COMMENTARY| Washington Capital fans must have been wondering what was going on in General Manager George McPhee's (GMGM) mind as the clock ticked down on the first day of NHL free agency. First, the team lost key playmaker Mike Ribeiro to the Phoenix Coyotes, and then fans watched as one of their faves, Matt Hendricks was picked up by the Nashville Predators. While other teams in the new Capitals division were busy picking up free agents, re-signing or trading players, not a peep was heard from GMGM's ivory tower.
Although McPhee had hinted earlier in the week that he was probably not going to be active during the free agency period, it still seemed somewhat shocking that the Capitals could lose two relatively key players and not make any moves. Both players, though very different, were excellent at what they did, and their absences will surely be felt, especially next year when the Caps can no longer rely on being the least sucky team in order to win the lowly Southeast Division.
Ribeiro, who signed a four-year, $22 million dollar deal with Phoenix, is a playmaker and was a key member of the Caps' potent powerplay unit. He was also the type of second-line center that the team had desperately needed.
On the other hand, Hendricks was a gritty role player who was always willing to throw down the gloves when he thought the team needed a wake-up call or when a teammate needed defending. Known as the Paralyzer to Caps fans for his entertaining and effective shootout style, Hendricks signed a four-year, $7.4 million contract with Nashville.
The team also lost Jeff Schultz to the Los Angeles Kings who must be hoping they can coax some hitting out of the 6'6" defenseman (good luck with that). However, his absence won't be noticed nearly as much as the other two -- mainly since Schultz had spent more time riding the bench than he had on the ice for the past two years. In addition, the Capitals still need to sign two restricted free agents, defenseman Karl Alzner and Marcus Johansson.
One of the oddest rumors floating around on the first day of NHL free agency was that the Caps were entertaining the idea of bringing back 41-year-old Jaromir Jagr. Considering the fact that many fans still believe that the first time Jagr came to the Caps was the most disastrous thing that ever happened to the team, it would be truly surprising if this were to come to pass.
Although GMGM has stated that he believes the Caps can fill in the holes left by Ribeiro and Hendricks with players from within the team's own system, many fans are feeling a little skeptical about DC's chances of making the playoffs next year. As it was, the Caps barely made it in this lockout-shortened year with Ribeiro and Hendricks. Without Ribeiro's soft hands and Hendricks' grit, it could be nearly impossible to compete in a division that will probably be led by the talent-laden Pittsburgh Penguins and includes the Philadelphia Flyers, New York Rangers, New Jersey Devils, New York Islanders, Carolina Hurricanes and the Columbus Blue Jackets.
Of course, the Capitals did make a huge turnaround this past season after players seemed to get the hang of new coach Adam Oates' system, and Alex Ovechkin had a return to form. It is, of course, possible that with a partial year of the new system under their belts and a preseason next year, the Caps players may finally live up to all the promise that fans and the media had thought they possessed in the past. Unfortunately, we probably won't know whether GMGM made the right decisions until next season's playoffs -- or possible lack thereof.
Jane Ellis has been a freelance reporter for a number of years as well as a former editorial production manager at 4-Wheel & Off-Road Magazine. She has been following the Washington Capitals for approximately 20 years.
- Sports & Recreation
- Ice Hockey
- Matt Hendricks
- Mike Ribeiro
- Phoenix Coyotes