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Fight for Old DC is a blog covering all sports in and around the District. Main focus will be on the Capitals, Redskins, Nationals, Wizards, United, and Hokies (I know they aren't DC, but it's my alma mater). Enjoy!

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Examining the Salary Cap for 2009-2010: Defensemen and Goalies

With Friday’s announcement that the NHL salary cap has been increased to $56.8M for the 2009-2010 season, I figured it’s a good time to look at the Capitals cap situation and options for free agent signings come Wednesday. Today we’ll look into committed money and options within the organization moving forward. Then we’ll tackle all those other guys out on the market. All values may not be exact but were based on figures from Keep in mind that a cap number for a player is based upon their average salary, not just their salary for that particular season. For example, Mike Green’s salary last year was $6M but his cap hit was $5.25 because he will earn that average for the duration of his contract.

Defensemen Under Contract for 2009-2010 Season




Cap Number (in Millions)

Green, Mike




Poti, Tom




Pothier, Brian




Erskine, John




Alzner, Karl






Returners: The most important returner of this group is Mike Green. Everyone knows how great Green’s regular season was last year, and not one person in the NHL would argue with his $5.25M cap number or his impact, but we all know that he needs to take it up a notch in the playoffs. Beyond Green, the organization faces several decisions about their other defensemen. Brian Pothier and Tom Poti have both dealt with major injury issues over the last year and are on the wrong side of 30. Both provide strong leadership, but neither provided an overwhelming amount of offense last season when called upon. In fairness to Pothier, he couldn’t see straight until December, but no one fully knows what his impact will be over the last year of his deal. John Erskine was just signed within the last year to resume his third-pairing tough guy role. This looked like a pretty terrible idea early in ’09, but after the playoffs, Erskine had Caps fans excited about his physical play. On top of all this, Karl Alzner and John Carlson (not listed above) loom in the minors, waiting to make an impact at the 2009 training camp and earn a roster spot with the big boys. Both are under 21. Their presence throws the futures of last years NHLers into question.

Unsigned: Speaking of said NHL regulars, Shaone Morrisonn, Jeff Schultz, and Milan Jurcina are all awaiting tenders from the Caps in the coming days. If the Caps had all three under contract, that would leave them with EIGHT supposed NHL quality defensemen, with guys like Tyler Sloan and Sean Collins still in the system to fill in on spot duty. Schultz is still only 23, with supposed potential, but Caps fans won’t be as patient with his development next year. The worst thing to happen to Sarge was Mike Green, who was picked two spots after him in the ’04 draft. Sarge hasn’t been nearly as physical as many expected him to be (considering his size), but he’s been relatively steady through the regular season. However, after his ballerina act in game one against the Rangers to give up the GWG (his final act in the ’09 playoffs), many people were left with a sour taste in their mouths. I expect McPhee to hold onto Schultz for at least one more deal, and if he doesn’t put out early, he’ll be dealt. Jurcina, like Erskine, helped his case in the playoffs with strong, physical play. He has a better shot to stay around than Morrisonn, who is likely to be dealt. Lastly, don’t look for Staffan Kronwall to be resigned after an underwhelming NHL stint last season.

Cap Outlook: The Caps only have a shade over $14M committed for next year, and that’s assuming Alzner will find his way into the NHL. I would expect to see the Caps tender offers to all three of the vets, but trade the rights to one (most likely Mo). The other two shouldn’t command any more than about 3 million, plus an entry-level contract for Carlson won’t carry a significant number either. They shouldn’t have any more than about $19M devoted to NHL defensemen next season. Having young, relatively cheap talent pays off in this area, especially considering the needs at forward in free agency. Don’t look for McPhee to make any additions on the blueline.

Goalies Under Contract for 2009-2010 Season




Cap Number (in Millions)

Theodore, Jose




Neuvirth, Michael




Varlamov, Semyon






Returners: Capitals management has some very interesting decisions to make regarding their goalies heading into the 2009-2010 season. As you can see, Jose Theodore, hereby known as the 8000 lb. gorilla, is on the books for $4.5M next season. Theo expects to compete for the starting job next season, and he will be paid as such, but unless Semyon Varlamov has a terrible camp, he can kiss that dream goodbye. The other interesting piece of the puzzle is Michael Neuvirth, now a Calder Cup winning goalie, often believed to be on an even playing field with Varly prior to April. What does McPhee do with his two young goalies and what can Boudreau do to assuage their egos while keeping Theo from becoming a cancer? This is easily a top 3 storyline heading into training camp. Not to be forgotten, Braden Holtby will likely spend the season in Chocolatetown with a to-be-determined 2nd goalie (Neuvy, Varly or a currently unsigned Machesney)

Unsigned: The only unsigned goalie that really matters here is Brent Johnson. Johnson made significantly less money than Theodore last season and arguably deserved the top spot over #60 before a bad hip injury cost him the second half of his season. Johnson has new roots in the Northern Virginia area, so the Caps do have a shot at resigning him unless he wants to try for another #1 spot with another organization. If he is resigned, it would be a great insurance policy for Varlamov and Neuvirth, who have never started a large portion of an NHL season.

Cap Outlook: Having two young, capable netminders under entry-level contracts SIGNIFICANTLY helps the Caps money situation here. Theodore’s salary will be a subject that will be talked about all season, especially if he doesn’t play #1 minutes. It also keeps trade possibilities to a minimum. The ideal scenario would be to trade Theo and give the youngens an opportunity to start, while resigning Johnny as an insurance policy. In reality, Johnson will probably be allowed to walk, Neuvirth will get one more year in Hershey and Varly will split time with Theo. IF (and it’s a big ‘if’) McPhee is able to trade Theodore, it would be to a team willing to take on salary at the trade deadline next season, knowing that he’ll be a free agent next summer. Unfortunately we may be stuck, but the situation could be far worse (a la post Cristobal Huet’s departure last summer).

Overall Outlook:


Players Signed/Roster Spots

Current Cap Number

Current Cap Percentage

















After throwing Ben Clymer’s buyout that finishes up this season ($0.367M), the Caps have committed about $49.2M to the 2009-2010 season (including assumed call-ups like Varlamov and Alzner). That leaves them with about $7.5M to work with this offseason. First and foremost, that money needs to be used to resign Schultz, Gordon, Fehr, Bourque, and Jurcina for next season. I would venture to guess that Morrisonn’s $2M cap number is too much for the team to bear, but the others should be able to stick around somewhere in the ball park of about $5M total, leaving between $2-3M for an impact winger and center (ain’t happening that cheap). That would require a move beyond trading Mo or letting him walk, so I wouldn’t be too surprised to see the front office try and deal another big contract. The question is whether it will be from the “tough to move” group (Nylander, Clark, Theodore), the “easy to move but less cap relief” group (Fehr, Fleischmann, Bourque, Jurcina, Schultz), or the probably “tough to lose but older player” group (Poti, Pothier). Look for some smaller moves to try and free up some space, and maybe a stretch move to lose one of the big contacts. If neither of those things happens, the Caps will have to find a way to fill those holes internally, which will be very tough, and the pressure falls on guys like Osala and Laich to produce more and quickly. It could go either way, but if McPhee can dump that salary, they would be in a great position to pick up a valuable skill player to throw at the net.

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