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A Look at the Capitals’ Pending Free Agents

At noon today, hundreds of players will be released into the wild world of free agency, with everyone searching for the best contract in the best city while GMs scramble to keep their teams under the cap – and their heads above water.

While the Caps have taken care of some pressing business by locking up Brooks Laich to a six-year deal, there are still many players for whom the future in Washington is in some doubt. And although we may not be saying goodbye to all of them, the sad fact remains that some familiar faces will soon be departing. After the jump, a look at the soon-to-be free agents (both restricted and unrestricted) who have yet to re-sign**, the legacy they leave behind and some potential replacements.

Jason Arnott (UFA; Rink Wrap)
Thanks for the Memories: Acquired at the 2011 trade deadline, Arnott wasted no time establishing himself as a leader in the room who wasn’t afraid to speak up despite being a new addition to the team. And while injuries shortened his regular season (and perhaps limited his postseason effectiveness), he still managed to be a clutch offensive contributor and a spark on the power play. In 11 regular season games he had four goals and three assists, with another six points in nine playoff games.

Why the Caps Will Miss Him: Veteran leadership of this kind is hard to find; harder still when you combine that leadership with Stanley Cup-winning experience. Should he leave DC, Arnott takes with him both these things, characteristics that are in high demand – particularly on a young team like the Caps that could use some guidance. And of course let’s not forget that his departure leaves yet another gaping hole at center, the Caps’ weakest position.

How the Caps Replace Him: The free agent market may be fairly shallow but it’s seemingly always stocked with veteran guys in the final year or two of their career, guys who might be willing to sign a nice, cap-friendly contract for one more shot at the Cup. Along those lines, might be interesting to see someone like John Madden or Andrew Brunette step into this lineup.

Marco Sturm (UFA; Rink Wrap)
Thanks for the Memories: The quintessential low-risk, potentially high-reward acquisition, Sturm was a waiver-wire pickup by the Caps just days before the trade deadline. Sturm struggled at times to find his place in the lineup and chipped in with just seven points in eighteen games, adding another three in the playoffs. Still, he proved to be an inherently smart player and was rarely out of place, displaying a defensive acumen and work ethic that was sometimes lacking on the second and third lines.

Why the Caps Will Miss Him: Sturm’s defensive sensibilities can’t be understated, and with a full healthy season (and a steady-ish spot in the lineup) might have been balanced out with some more offense. He was also a good depth forward, able to skate with the high-flying guys while still protecting his own zone enough for third-line duty.

How the Caps Replace Him: Considering the dropoff from the biggest UFA name (Brad Richards) to the rest, the market will be made up almost entirely of depth forwards like Sturm. The Caps need a guy who can provide some secondary scoring and take some heat off the big guns, perhaps of the Erik Cole/Antti Miettinen variety…or Troy Brouwer (more on him in a minute).

Scott Hannan (UFA; Rink Wrap)
Thanks for the Memories: Hannan had the misfortune of coming to the Capitals right as their worst losing streak in years got underway, acquired in December in a trade that sent Tomas Fleischmann off to the Avalanche. It was a rocky start (and not the smoothest of finishes) but Hannan eventually became the steady, veteran anchor on the blue line that the Caps wanted him to be – and a voice in the locker room (and on the ice), as well.

Why the Caps Will Miss Him: As promising as so many of the young defensemen are here in Washington, the Caps really need a veteran presence to guide them – and for a while, that veteran was Hannan. Without him that responsibility falls to 33-year-old Tom Poti, whose career is in question, and 30-year-old John Erskine, an able 6/7 defenseman but not necessarily the guy you want mentoring John Carlson and Karl Alzner.

How the Caps Replace Him: The market for depth defensemen continues to be a tough one, so much so that your mid-level blueliners are raking in top dollar. With their top two pairs all but locked up (for now), the Caps aren’t looking for a marquee guy and probably won’t want to pay anyone as if he was a marquee guy. If they’re willing to open the wallet a bit, though, they could go a little older (and probably pricier) with someone like Roman Hamrlik or Sami Salo. And the possibility that Jan Hejda could hit the free agent market is certainly intriguing, as well…

Boyd Gordon (UFA; Rink Wrap)
Thanks for the Memories: Gordon has the distinction of being the longest-tenured member of the organization, drafted a few spots ahead of teammate Alexander Semin in 2002 and remaining with the franchise consistently ever since. He has established himself as an elite faceoff man and penalty killer, the guy who quietly goes about his business and, to borrow an oft-used cliche, does all the little stuff that often doesn’t show up on the scoresheet. In 363 games with the Caps, Gordon has accumulated 85 points and earned a reputation as being a hard hat, blue collar kind of a player.

