Mailbag: When will we see Kuznetsov?

Mailbag: When will we see Kuznetsov?
March 7, 2014, 11:15 am
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Penn Quarter Sports Tavern Six Pack of Questions

Welcome to our weekly edition of Penn Quarter Sports Tavern’s 6-Pack of Questions, where we aim to keep it real while answering your most pressing questions regarding the Washington Capitals.

Let’s get started.

@ThePitBull_88 Any idea on timeframe for [Evgeny] Kuznetsov?

@dcarvevale 44 How do you think the lineup will shake out once Kuznetsov arrives? Who is the odd man out?

For the Capitals, the hardest part is over. By terminating his contract with Traktor Chelyabinsk, the KHL has opened the door for the Capitals to sign their highly-touted prospect and there are reports he is en route to Washington today and could be on the ice as early as Saturday morning or Sunday. I would imagine the dollar amount of that two-year deal is at the rookie maximum of $900,000. According to capgeek.com, the Caps have just $358,207 of cap space, but can clear the necessary $550,000 by sending Ryan Stoa back to Hershey. Kuznetsov already has tweeted a photo of his U.S. passport [which has since been taken down] and he appears to be anxious to put his Russian hockey career behind him. In a tweet from Russian reporter Igor Eronko, Kuznetsov said, “Even dogs in Chelyabinsk were barking, ‘Get out of here’ and ‘Go to D.C.’” I would not be surprised to see Kuznetsov skating with the Caps by early [perhaps very early] next week. With Mikhail Grabovski [ankle] and Brooks Laich [groin] sidelined by injury I see Kuznetsov sliding in as the Caps’ No. 2 center between burly wingers Dustin Penner and Troy Brouwer.

@rtomoff15 What will the Caps do with [Jaroslav] Halak at the end of the season?

Halak may hold the answer to that question. In my opinion, this was more than simply getting a squeaky wheel out of town. Yes, Michal Neuvirth was unhappy as a No. 2 goalie in Washington. But the Caps could have held onto him and waited until the draft to trade him. Instead, they went out and acquired a goalie that gave them fits in the 2010 playoffs when he was with Montreal. I can’t imagine the Caps acquired Halak to back up Braden Holtby. My guess is that Halak will be given every opportunity to grab the No. 1 job. If he does and he carries the Caps into the playoffs, the Caps will consider re-signing him. If not, they’ll let him walk as an unrestricted free agent. To me, the real issue is what this team plans on doing with Holtby. If Halak plays the majority of the Caps’ remaining 18 games, what kind of confidence will Holtby have going into training camp next season if they enter the season with him and Philipp Grubauer? It’s a very curious move. But if you ask me straight up if the Caps intend to re-sign Halak this summer my gut says no.

@Dasimonetta Should the Caps buy out Brooks Laich?

Wow, that is one interesting question. Having bought out Jeff Schultz last summer, the Caps have one more amnesty buyout that must be used this summer or forfeited. It must be a contract that was existing prior to the NHL lockout, so Laich certainly qualifies. After this season he has three years and $13.5 million remaining on a six-year, $27 million contract signed in 2011. If the Caps buy him out, they would need to do so by June 15. Under a buyout the Caps would pay Laich roughly $1.4 million for each of the next six seasons. Laich’s groin problems over the past two seasons have been well documented and his injuries have certainly affected his offensive totals. To answer your question, if I could not get a doctor to convince me Laich will not have recurring groin problems the remainder of his career, I would buy him out.

@PeterWStevenson Is Jack Hillen the missing piece on the blue line? Or did the Caps make a big mistake not trading for D?

I think it’s a lot to ask a guy who suffered a career-threatening leg fracture and did not play an NHL game in five months to be a missing piece. Even with a healthy Hillen I believe the Caps could have used a reliable No. 4 defenseman to pair with Mike Green. Andrew MacDonald, a left-handed shooter, fit that description, but he went from the Islanders to the Flyers for a prospect, a third-round pick in 2014 and a second-round pick in 2015.

@hipheeb [Mikhail] Grabovski hurt. They could have traded him. Do they have $ to resign him?

Because of his injury it would have been very difficult for the Caps to trade Grabovski. To answer your question, yes, they will have enough money [a projected $17 million] under the salary cap to sign Grabovski. His injury will impact his offensive numbers, which will impact his value on the free agent market. If I’m the Capitals, I get a good look at Kuznetsov to see if he fits as the club’s No. 2 center. If he does, I re-sign Grabovski as my third-line center, where he was effective early this season between Jason Chimera and Joel Ward. Question is, at what price? The Caps would be reluctant to pay a third-line center $5 million a season. But if they could get Grabovski at $4 million, would they do it? Would you?

@sfischer1967 so who are they going to target in the off-season?

Another great question. Let’s talk about need first. The Caps need a reliable, veteran defenseman who can log big minutes and play a solid two-way game. The best out there on the 2014 UFA market would be Andrei Markov, who is 35 but still logging more than 25 minutes a night in Montreal. If the Flyers don’t re-sign him – and I think they will -- MacDonald would be another good fit. At 33, Brooks Orpik is still logging big minutes with the Penguins and would be a nice complement to Green. If you’re asking for my top three, that’s mine. Next on the priority list would be left wing and the top potential UFAs include Thomas Vanek [21-32-53], Jussi Jokinen [16-28-44], Matt Moulson [17-21-38] and Mason Raymond [17-19-36].  As for UFA goalies, no one other than Ryan Miller thrills me.