Christian Ehrhoff’s buyout makes him the best defenseman available. (Photo: Greg Fiume/Getty Images)

The Caps didn’t acquire any NHL players at the draft, so they now look to fill empty roster spots in free agency, which begins at noon.

The team’s primary need is a top-four defenseman who can play with Karl Alzner, Mike Green, and John Carlson. Dmitry Orlov did an okay job at that role last season, but the Caps may want to see a more seasoned player there, especially if playing away from Mike Green might mean Orlov could better utilize his offensive tools.

Here’s my take on four options for defense on the open market.

Christian Ehrhoff, Buffalo

Ehrhoff is a two-way defenseman who carried a cap hit of $4 million on his front-loaded, long-term contract with Buffalo. The Sabres reportedly shopped Ehrhoff around, but in the end they decided that no trade offer for the German blueliner could justify taking on the salary recapture penalty that would follow his retirement.

Pros:

  • Throughout his career Ehrhoff has outperformed his team in possession– no matter how horrible they were.
  • His left-handed shot and power play skill would give the Caps a new look, one that might be good on the nights when the 1-3-1 power play designed for the right-handed shots of Ovechkin, Brouwer, and Green doesn’t click.
  • Ehrhoff has playoff experience with six postseason appearances– including going all the way to the finals with the Canucks in 2011.

Cons:

  • The demand for Ehrhoff will drive his price way up. The Caps may find it difficult to sign Ehrhoff and fill their other needs.
  • What’s even more alarming: the demand for Ehrhoff will affect the term of his new deal. Ehrhoff will turn 32 in one week. Overpaying Ehrhoff on a six- or seven-year contract may haunt his new team in the long run.

Projection: Seven years, $6 million AAV to a team that is all-in for next season.

Anton Stralman, NY Rangers

The 27-year-old defenseman’s price tag jumped after the Rangers’ conference-winning playoff run. Stralman has been a bargain for the New York, earning an average of $1.7 million during the term of his previous contract. After taking a top-four spot playing next to Marc Staal, he looks for a big raise this summer.

Pros:

  • Stralman’s age will mean teams can invest in him with more confidence. While he had health problems earlier in his career, he missed just one game over the course of the past two seasons.
  • The Swedish defenseman was a clutch player during the Rangers’ postseason run.
  • Stralman has become more well-rounded. He’s significantly improved the defensive side of his game and while he doesn’t produce offensively like he did early in his career with Columbus, he can still chip in at that end too.

Cons:

  • At 5-foot-11, 190 lbs, Stralman will not be a dominant physical presence on the back end, and if the Caps will be looking to add that dimension to their blue line, Stralman may not be the right fit.
  • Stralman didn’t thrive everywhere he played. He was not a big factor with the Rangers under John Tortorella after they signed him prior to the 2011-12 season. While it’s crazy to compare Tortorella to Barry Trotz, we know little about the strategy he’ll be looking to employ in Washington.

Projection: Six years, $4 million AAV to a team with a lot of size already on the blue line.

Matt Niskanen, Pittsburgh

Niskanen is coming off a breakout year with the Penguins in which he made the most out of long-term injuries to Paul Martin and Kris Letang. Niskanen led all Pens defensemen who played more than half of the games in powerplay ice time. While in Pittsburgh, Niskanen worked under powerplay and defense coach Todd Reirden, who has since joined the Caps following Pittsburgh’s house-cleaning.

Pros:

  • Niskanen stayed on the right side of relative corsi every year since 2009, meaning the team did better in puck possession with Niskanen than without him.
  • His familiarity with Reirden could work to Caps’ advantage.

Cons:

Projection: Six years, $5 million AAV to a team that may regret it, and soon.

Tom Gilbert, Florida

After struggling and eventually getting bought out by the Wild a year ago, Gilbert quietly had a bounce-back season in Florida, where he signed after attending their training camp as a free agent. Now, Gilbert is ready for a contract much more hefty than the $900k he made in 2013-14– and probably from a better team.

Pros:

  • Gilbert is well under the radar, despite being the second-best free agent in time on ice per game and recording a respectable 28 points despite getting below-average puck luck.
  • He is a two-way, jack-of-all-trades type of defenseman that the Caps currently lack in their top-four.

