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How should the Caps spend their money?

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How should the Caps spend their money?

Its difficult to say how Thursdays announcement that the NHL is raising its salary cap from to 64.3 million to 70.2 million will impact Sundays start of free agency.

With the current CBA set to expire on Sept. 15 there is a very real chance that salary cap number will be renegotiated during labor talks.

But even if it its a loose figure, the additional 6 million in cap space will undoubtedly give teams the freedom to sign players they might otherwise avoid.

The Capitals, for example, will arrive at Sundays free agent frenzy with 20.8 million in cap space, assuming they let Alexander Semin walk. Thats significant coin for a team that spent all of last season at the salary ceiling.

On Wednesday, Caps GM George McPhee dropped this interesting nugget when explaining his decision to trade defenseman Dennis Wideman instead of paying him the 26.25 million the Calgary Flames gave him over five years.

To have the cap space to do the right things, we werent going to be able to sign him, McPhee said.

So that means, at least in theory, the Caps have money targeted for someone else in free agency, right?

Not necessarily, says McPhee, noting the addition of second-line center Mike Ribeiro and the progression of rookie defenseman Dmitry Orlov as two significant pieces to the 2012-12 puzzle.

I think were in pretty good shape, McPhee said. We have good young goalies, the dee is complete, we added a skill guy. Well get into free agency like everybody else does, but if we dont do anything I wouldnt be disappointed. And if theres something there that makes sense at the right price, then well do it.

Well, NHL free agency is anything but The Price Is Right. Its more like The Price Is Over-Inflated But Were Willing To Pay It Because The Market Says We Must.

Truth is, Devils left wing Zach Parise, the top forward on the market, is going to command at least 8 million a season. And the Predators Ryan Suter, the top defenseman, will get similar money in a long-term deal.

Could the hiring of former Devils assistant Adam Oates help sway Parise away from front-runners Minnesota and Pittsburgh and convince him to sign with the Capitals?

Unfortunately, Im not allowed to talk about that, Oates said, because hes still employed with the team. So I better not.

Even McPhee admitted that having more than 20 million in cap space a few days before the free agent signing period is pretty tempting.

But it doesnt mean you have to use it all now, he says. You can use it during the season or at the 2013 trade deadline.

Its expensive to use it now. If you do something, its always more than the guys worth. The question is how much more and are you trying to trade him by November because he cost too much.

If the Capitals believe Parise and Suter are too expensive for their taste, how about the next level of free agents?

Goal-scoring forwards like Shane Doan, P.A. Parenteau, Dustin Penner, Ray Whitney and Lee Stempniak would be perfect complementary wingers to centers like Nicklas Backstrom and Ribeiro.

And on the back end, solid defensemen such as Matt Carle, Jason Garrison, Michal Roszival, Bryan Allen and Bryce Salvadore will be available to fill the Capitals need for a No. 4 defenseman who can bump Roman Hamrlik down to a better-suited No. 5 role.

Which way will McPhee and the Capitals go? How much of that 20 million will they spend? Do you believe they will make a run for Parise or Suter? Or should they go the less expensive route? Join the conversation below.

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What's next for the Caps? There's no real consensus among players or coaches

What's next for the Caps? There's no real consensus among players or coaches

After another early playoff exit, the Capitals find themselves at a bit of a crossroads. With multiple expiring contracts and an aging core that has yet to carry this team past the second round, what direction is this team headed? Do the Caps need to make drastic changes to fix what ails them or makes just a few tweaks to finally get them over the hump?

It’s not an easy question to answer and there was no real consensus from the players at team’s breakdown day.

“I don't know if minor cosmetic changes are going to change anything really,” Matt Niskanen said.” It's pretty clear that this group didn't get it done so what changes and how many or what level of changes, I don't know what the answer is. Talent wise and our potential was clearly there. That's all fluff now. We need results.”

“I think any time you underachieve at what you're trying to do, you know there's going to be changes,” Brooks Orpik said. “That's just part of the business that we're in.”

“Obviously it's not working,” Nicklas Backstrom said. “I'm sure the organization will figure that out and try again.”

ELATED: Caps release key offseason dates

Given this team’s history, especially in the Ovechkin era, it seems hard to argue that something significant needs to change because the formula there does not seem to be working. But not everyone agrees.

“I still think there's a window next year,” Lars Eller said. “I think there will be enough of the core intact that you could still make a play. First thing is you have to get into the playoffs, once you're in the playoffs you have a chance to win.”

“We’re going to be good again,” Tom Wilson said. “There's a lot of great pieces that are here that are core guys that have long contracts still that instill the right things in the group.”

“I think we're in the right position for sure and I think we will be stronger next year for sure,” Evgeny Kuznetsov said.

Then there are the guys who just don’t know, the guys who think the team will try to win but that the team’s chance of winning the Cup may now be in the rearview mirror.

“The nice thing is that we all know the organization does what it takes to put a good product on the ice and try to win," Karl Alzner said. "Whether there's a lot of changes and new faces next year, it's still going to be a team that is trying to win and that's a nice thing. … But yeah, this is a pretty good window that we had here and unfortunately, it's not there anymore.”

For his part, you can put head coach Barry Trotz down as someone who wants to see the team make only minor changes and try again next season.

“I know people talk about the window closing, the window doesn't close, it just changes a little bit because the window of all those pieces that have been here for six, seven years or whatever, they're going to change doesn't mean that you can't add pieces that may even be better. You see that all the time.”

Sure, you could file this down as a “What is he supposed to say?” comment. Major changes can often mean a coaching change so it’s not surprising to see him advocate against rebuilding. But Trotz was also adamant that the team was close to reaching its championship goal and cautioned that now was not the time to turn over the roster.

“This league is so unpredictable and sometimes so random that it's hard to grasp sometimes even as an organization or fans or media, to grasp how close you are from winning and how close you are from losing. You talk about inches, it might be millimeters. That's how close it is. Changes in momentum, a big save here, a fortunate goal here or a timely goal changes a series or momentum swing.”

“We're disappointed that we didn't reach our goal,” Trotz added, “It doesn't mean that we're not going to keep striving for our goal.”

But even if general manager Brian MacLellan agrees, there are going to be several players who will not be returning to Washington next season. Even after advocating minor tweaks, Trotz also acknowledged, “Group's going to change. That's just the financial part of it.”

With 11 free agents on the active roster heading into the offseason, as well as 14 more among their prospects and minor league players, and not enough cap space to pay them all, MacLellan is going to have to make some tough decisions regarding who to bring back and who to let go. Whether he agrees with those advocating for major changes or those who believe only minor tweaks are necessary will determine how he approaches the team’s free agents.

As much disagreement as there is within the team, there seems to be one thing everyone can agree on: The Caps are going to look like a very different team next season.

MORE CAPITALS: How do the Caps overcome their mental block?

Check out the latest edition of the Capitals Faceoff Podcast!

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Capitals Faceoff Podcast: Who is coming back for the Caps?

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Capitals Faceoff Podcast: Who is coming back for the Caps?

JJ Regan and Tarik El-Bashir look at each of the Caps' free agents and talk about who could be back and who will be moving on. They also look at how the Caps' fared in the World Championship and which prospects could make the jump to the NHL next season.

Like what you hear? Be sure to subscribe on Apple podcastsAudioboom and Google Play and give us a good review! Maybe we'll even read it on the air. For the latest Caps coverage be sure to follow @CSNCapitals@TarikCSN and @JJReganCSN on Twitter.

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