Heading into this new offseason, not a whole lot was expected to come about in the Washington Capitals' sphere of free agency. With 17 players already under contract for 2016-17 and another four players under restricted free agency, not a whole lot could be changed. And, considering the Capitals' historic 120 point season, not a whole lot needed to be changed.
All of that did not stop GM Brian MacLellan from once again calling his shots, stating that he wanted to improve the "ninth or 10th forward." MacLellan couldn't wait until free agency to snag his guy, instead sending some draft picks away to grab his third line center.
But that wasn't the only move of the entire offseason so far. Other new Capitals arrived, other Capitals bid their adieus, and some former Caps are just in this weird state of limbo. Let's take a look at each of those franchise-shifting decisions, as well as some other moves and decisions across the league.
New Caps and Their New Caps
Capitals Trade for Lars Eller: MacLellan's primary focus was acquiring a third-line center, and he got that when he sent a 2017 second-round draft pick and a 2018 second-round draft pick to the Montreal Canadiens in exchange for Lars Eller. Eller is known as a versatile guy, capable of playing any forward position and as comfortable in his defensive zone as he is in his offensive zone.
Eller was bounced all over the Habs' lineup (as was every forward in Michel Therrien's zany coaching plan), never playing more than 135 minutes with a single combo of two other forwards. He finished his season with 13 goals and 13 assists in 79 games.
Chances are, prior to coming to Washington, you knew of Eller. After all, Eller has four career goals against the Capitals. But his real claim to fame is a four-goal night against the Winnipeg Jets four years ago, becoming the first Canadien to score four goals on home ice since Brian Bellows in 1993.
But on the off chance you have no idea who Eller is, let's turn to our friends over at Eyes on the Prize, where Marc Dumont had the honor of writing a season review of the former Canadien. Here's Marc's take:
You won't get a 50-point season from the Danish forward, however saying he's useless is incredibly shortsighted. On the flip side of things, yes he does drive possession, however we do have to accept that his offensive upside is limited.
Essentially, Eller provides the Habs with solid minutes, but he'll probably never crack the 20-goal mark in the NHL, especially once we consider his usage.
You can expect him to score 10-15 goals per year, while providing versatility to the head coach. This year Eller was used as a left-wing, a center, and on the right side. He also spent time on 10 different line combinations, none of which lasted more than 135 minutes of ice time.
He maintained a positive Corsi For % throughout the majority of the year, which explains why he finished 6th on the team in that department, and fourth among all forwards, behind only Max Pacioretty, Brendan Gallagher, and Alex Galchenyuk. A remarkable feat considering he played a rather large portion of the season in a new position on the left wing, eventually shifting to center, and then to the opposite wing as well. He was put in a tough situation, and his possession metrics were overwhelmingly encouraging.
So while his offensive upside may be a bit limited, will a sense of stability allow Eller to settle in offensively?
MacLellan has already boldly stated he is the Capitals' third-line center, and while Trotz occasionally shuffles lines to find the right matches, he sticks with what works. That may help someone like Eller, who hasn't really had that luxury.
Eller is signed through the 2017-18 season with a $3.5 million cap hit. Considering Washington's future craziness that is the 2016-17 offseason, having a stable and fair contract like Eller's may prove to be beneficiary.
Capitals Sign Brett Connolly: Another gap in the lineup was the third-line right wing spot/the fourth-line right wing spot/the extra forward spot. The question is, which one does Brett Connolly initially fill?
When the Boston Bruins elected to not extend a qualifying offer to Connolly this offseason, the 24-year-old former number six-overall pick gave the Capitals a cheap forward option. MacLellan was able to sign Connolly to a one-year, $850,000 deal.
