On the eve of the NHL Free Agent Frenzy, Washington Capitals owner Ted Leonsis wrote on his blog, "We now hope to add some players via free agency and then go into the summer seeking some trades as well. At the end of the process our team will look different from last year. We plan to improve."
The improvement will be determined by the team's performance on the ice — let's face it, in the playoffs — but it looked different than it did last season within the first 3 1/2 hours of the Free Agent Frenzy.
The Capitals signed Montreal Canadiens defenseman Roman Hamrlik to a two-year, $7 million deal and Nashville Predators right wing Joel Ward to a four-year, $12 million deal.
That's after trading marginalized goaltender Semyon Varlamov to the Colorado Avalanche for a first-round pick next year and a second-round pick in either of the next two years. (A complete fleecing, but we'll get to that in a later post.) They also brought back center (and former captain) Jeff Halpern on a one-year deal, bringing the 35-year-old Potomac, Md., native back to D.C. after a bitter split in 2006.
Hamrlik is 37. He had 34 points in 79 games last year, logging 22:16 average time on ice. He's got postseason experience, he's another offensive option for the blue line. That said, with Mike Green and Dennis Wideman and John Carlson and Jeff Schultz and Karl Alzner and John Erskine and Tom Poti and … well, there are a few defensemen under contract right now. But Hamrlik is the kind of veteran upgrade you need to make a Cup run ... the question is who leaves the logjam?
Ward's signing, we think, will be a point of debate in the fan base. It's a $3 million cap hit for a player who had 10 goals in 80 games last season and has never broken 20 goals. But he's an aggressive offensive player who can throw the body, and his seven goals and six assists in the Predators' playoff run was among the postseason's most eye-opening performances. He has 17 points in 18 playoff games, compared to a 0.41 points-per-game average in the regular season.
A middling player for 82 games who elevates his performance in the playoffs?
Quite a new concept for the Capitals.