The Washington Capitals seem like one of the big “winners” of the 2011 off-season. Tomas Vokoun’s budgetary loss was their gain. They turned an uncomfortable situation with Semyon Varlamov into two high-end draft picks. Maybe GM George McPhee paid a little too much for certain players, but there’s the feeling he added a lot of useful pieces to the puzzle.
That last part might be the sticking point, though. It seems like the Capitals keep over-paying for one player in particular: Troy Brouwer. McPhee raised some eyebrows when he traded Washington’s first round pick (26 overall) in 2011 for Brouwer, although it must be noted that it was clear the franchise didn’t see much in this year’s draft. That would have been fine, but the team also gave Brouwer a massive raise today, signing him to a two-year deal worth a whopping $4.7 million.
On paper, Brouwer seems like a very nice fit for Washington. The rugged forward often skated on the Chicago Blackhawks’ top line, opening up space for Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane while scoring 36 points in 2010-11 and 40 in 2009-10. Of course, he did that at the bargain price of $1.025 million per year; now he’ll get a ransom of $2.35 million per season.
Maybe that’s actually a reasonable deal in this crazy spending climate, but he might not be the right move for Washington. The Capitals’ current cap commitments are now at about $66 million, putting them about $2 million above the $64 million ceiling (according to NHL Numbers). Washington doesn’t need to panic about getting back under yet, but they should at least be concerned, especially since prized restricted free agent Karl Alzner could be headed toward salary arbitration.
It looks like McPhee and the Capitals might walk a salary cap tight rope this summer. If there’s two new contracts that look the most of out order, they might be Brouwer’s deal and Brooks Laich’s $4.5 million per year contract extension. There have been some murmurs about Tom Poti’s $2.875 million cap hit being removed in some way (retirement, trade or submerged in the minors?), but it’s likely that the Caps would need to move another contract if they want to retain Alzner as well. Moving some combination of Eric Fehr ($2.2 million), Jason Chimera ($1.875 million) and John Erskine ($1.5 million) might end up being the antidote for Washington as well.
Either way, the Caps are going for broke in 2011-12. Who knows if it will actually work, but it’s already making an interesting NHL off-season that much more intriguing.