Sunday, July 3, 2011

Premature Fireworks This 4th of July Weekend at Kettler

So last we left the Free Agency period was upon us. July 1st was expected to be a busy day in the NHL and one that would be a necessary break for sports fans since the NBA was going the way of the NFL as the owners were locking out the players.

Eagerly awaiting the 12pm start for guys to be pursued by NHL clubs and sign with whatever team pitched them the most money what they wanted to hear. The big name in free agency was Brad Richards and I doubt any Capitals fan believed the Caps would consider making a move for him because of cost and not needing him on the top line, though talk about depth with him or Backstrom as your 2C...WOW.

Anyways the first deal to come down was one I had been saying needed to happen since the season ended. The Caps brought back Jeff Halpern on a one year deal to most likely be the 4th line center, replacing Boyd Gordon (good riddance) who went to Phoenix.

Next came word that Semyon Varlamov was not headed to the KHL but that the Caps had traded him to Colorado Avalanche. This was surprising since it seemed the Avs were on their way to bringing in Tomas Vokoun to be there #1 goalie but apparently the negotiations broke off. Now what was even more surprising is what the Caps got for Varly, a 1st Round pick next year AND a 2nd Round pick in either 2012 or 2013. That is highway robbery! What makes it more interesting is that had Varly been signed to an offer sheet and the Caps not matched it they would have probably gotten no more than a 2nd round pick as compensation, but the Avs GM felt the Caps would match any offer. We'll never know but what we do know is Varly stays in the US, gets $5.5 million over 2 years and the Caps could end up with a Top 5 pick in the draft next year. Now I have no doubt that Varly, if healthy, will steal quite a few games for the Avs and they are only a year removed from a fantastic showing but the fact that the team doesn't have a full-time goalie coach will hurt his learning progress and help the Capitals chances in a draft that is much better than the one that took place a week ago.

An hour and a half later we learn the Caps have signed Joel Ward, or as I said "Who the **** is Joel Ward?" and 37 year old defenseman Roman Hamrlik. After reading up on Ward and seeing some video I like the signing. I'm not sure if I like the 4 years on it but he's a grinder that will be around the net and can play the wing or center. While Hamrlik is older he's also a grizzled veteran and he's shut down Ovie while with Montreal so we won't have to worry about that anymore. Plus he turned down more money to play in DC so I can't be too upset.

Now the question becomes what happens with the defense? Mike Green, who made some interesting comments in a radio interview the other day, could be teamed with Hamrlik. Alzner is still unsigned but is expected to be back with his buddy John Carlson. Jeff Schultz, Dennis Wideman and Tom Poti currently are all under contract and will be looking at our D3 pairings. I read that John Erskine is a UFA, though I thought we had signed him during the season but if he is he could be back and Sean Collins was re-signed but is expected to be in Hershey.

WHEW...that was one hell of a Day 1 of free agency and the Caps did GREAT. They aren't the only ones though. The Panthers spent a lot of money, stupid Dale Tallon, on a bunch of second and third line guys and brought in 3 former Caps (Jose Theodore, starting goalie; Tomas Fleischmann, and Matt Bradley) which should make things interesting for the two teams.

Fast forward now to Day 2 and GMGM was not done with the roster moves. First the Caps bring back Chris Bourque, another request I've been making, who is expected to be at Hershey but could be an injury call-up and will no doubt be fighting to be on the 4th line during training camp.

Then late Saturday night comes word that the Caps had signed Vokoun, remember that name from earlier, for only $1.5 million for next year. Vokun is a great veteran goalie, despite his lack of playoff experience, who is familiar with the South East division having been in Florida for so long. So we get Vokoun for cheap and two high draft picks for Varly? Um...thank you.

The Caps still have a few more deals to make with free agents or via trade and need to build back up Hershey as their minor league affiliate is losing a lot of its core players.

I am a bit cautious as well because I've been down this road with our other sports teams where we win the "off-season championship" by signing the big name free agents or bringing in the expected right parts or making a blockbuster trade only to see nothing come of it. The goal is the Cup. That is always the goal and this team is now deeper than it has been and looking better. Now if there is any way to bring back David Steckel I'd really appreciate looking into that trade GMGM.

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