Capitals general manager George McPhee still has work left to do this summer.
Even while conducting contract negotiations with Marcus Johansson, a restricted free agent expected to stay with the organization, there remains at least one other open forward spot for next season - and maybe two if Washington sticks with seven defensemen.
That can change in an instant with a trade or a signing. Former Toronto center Mikhail Grabovski is still an unsigned free agent, after all. But McPhee has said all offseason that he doesn’t see value in this free-agent market. Assuming that view holds, who will push for the final forward spots entering training camp next month?
The Caps have left space for promising prospect Tom Wilson, who at age 19 either must make the NHL roster or head back to junior with OHL Plymouth. Michael Latta, a 22-year-old center acquired from Nashville along with veteran Martin Erat at the April 3 trade deadline, should be in the mix, too, even while playing a tougher position to crack.
An argument can be made that both players still need valuable development time at lower levels. But if they really aren’t ready, there aren’t many obvious candidates on hand.
The only players at AHL Hershey under contract to the organization and with NHL experience are Casey Wellman (41) Ryan Stoa (37), Joel Rechlicz (26) and Matt Watkins (1).
Nicolas Deschamps, a trade acquisition last March from Toronto, was a 2008 second-round pick, but has never appeared in an NHL game. Garrett Mitchell, the Caps’ sixth-round pick in 2009, had 15 goals for the Bears last year, but also has no NHL experience. Jeff Taffe, Hershey’s leading scorer in 2012-13, has played 180 games in the NHL, but is on an AHL contract.
Barring a run at a top-six player like Grabovski – and the likely roster shuffling such a move would require to sneak him under the $64.3 million salary cap – do McPhee and his staff simply look for the next Matt Hendricks?
Hendricks, too, was a veteran with limited NHL experience before Washington signed him just before training camp in 2010. He made the team and had a successful three-year run before McPhee decided his price, at age 32, had become too high for a fourth-line winger. Hendricks signed a four-year, $7.4 million deal with Nashville last month.
Entering the first week of August there remained 70 unrestricted free-agent forwards who made less than $1,000,000 last season, according to the web site CapGeek.com. There will be options available closer to the start of training camp next month.