Since the Tampa Bay Lightning selected Connolly in 2010, he's consistently been a "boom or bust" kind of guy. In his first full season in the WHL with the Prince George's Cougars, Connolly tallied 30 goals and 30 assists in 65 games. But in his second season, and his draft year, Connolly was limited to just 16 total games due to a hip injury, something that was obviously worrisome for first year general manager Steve Yzerman. Connolly also has plates inserted into his right hand after it was crushed by a metal gate when he was trying to swing off of it when he was a child, and the fear was that Connolly could have limitations or even early onset arthritis early on in his career.
Yzerman still went with the pick, and he promptly inserted him directly into his Tampa lineup after his next season of junior, completely skipping out on any sort of AHL development. That early insertion is what some believe is the reason behind Connolly's inability to reach his full potential in the NHL.
This past season, Connolly lined up primarily alongside Brad Marchand and Patrice Bergeron. Marchand had a career year, finishing with 37 goals and 61 points; Bergeron had a career-high of 32 goals of his own and 68 total points. Connolly? He had an underwhelming nine goals and 25 points.
So the question is, what version of Connolly are the Capitals going to get? Will it be the consistently underwhelming version, or will Connolly finally blossom into that bonafide scorer that he seemed destined to be? One thing is for certain, Connolly will be given every opportunity to become the latter. From MacLellan's press conference:
"We’re going to try to fulfill his potential, and he’s trying to do the same thing. We saw it as a good fit for him with the opportunity to play with us and for us to take advantage of his skill level hopefully."
Ideally, Connolly fits in as a third-line right wing, contributing a bit of offense and giving Washington that sense of a top nine forward unit. If that's the case, the Connolly signing may end up being MacLellan's best move of the offseason.
Capitals Sign Brad Malone and a slew of other players: In addition to Connolly, MacLellan went and signed Brad Malone to a one-year, two-way deal that will earn Malone $575,000 in the NHL. Malone brings a bit of NHL experience to the Capitals, having suited up for 176 games between the Colorado Avalanche and the Carolina Hurricanes over the last few seasons and picking up 13 goals and 17 assists over that span.
Malone is likely a better fit in Hershey, but he may see a few games should there be some injuries, similar to Zach Sill just this past season. That said, he'll likely have to wait his turn behind guys like Chandler Stephenson, Travis Boyd, Nathan Walker, Riley Barber or Jakub Vrana - players who present better options for an open forward slot than a guy with 188 NHL penalty minutes.
Additionally, the Capitals signed forward Christian Thomas, defenseman Darren Dietz and goaltender Joe Cannata. Thomas appears to have some prior relationship with Connolly and Tom Wilson and adds a bit more to the forward depth, while Cannata will serve as a goaltender in Hershey, allowing Vitek Vanecek to play a more reserved role in his first full season as a Bear.
Jason Chimera Signs with the New York Islanders: The Eller trade essentially guaranteed Jason Chimera would have to seek employment elsewhere, as there simply was not a spot for him in the Capitals lineup.
The ageless speedster signed a two-year, $4.5 million deal with the New York Islanders. He is 37-years-old.
Following his signing, Chimera was excited to not only earn a new contract, but earn a contract with a contending team, saying this in his introductory press conference:
"I like the makeup of the team. Good coaching, good people around and one of the best leaders in the game (in John Tavares). It’s a pretty good combination."
Chimera has never shared a locker room with Tavares, but I digress.
We all know what Chimera is capable of. Yes, he is a very fast skater. Yes, he scored 20 goals this season. Yes, he saw power play time. But Chimera was occasionally a liability on the ice. Chimera was on the ice for 12.01 high-danger scoring chances per 60 minutes of 5v5 play, the most on the team. His scoring chances against per 60 was also the most on the team (28.23), as was his shot attempts against per 60 (57.70). We already know he relies on a high shooting percentage to score (12.1 percent this past season) and his 47.95 shot attempt percentage is absolutely horrid.
Nonetheless, Chimera left us with a lot of memorable plays, and he truly was an extremely fun player to cheer on, both on and off the ice.