Why the Caps Will Miss Him: His offense will never break records but what he lacks in flash and goal-scoring, he more than makes up for in those not-so-pretty skills. You don’t just slide 2-3 minutes of penalty killing time a night and upwards of 700 faceoffs out of the lineup without leaving a hole, and if the Caps should let him walk he will be tough to replace…

How the Caps Replace Him: …but there are (hopefully) players out there who are capable of giving it a shot. Gordon’s role is largely on the fourth line and on the penalty kill; to fill that spot, the Caps could look to someone like Marcel Goc or, if they want a bit more muscle and nastiness on the fourth line, Zenon Konopka. And hey, old pal Jeff Halpern could be available, as well.

Troy Brouwer (RFA)
Thanks for the Memories: Hey, remember the time we all waited hours for the Caps to make their first selection in the 2011 Entry Draft only to hear they’d traded it to Chicago for Brouwer? Memories.

Why the Caps Will Miss Him: Regardless of how shallow a draft is, first-round picks are tough to part with. To lose that AND the player for whom the pick was traded? Ouch, baby. Very ouch. Also, no one has a cuter dog or loves his dad more than this guy. All together now, folks: AWWWW.

How the Caps Replace Him: Luckily they hung on to Brooks Laich…guess that contract isn’t looking so bad, now, hmm? (Okay, maybe that’s pushing it.)

Matt Bradley (UFA; Rink Wrap)
Thanks for the Memories: Over the years, few Caps have endeared themselves to so many fans the way Matt Bradley has. Brought in during the lockout and a member of so many rebuilding clubs, Bradley’s value lay in his feistiness on the ice and his humor off it. When he scored he managed to downplay it as luck, but his heroics, while rare, were often anything but and will be lasting memories for Caps fans…and lasting nightmares for a certain Blueshirt.

Why the Caps Will Miss Him: Like Gordon, his offensive capabilities were limited; and like Gordon, it was the intangibles that made up for it. Whether it was his willingness to drop the gloves in defense of a teammate (despite the fact that he was never a very good fighter and had, in his own words, “paper-thin skin”) or his perfectly-timed quotes, there’s no doubt that Bradley will be a tough act to follow on and off the ice.

How the Caps Replace Him: They may already have started to, actually. Signing Matt Hendricks out of training camp last year (and then re-signing him to a two-year extension during the season) was probably the first nail in the coffin; adding some more grit and offense in the form of Troy Brouwer might have been the last. If they’re still looking for a little sandpaper, however, they might give Scottie Upshall a call.

Karl Alzner (RFA; Rink Wrap)
Thanks for the Memories: Drafted 5th overall in 2007, Alzner was instantly tabbed as the franchise’s next great stay-at-home defenseman. It wasn’t an easy road to the Caps, though, as Alzner found himself a victim of limited cap space and found himself shuttled between Washington and Hershey numerous times before finally settling in to a permanent roster spot in the 2010-11 season. Alongside defensive partner John Carlson, Alzner’s development has been steady but very noticeable, and after his first full NHL season he was already thought of as one-half of the team’s shutdown defensive pair.

Why the Caps Will Miss Him: Every team wants a guy like Alzner, it’s as simple as that – the typical stay-at-home defenseman, not an overly physical one but a smart, positionally-sound one who is able to take abuse caused both by other players and the puck itself. Steady and only getting better, losing Alzner would mean losing what is, in essence, the future of the Caps’ defense.

How the Caps Replace Him: They can’t. Not really. But if they want to try they could go for someone a bit older in Ian White.

Semyon Varlamov (RFA; Rink Wrap)
Thanks for the Memories: It’s been something of a rollercoaster ride with Varly, hasn’t it? From the goofy young prospect who barely spoke English to the savior of the 2009 playoff run to the oft-injured goalie whose maladies caused him to lose the starting job this past season. Still, he’s provided the Caps – and Caps fans – with some great memories of stolen games, breathtaking saves and blowing stuff…up.

Why the Caps Will Miss Him: When healthy, Varly has been, if not an elite goalie, certainly a very good one. His numbers in his young career tell the tale, posting a 0.917 save percentage and a GAA of 2.39 over his first three seasons to go along with four shutouts. And no matter whether you’re on Team Varly, Team Neuvy or Team Caps, it hurts to lose a player of any caliber – but particularly a first round pick and potential franchise goalie – for nothing.

How the Caps Replace Him: Should this soap opera play out as it seems to be and Varlamov heads off to the KHL, the Caps could stay on their “two young netminders are fine” kick by adding Braden Holtby into the mix. Doing that, however, would not only force Holtby into a role for which he may not be prepared just yet but also provide the team with little insurance should Holtby or Michal Neuvirth or both get injured…which on this team isn’t exactly out of the realm of possibility. And while #1 guys are rare and expensive, the market’s littered with capable veteran backups who would play for cheap and be a solid backbone in net. Some interesting names to consider? Mathieu Garon, Ty Conklin or Johan Hedberg.


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

UFA – Andrew Gordon, Tyler Sloan, Sean Collins, Michael Nylander, Trevor Bruess, Joe Finley, Josh Godfrey, Steve PInizzotto, Brian Willsie, Brian Fahey, Todd Ford, Andrew Joudrey
RFAFrancois Bouchard, Mathieu Perreault

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