Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Offseason Shopping List: Defensemen

Having unanimously settled a new first-line center for the Caps, it's time to find a new "number one" defenseman. As was the case with centers, should the team choose to go the free agent route, there are certainly some options out there. Unlike centers, however, this year's free agent class of defensemen is relatively weak as compared to last year's.

First, a look at likely market conditions. In the offseason leading up to the 2006-07 season, teams were working with a $44 million salary cap. The top (unrestricted) free agent defensemen available were Nicklas Lidstrom, Zdeno Chara, Wade Redden, Ed Jovanovski, Rob Blake and Bryan McCabe. A quick look at the deals each got:

  • Lidstrom (36 years old): 2 years, $15.2 million ($7.6 million per year); 2005-06 stats:16-64-80
  • Chara (29): 5 years, $37.5 million ($7.5 million per year); 2005-06 stats: 16-27-43
  • Redden (29): 2 years, $13 million ($6.5 million per year); 2005-06 stats: 10-40-50
  • Jovanovski (30): 5 years, $32.5 million ($6.5 million per year); 2005-06 stats: 8-25-33
  • Blake (36): 2 years, $12 million ($6 million per year); 2005-06 stats: 14-37-51
  • McCabe (31): 5 years, $28.75 million ($5.75 million per year); 2005-06 stats: 19-49-68

Now, that's one hell of a class of blueliners. Sure, a couple of 'em are a bit long in the tooth and there are some injury concerns there, but any one of those guys (with one exception) could conceivably put together a Norris Trophy finalist season (and some have already, multiple times). Compare that to this year's top-five UFAs (in no particular order): Mathieu Schneider, Sheldon Souray, Kimmo Timonen, Brian Rafalski and Roman Hamrlik. See any Norris winners there? Any perennial finalists? Me neither.

So what will these guys cost? As we discussed with the centers, for 2007-08, the salary cap is expected to rise to between $46 and $47.5 million, but for the ease of this exercise, let's call it $48 million, a 9% increase over 2006-07. It would stand to reason that the top free agents, then, will cost around 9% more than they did last offseason (of course this assumes that some other factors, such as supply of and demand for these players holds constant, but again, pinpoint accuracy isn't important here). In other words, get ready to shell out around $6 million - bare-minimum - for the next 2-5 years. With all of that in mind, let's take a look at the candidates for the top-D spot (stats through 6 March 2007):