Michael Latta Signs with the Los Angeles Kings: It may have come to a surprise to some that MacLellan elected not to give Michael Latta a qualifying offer, making him an unrestricted free agent at the start of free agency.
But what should have really come as a surprise is that Latta was deemed worthy enough to sign a one-way contract, with a contending team nonetheless. Latta's one-year, $600,000 deal gives him another shot at becoming a full time NHLer.
Latta ended up being the Capitals' one positive from that trade that shall not be named. He didn't contribute too much on the ice, scoring four goals and 17 total points in three years with the team, but his personality off the ice made him a fun player to have, most notably for his bromance with Wilson that reached viral levels after his frequent Road to the Winter Classic cameos, and his humorous posts on Twitter. Hopefully Latta truly gets a chance at that full- time position with LA.
Mike Richards Remains Unsigned, but He's Clearly Not Coming Back: As of today, Mike Richards has not found a new team to play hockey with, but he is clearly not coming back to Washington. The Capitals wasted absolutely no time in passing out Richards' number 10, giving it to Connolly.
When Richards signed in the middle of the season, the expectation was that he would fit in somewhere in the bottom six, killing penalties and, hopefully contribute a bit offensively. Defensively, Richards still looked like he had it in him, but, offensively, Richards looked like he was a fraction of a second behind on virtually every single play.
His meaningful contributions were greatly appreciated in Washington, but everything Richards provided can quite easily be replaced by Eller.
Tom Wilson signs a two-year deal: Tom Wilson, one of the Capitals' three restricted free agents, made things a bit easier when he quickly signed a two-year, $4 million deal with the team last week.
Considering Wilson's past contributions, a $2 million-per-year contract seems a little steep, but MacLellan is clearly anticipating Wilson finally steps up offensively and becomes that coveted power forward for Washington. No, he hasn't become the player the Capitals might have anticipated he would become, but Wilson took great strides this last year. His seven goals and 16 assists were both career highs, and Wilson saw 129:59 minutes of penalty kill time this year, the most of any forward on the Capitals.
MacLellan has always hinted that he wants Wilson to step up and play a larger role offensively with Washington, and maybe this ends up being the year he finally does just that. The Connolly addition kind of puts a wrench in those plans, but MacLellan remains high on him, telling this to Chuck Gormley:
"I think it’s on us to turn Tom Wilson into Joel Ward. It’s on Tom and on us to turn him into that kind of guy that has a net-front presence, that finds loose pucks, finds rebounds, plays good along the wall. I think Tom is our answer to that. He made strides this year. He’s turned into a good penalty killer. More disciplined in his physical game. To get him to the next level, I think we need to — offense needs to become part of his game."
Marcus Johansson Files for Arbitration, Dmitry Orlov Does Not: For the second year in a row, Marcus Johansson has filed for salary arbitration.
Last year, Johansson was awarded a one-year, $3.725 million deal. How much can he command after this past season?
Interestingly enough, Johansson had a very similar season to last year, falling somewhere in between a second-line contributor and a third-line contributor, and while his goals decreased from 20 to 17, Johansson only managed to score one less point than his previous year (46 total this season).
Should a salary be chosen by an arbitrator, the new deal likely won't be too much more than his previous $3.75 million deal - perhaps between $4 and $4.5 million. The key is, what term do the Caps want to settle on? If the contract is settled by an arbitrator, the new contract can't be for more than two years. Is Johansson in Washington's long-term plans?
That is what is likely holding up the process. Johansson has stated that he would like to come back to Washington, and his agent, J.P. Barry, is working with MacLellan to get a deal done.
Orlov? He's easy. He didn't elect to file for salary arbitration, hinting that a deal may be fairly close, and will likely get some sort of bridge deal, hovering right around that $2.9-$3 million mark.
Other Musings From Around the League
Oilers Send Taylor Hall to the Devils for Adam Larsson: The day before free agency was set to begin, there were about 30 minutes of pure craziness, and it all kicked off with the announcement that the Edmonton Oilers sent winger Taylor Hall to the New Jersey Devils in exchange for defenseman Adam Larsson.
