Let’s assume that Capitals general manager Brian MacLellan is earnest in his pursuit of a left-handed defenseman who can play alongside the right-handed shooting Mike Green on the Caps’ blue line.
Let’s also assume the salary cap escalates to $70 million, providing the Capitals with roughly $14 million in cap space.
Whom should the Caps target as that top-end defenseman and how should they go about getting him?
If MacLellan wants to go the trade route -- he says he’s talked to about half of the league’s 29 other general managers -- the name Dion Phaneuf certainly comes to mind.
At 29, Phaneuf is in the prime of his NHL career but comes with a killer contract -- seven years, $49 million beginning next season. Phaneuf was beaten up by the Toronto media last season and is in desperate need of a change of scenery. His no-movement clause kicks in on July 1, so the clock is ticking for the Leafs to move him now.
Phaneuf is big (6-foot-3, 214 pounds), productive (eight goals, 23 assists) and can eat up big minutes (23:33), but unless the Leafs agree to pay a large portion of his salary, Phaneuf could be a financial albatross to any NHL suitor.
The Caps also would need to consider the price it would take to get Phaneuf. The Hurricanes reportedly are dangling Eric Staal, while the Oilers reportedly would part with Sam Gagner or Nail Yakupov. Would the Caps be willing to move their 13th pick overall and Marcus Johansson and/or Dmitry Orlov in exchange for Phaneuf?
The safer bet might be through free agency, where the list of experienced left-handed defensemen is long, if not rich in talent.
“We have a couple guys we’re going to pursue,” MacLellan said. “I think everybody is fully aware the free agency market is pretty thin and it’s going to be competitive.
“There’s a couple guys we’re going to pursue up to a certain point. I don’t think we’re going to get ridiculous with our [contract] offers, but hopefully we can find a good fit and pick up a player or two in free agency.”
If the Caps decide Mikhail Grabovski is too pricey to re-sign (and chances are they will) and believe Evgeny Kuznetsov is the answer at No. 2 center (chances are they do) which free-agent defensemen might interest them on or before July 1?
Remember, the Capitals can trade for exclusive negotiating rights.
[RELATED: Which goalie should Caps pursue this summer?]
Here are a few left-handed options:
2013-14 salary: $5.75 million
Scouting report: Markov reportedly is seeking three years and $18 million and he’ll probably get it. Even at his advanced age, Markov (6-foot, 201 pounds) was a machine for the Canadiens last season, leading the team in ice time (25:14) and leading all Habs defensemen with a plus-12. Markov can still put up offensive numbers (seven goals, 36 assists) and is incredible durable (81 games). Very predictable, he could be a perfect complement to Green.
2013-14 salary: $4 million
Scouting report: Because of his age and the fact he was fourth on the Red Wings’ blue line in ice time (20:48), Quincey (6-foot-2, 207 pounds) will be seeking a lengthy and lucrative contract. He managed just four goals and nine assists and was a minus-5 in 82 games for the Red Wings this season, but could be a steady influence on a risk-taker like Green.
2013-14 salary: $3.75 million
Scouting report: Although he’s less gifted offensively than Markov, Orpik is equally dependable and would provide the ying to Green’s yang, and more than likely at a much lower price. Orpik ranked fourth on the Penguins in ice time (21:11) and is considered one of the NHL’s best penalty killers. He managed just two goals and 11 assists in 72 games last season, but at 6-foot-2 and 219 pounds, he probably knows how to defend Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin as well as any defensemen in the league.
2013-14 salary: $3.5 million
Scouting report: The guy’s won two Stanley Cups in the past three years and that has to count for something. Like Orpik, Mitchell doesn’t give you much offensively (one goal, 11 assists in 76 games last season), but he’s big (6-foot-3, 210 pounds) and averaged 22:19 of ice time and was a plus-10 while playing in 18 playoff games for the Kings. He’s also likely to come short-term and at an average price in the $3 million range.