  • Roman Hamrlik
    • DOB: April 12, 1974
    • Nationality: Czech
    • 2006-07 salary: $3,500,000
    • Honors and Awards: 1996, 1999, 2003 NHL All-Star; 1998 Olympic Gold Medal
    • 2006-07 stats: 59 GP, 5-25-30
    • Career regular season stats: 983 GP, 129-368-497
    • Career playoff stats: 49 GP, 1-19-20
    • Games played over the last five NHL seasons prior to 2006-07: 351/410
    • Why he's a prime target for the Caps: Former number one overall pick (and we know how the team loves to collect former first rounders), Hamrlik is a good skater, shooter and passer who plays a physical (enough) game.
    • Why he's not: He's somewhat injury-prone and makes mistakes in the defensive zone at times. More than that, he's not a true #1 defenseman.
  • Brian Rafalski
    • DOB: September 28, 1973
    • Nationality: American
    • 2006-07 salary: $4,200,000
    • Honors and Awards: 2000, 2003 Stanley Cup; 2002 Olympic Silver Medal; 2002, 2004, 2007 NHL All-Star
    • 2006-07 stats: 67 GP, 7-36-43
    • Career regular season stats: 526 GP 43-256-299
    • Career playoff stats: 91 GP 15-37-52
    • Games played over the last four NHL seasons prior to 2006-07: 384/410
    • Why he's a prime target for the Caps: Rafalski is a winner and comes from a franchise that knows what winning is all about. His numbers may not be the most impressive, but they've been held down somewhat by playing in a defense-first system. He's a smart player, a great skater, and a capable offensive defenseman.
    • Why he's not: He's not big (5-10, 190). Seriously, that's just about the only "negative" I could write about Raffy. Maybe the fact that he'll be 34 by Opening Night 2007 is another, or the fact that at a $4.2 million 2006-07 salary, his 2007-08 salary will likely be one of the highest in the League.
  • Mathieu Schneider
    • DOB: June 12, 1969
    • Nationality: American
    • 2006-07 salary: $3,300,000
    • Honors and Awards: 1993 Stanley Cup; 1996, 2003 NHL All-Star
    • 2006-07 stats: 54 GP, 11-37-48
    • Career regular season stats: 1118 GP, 200-459-659
    • Career playoff stats: 92 GP, 7-39-46
    • Games played over the last five NHL seasons prior to 2006-07: 356/410
    • Why he's a prime target for the Caps: Schneider has a cannon from the blueline and passes extremely well - an ideal powerplay quarterback. Plus, he'd fill the on-ice Jew quota that has been deficient since Jeff Halpern left town.
    • Why he's not: He'll be 38 on Opening Night 2007, doesn't have great size and misses a handful of games every year with injuries.
  • Sheldon Souray
    • DOB: July 13, 1976
    • Nationality: Canadian
    • 2006-07 salary: $2,432,000
    • Honors and Awards: 2004, 2007 NHL All-Star
    • 2006-07 stats: 67 GP, 23-32-55
    • Career regular season stats: 492 GP, 63-114-177
    • Career playoff stats: 34 GP, 3-7-10
    • Games played over the last five NHL seasons prior to 2006-07: 224/410
    • Why he's a prime target for the Caps: Souray has a laser of a shot from the point and plays with an edge. Also, he's recently reconciled with his wife, and she's certainly a plus.
    • Why he's not: He will likely be the highest-paid free agent defenseman by far, but is a guy who has played 55% of his team's games over the past five years and who has well over 30% of his career production so far this season worth that much? Add in that he's not a terribly skilled passer, not the most skilled defensively and takes bad penalties and I think you have your answer.
  • Kimmo Timonen
    • DOB: March 18, 1975
    • Nationality: Finnish
    • 2006-07 salary: $2,280,000
    • Honors and Awards: 1998 Olympic Bronze Medal; 2006 Olympic Silver Medal; 2004, 2007 NHL All-Star
    • 2006-07 stats: 66 GP, 10-37-47
    • Career regular season stats: 559 GP, 76-217-293
    • Career playoff stats: 11 GP, 1-3-4
    • Games played over the last five NHL seasons prior to 2006-07: 392/410
    • Why he's a prime target for the Caps: Timonen is durable, fast and a good passer with a good shot.
    • Why he's not: He's smallish and perhaps a marginal number one guy.

From a quick glance at the above and my gut impressions of these five, I'd rank them Rafalski, Timonen, Souray, Schneider, Hamrlik in terms of how they'd fit what the Caps are doing. I'm sure I'll meet a lot of resistance ranking Souray so low, but his injury-riddled past and defensive/discipline lapses scare me - I'd gladly trade a few MPH on the slapper for a few more takeaways and plusses at the other end.

Finally, as we did with the centers, having attempted to pick an unrestricted free agent, let's explore the restricted free agent route, where the money saved could be spent on a center and/or a rightwing. Of course you would be giving up some picks, but with all of the prospects the Caps will have compiled by then and names like Ryan Whitney, Joni Pitkanen and Ryan Suter on the market, maybe it's an option worth exploring (if for no other reason than to screw Pittsburgh and/or Philly financially by making them match a high offer).


papoon said...

Voted for Hamrlik but would've voted for Heward had he been an offered as an option in the poll.

Vote for Jamie.

Scott said...

Ryan Whitney? Isn't that akin to the Daniel Briere situation?

JP said...

Yes and no. If the Caps put a high offer in on Whitney that they know the Pens will reluctantly match (see PHI/VAN and Ryan Kesler), the Caps will screw the Kansas City financially without having to commit any dollars or players, which would be nice.

And they could do much worse than a guy like Whitney, skill-wise, should they end up with him.