The deal fixed a need for the Oilers: They desperately needed adequate defenseman. But the cost of Larsson, an average-at-best top-four defenseman, was a bit puzzling. Hall is arguably a top-five left wing in the NHL, and all he could command in a trade was Larsson?
Oilers' GM Peter Chiarelli knew, at face value, that he probably lost the trade. He was even straight up asked the question...doesn't it kind of look like you lost the trade? Here was his answer.
"That’s a fair comment, if you look at just what they’ve accomplished so far in the league, you would think that."
But, to Chiarelli's credit, he stuck to his guns, understanding that he fixed a need. He stated several times that you have to trade talent to get talent, but he was confident that he addressed a need.
Hall, understandably, was not happy, as he probably figured he, being the best player on the team (excluding McDavid's potential), was probably a big part in Edmonton's surge as a playoff team. Telling this to Sportsnet's Mark Spector:
"I feel slighted. I’m a proud person, and I do take this as an indictment on me as a hockey player. I don’t think there’s any other way to treat it. I think it’s safe to say I’m a very motivated player now."
Canadiens Send P.K. Subban to Nashville for Shea Weber: That Hall for Larsson trade? That was just the appetizer to the shear craziness. The Montreal Canadiens sent P.K. Subban days before his no movement clause kicked in to the Nashville Predators in exchange for Shea Weber.
It's a head scratcher. Despite saying that he was not actively shopping Subban, Canadiens GM Marc Bergevin sold Subban. And there was no explainable reason behind the move, although he did frequently say that he believed the Canadiens got better from the trade. But he never actually stated why.
How exactly could he honestly believe that?
But let's just go ahead and ignore the possession and production stats real quick. Let's just look at this logically at face value. How exactly could Bergevin believe that by trading a 27-year-old Subban, signed until the 2022, he would get better by adding a 30-year-old Weber signed until 2026? How could he honestly believe that from the age of 30 until 40, Weber would be better for the Canadiens than the 2012-13 Norris Trophy winner in the heart of his prime?
Did Bergevin trade Subban because of his eccentric, fun-loving personality? Or was it more for Weber's #grit? Whatever the reason, it was the wrong one.
Florida Panthers Get Aggressive: Busiest offseason? That belongs to the Florida Panthers and new GM Tom Rowe.
First, Rowe kicked things off by sending Erik Gudbranson to the Vancouver Canucks for promising young forward Jared McCann.
But you really knew it was game time in Florida when they moved Marc Savard's contract to the Devils to clear up some space to make some moves.
The Panthers then jumped on the opportunity to sign Keith Yandle, effectively replacing Brian Campbell, who made it blatantly obvious that he was going to depart for the Chicago Blackhawks at a discounted rate. They sent the New York Rangers a 2016 sixth-round pick and a 2017 conditional fourth round pick to gain Yandle's rights for early access towards a new deal.The Panthers then made sure to lock up Yandle at a comfortable rate for seven years.
Next they essentially swapped physical defenseman Dmitry Kulikov for a possession defenseman in Mark Pysyk, formally with the Buffalo Sabres.
Once free agency actually begun, Florida made two quick splashes by signing "fancy stats" darlings Colton Sceviour and Jonathan Marchessault for a combined price of $1.7 million. They also snagged top free agent goaltender James Reimer on a five year deal and plucked another possession defenseman in Jason Demers.
Where are all of these savvy moves coming from? Could it have something to do with Brian MacDonald, Director of Hockey Analytics?
But the Panthers weren't even done there. They went ahead and inked three critical players, Aaron Ekblad, Vincent Trocheck and Reilly Smith to longterm deals.
Now, the Panthers have Trocheck, Ekblad, Smith, Yandle, Demers, Nick Bjugstad and Aleksander Barkov all locked up through 2021.
Watch out, rest of the NHL.