won't be cheap, but he's certainly the most qualified option of the bunch. If Brian MacLellan thinks he can get Kruger signed to a cap-friendly number, giving up an asset or two (nothing blue chip) might be the best solution of them all.
I think there's a pretty good chance that the Caps might look to add a piece like that once they've handled their business with restricted free agents Braden Holtby, Evgeny Kuznetsov and Marcus Johansson and know how much cap space they have left over (i.e. I don't think Taylor Chorney is their dream seventh-defenseman).
Here's a list of the available UFA defensemen. Anton Volchenkov would come cheap and his underlying numbers are solid... but there are a lot of miles on those tires, and he hasn't played more than 56 games in a season since 2011-12 and has only hit 70 once since 2006-07. Granted, the Caps wouldn't be asking him to play every night (until they were), but he might be done. Jan Hejda and Keith Ballard may be similarly cooked. One intriguing name on the list is Matt Irwin (not necessarily a big banger), but otherwise, it's a lot of dumpster-diving and hoping.
#JapersMailbag Zac Stanford at BU looked, from stats, pretty good as a freshman. Has anyone else been following him and could provide info?— Jonathan McLeman (@jmcleman1) June 30, 2015
Our SB Nation pals over at SBN College Hockey have and can. Back in February, they ranked Sanford as the 94th best prospect in college hockey, and offered this blurb:
A true power forward, the former Pinkerton High star has improved leaps and bounds since October. He's more of a presence on the ice and has really learned to use his size to get into the scoring area and generate chances.
A month later, they referred to him as one of "the better power forwards in the nation when [he's] playing [his] best." And he's had some success when it's mattered. So while Sanford is still a long ways off, reports so far are encouraging for the Caps' 2013 second-round pick.
If you've got something on your mind, go ahead and ask it here on the site, on Twitter (use #JapersMailbag), via email or on Facebook, and we'll try to get to them. As always, there are always a lot of question marks around this team... so let's talk about as many of them as we can.