But yeah, the spearing incident certainly crossed my mind when I put his name down, though I think that's water under the belt, err, bridge at this point.

Anonymous said...

Any thoughts on Ted's comments about possible trades using our multitude of draft picks and younger "inexpensive" players this off season. Maybe we can package a 1st and 2nd round pick with say Eminger and trade him to Anahiem for Pronger.

JP said...

I think the team will look to trade picks and/or a young guy to a team that needs to free up some cap room. I'm not sure who that might be, but I doubt it would be any of the real top contenders (like Anaheim), b/c their window is only open so long and they will have made the decision to "go for it."

In other words, Anaheim has Pronger, Selanne and Niedermayer now, so their immediate window is the next two or three years or so, and if they trade Pronger for assets that take years to develop, they take a step back and lessen their chance at winning.

On the other hand, a team like the Leafs could find they need depth and cap space and they're not that close to contending, so they trade a guy like Tomas Kaberle and try to rebuild a bit (note: I haven't looked at the numbers - just throwing an illustrative example out there).

JP said...

Oh, and the poll is new to reflect this post, so go vote!

Tyler said...

Don't you think they'll sign a C and a RW, and try to trade for D?

JP said...

It's certainly an option. This is just another one.

Have anyone in mind, Tyler?

pepper said...

I agree 100% with your 1-5 rankings of the UFAs JP. Rafalski is a bit older, but a late bloomer as well so doesn't have as many miles on him as the typical 34 yo NHL defenseman. Souray's having one great year, with a lot of fanfare. That's a classic case of being rewarded for past performance and winding up vastly overpaid.

E said...

I think Timonen is the way to go. His smallish stature is of no concern seeing as how we have Schultz, Jerky, Moe right now and Sasha and Joe Finley hopefully ready in a year or 2 or 3.

E said...

plus, he's on the cheaper end of the spectrum and younger as compared to the others. This fits with "the plan." Get guys still in their prime (not on the downswing) with speed and skill, who are not too expensive. Damn! Why aren't I the GM?

Anonymous said...

does anyone else realize that our prized trade aquisition(you know, the guy who we traded our third best player for) is not even listed as a member of the team on the caps homepage. does anyone else realize thats absolutely pathetic. and before you go saying,"oh but are zubrus, zednik and hewa.."
No, theyre not still on it.

JP said...

So the organization is a joke b/c their webmaster is slow? Well-reasoned conclusion to draw.

Anonymous said...

the website is a representation, however large, of the organization, and acts as a bridge to the fans. considering the owner is somewhat of a computer guy and the team site has won many accolades, it is obviously a priority. Yet a week and a half later novotny is still not on the homepage roster and zubrus, zednik and heward are not there either. It would be easy to just say the webmaster is slow if the roster still included the three ex-caps, but why not add the new guy at the same time you take the others off. Did he already forget who he was by that time, and has he still forgotten, and am i really the only one that has noticed? By no means did i condemn the organization as a joke as you put it, but i do believe its sad that we as fans are encouraged to be excited when it doesnt seem they are.

JP said...

Fair enough. I'll see what I can do about it.

the deuce said...

I'm sorry, but if I had to pick one of the centers available as UFAs this summer as the first line center to build my franchise around, Pavel Disappearing Act would be my LAST pick. I know he's Russian, and I know he's skilled, but, come on people! Playoff performance is what it's all about! Didn't the lesson of Mike Gartner (aka Mr. Postseason) teach us anything. You need guys who know how to step UP their games in the playoffs, aka Dino Cicarelli, Claude Lemieux, Dale BIG GAME Hunter. Give me Drury or Gomez anyday of the week and twice on Sundays. Now I'm just worried your poll will jinx us JP and we'll end up with this guy...I'm blaming YOU Mister!

JP said...

How's that, anonymous?

JP said...

Oh, and don't blame me - my pick was Drury!

Chimaera said...

aren't markov/hannan also going to be available?

If so, they probably trump much of those players.

Anonymous said...

ha thanks jp, it was obviously bugging me