Washington Capitals Most Likely to Leave in the 2014 NHL Offseason
Each summer, every NHL team has to cope with the departures of key players, as it's simply part of the business in professional hockey.
For the Washington Capitals, this will be unquestionably one of the most crucial offseasons in franchise history, as the club saw its run of six consecutive postseason appearances come to a bitter end, and changes are sure to take place within various levels of the organization.
Coaching staff and managerial team aside, there probably won't be a huge amount of turnover among Washington's core group of players, especially given that the majority of them are under contract beyond next season.
But with a handful of pending unrestricted free agents, and a couple of longtime franchise cornerstones that could be gone via trade or even buyout, the Caps will certainly have some holes to fill this summer.
Here's a look at the current members of the Capitals that are most likely to be wearing new uniforms in 2014-15.
At this point, the departure of goaltender Jaroslav Halak is basically a foregone conclusion, as the friction between the Slovak stopper and Adam Oates was pretty evident following the team's road win against the recent acquisition's former team in St. Louis.
Halak didn't play in the game, and as The Washington Post's Katie Carrera reported, the reasoning behind his night off was a point of contention between Oates and Allan Walsh, the netminder's agent.
“Jaro never at anytime said he didn’t want to start against St. Louis,” agent Allan Walsh said in a news release sent to the Washington Post. “A private conversation between a player and coach should stay private and not be discussed with the media. I am bewildered that a coach would break that trust especially when those comments the coach publicly attributed to Jaro are not accurate. It’s the coach who makes the decision on who plays in the games, not the players.”
Regardless of which side was correct in how Halak's benching came about, it doesn't seem in any way likely that the former Montreal Canadiens standout wants to return to the team he tormented in the 2010 Stanley Cup Playoffs.
Of course, that could change, particularly if there's a new coach at the wheel, but assuming that the Caps remain committed to Braden Holtby as the No. 1, Halak will be looking for a starting job elsewhere in July.
This one is tough, because Brooks Laich is arguably the emotional fulcrum of Washington's locker room when healthy, but unfortunately, the versatile forward has been plagued by injuries since the beginning of the 2012-13 campaign.
And, as a result, as NBC Sports' Jason Brough discussed, we should absolutely "expect to hear more chatter about a possible compliance buyout for Laich."
Since signing a six-year, $27 million deal in 2011, Laich has played just one full season, and hasn't come close to matching the 25 goals and 59 points he registered in 2009-10.
And, after limping through 2013-14 with just eight goals and 15 points in 51 games, it's suddenly pretty difficult to justify keeping the 30-year-old on the books for another three years at an annual cap hit of $4.5 million (the fourth-highest on the roster).
He's obviously an important part of the Capitals when he's on the ice, and there's no question that he's still a serviceable top-nine forward.
But Laich hasn't been the same player for two years, and with this roster's window to contend closing, Washington simply may not be able to wait to see if he recovers.
As a two-time Stanley Cup champion with impressive postseason numbers, Dustin Penner was exactly the sort of acquisition George McPhee has become known for in recent years.
Unfortunately, Oates failed to use Penner properly, and after starting the season with 23 points in 24 games playing on a line with All-Stars Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry for former Caps bench boss Bruce Boudreau in Anaheim, the lumbering winger managed just three points in 18 games with Washington.
After such a disappointing finish to the season, one has to assume that the former 63-point scorer will head back to California and try to catch on with one of his last two teams in the Ducks or Kings. A regular in the NHL for the last eight seasons, CapGeek.com lists him as having raked in over $27 million since breaking into the league in 2006, so this probably isn't a guy who will simply sign with the highest bidder.
It's too bad his stay in D.C. is already over, because Penner could've provided the Caps with the sort of physical goal-scoring presence to play with Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom, which they've missed since Mike Knuble left town. But, for whatever reason, the 31-year-old never got the chance to prove himself and he'll hit the open market in July.
As far back as December of 2013, there were calls for the Capitals to part ways with two-time Norris Trophy finalist Mike Green, such as Yahoo! Sports' JJ Regan:
After this season, Green will have one more year on his contract worth over $6 million. That is too much money for a player who can't seem to stay healthy, can't stay out of the box, can't score, and can't defend.
With every playoff failure, the need to shakeup this roster becomes more evident. Both [Alex] Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom appear untouchable, but Green is the next best thing.
It's hard to argue that Green's worth his hefty salary, and with Washington likely looking to establish some defensive stability after a dreadful season, he's a virtual lock to be on the trading block.
When healthy, Green's still capable of delivering clutch goals and his trademark highlight-reel rushes, but for as much as he contributes offensively, his miscues in his own end are far too frequent.
Among the most explosive and skilled blueliners of the last decade, Green would be an upgrade to almost any team's power-play unit, and given that he's still got a year left on his contract, he'd fetch a much better return at the draft than he would at the deadline next spring.
John Carlson is now firmly established as this team's best rearguard, and both Green and the only NHL club he's ever known may ultimately benefit from him being moved.
If the Caps shop Green at June's NHL draft, look for the team to dangle him and the No. 13 overall selection in order to move up a few spots in Round 1, especially because this crop of prospects isn't especially deep with NHL-ready talent.
Generally speaking, Mikhail Grabovski and the Capitals turned out to be a good fit, as the speedy pivot was a valuable member of the team's top six until he was essentially lost for the season to an ankle injury in late January.
Though his totals of 35 points in 58 games aren't usually good enough for a No. 2 center making $3 million a season, Grabovski was on pace for 20 goals and 55 points through 49 games before his injury caused him to miss all but nine contests the rest of the way.
And even when he did return, the 30-year-old's effectiveness was visibly reduced by his ankle, as Grabovski wasn't able to attack defenses with confidence the way he did early in the year.
So, given that Grabovski's probably as good a skilled two-way center as the Caps could find on the open market, there's certainly a chance that Washington gets him to stay with a multiyear deal.
According to CSN Washington's Chuck Gormley, Grabovski's not opposed to returning, but his desire to wait until the franchise has made decisions on the coaching and managerial fronts may keep Washington from signing him before he hits the market.
Vocal about both his support for Oates and his desire to contend for a Cup, Grabovski probably won't be back if there's a new coach in town, especially if a perennial playoff team comes calling.