Cons:

  • Like Stramlan, Gilbert isn’t a very physical player.
  • There are questions which Gilbert we will see next year: the one who wallowed in Minnesota or the one who was among the best in Florida. This makes him a risky pick.

Projection: Three years, $3 million AAV to a team desperate after missing out on Ehrhoff.


There are no perfect solutions at free agency. Teams try their best to retain their top players, and all reasonably-priced candidates have significant downside to go along with the positives.

And there are more than a few teams looking for help in their top four, thus driving up prices for the top free agents. While the Caps are likely to be aggressive, they may still lose out to the GMs who will be overly aggressive.

  • Ahhhhhhhh

    Somebody hold me. Preferably Ian and not the Brouwer Rangers. Sorry. The helmets would just get in the way.

  • VeggieTart

    I thought contracts were limited to five years under terms of the new CBA. Either way giving a guy over the age of 30 a seven-year-deal is crazy.

  • Fedor

    They’re limited to seven; eight if you’re re-signing a guy.

  • Josh Carey

    My vote is for Stralman. I don’t really mind how much money the Caps throw to get a dman but I’d hate to see them give someone a 6+ year deal.

  • VeggieTart

    Ah, thanks. I think five was proposed at one time, so that’s probably what I was thinking. Still, signing a guy over 30 to that long is foolish.

  • CappyTal

    I’d rather try to work in some of the guys Oates randomly demoted last year than take anything here not named Stralman.

  • Rob W.

    Im expecting GMBM to go dumpster diving for a bottom pairing D and sign a somewhat decent backup G. Big name players dont want to come to DC right now, in a couple years that might change

  • Austin

    I really won’t be happy with this team until we (1) find a permanent 2C, (2) either put johannson on the trade block or bury him in the bottom lines ( which won’t happen cus the chimera fehr ward line is already to sexy to change so basically we need to trade johannson (3) I like Brouwer and his Brouwer rangers lol but he could be a good trading tool after his career year this past season. (4) resigning Grabovski as 2C OR getting a great f&@king trade with him ( I prefer the former not the latter but you can’t always get what you want). And finally (5) for us to trade something for a good D man or snag and sign a good D man so our Defense actually looks like an NHL blue line and not an AHL squad. That is all.

  • Searle

    Gorges in MTL is apparently on the block, when we fail to get any of these guys we can try trading for him, maybe straight up for MoJo

  • tpr04

    While not included above, I think Orpik is the most likely D-man the Caps get. If they are going to keep Green, which is what they have said publicly, you really need to partner him with a reponsible left handed stay at home veteran. Also, Reirdon has indicated that he’s lobbied Orpik and Niskanin to come here.

  • Searle

    As much as I love Anton Stralman I think we need a bigger, nastier guy who can stop people checking Green’s face into the glass repeatedly. He would definitely be a good signing for the Caps especially as there isn’t a lot else out there (and because advanced stats) but I think he’ll go to a blue line which already has a lot of size and continue to thrive.

    Another good read though, are you guys planning on doing a similar piece on top 2-C candidates? Or just wait till the dust settles on free agency?

  • Diller M

    And world peace, and for it to actually rain skittles from rainbows the way it does in the commercials

  • Luke Anthony

    Hard pass on Gilbert. I watched quite a few Florida games last year and he’s basically a forward playing defense. That said I say Ehrhoff of these 4. Also, hope we sign Loktionov, kid has decent potential and would be a cheap third line center.

  • Fletcher22

    I give a lot of credit to GMBM and/or Trotz for having the foresight to hire Reirdon knowing he’d have some input on where Orpik lands. I think they had a terrible draft in my opinion, but if they land Orpik to pair with Green I think that’s a very good start to free agency.

  • Fletcher22

    I don’t know much about Loktionov, but he’s a 5th rounder from 2008 and will be on his 4th pro team. I don’t think he improves the third line in any way. I’d rather have Steve Ott. He’s a huge pain in the ass to play against, can play all three forward positions if necessary, physical and good in the dot.

    That said, I think he’ll end up in Philly where he will torment us for the next 2-3 years.

  • Luke Anthony

    Point is he’s a cheap contract because money is ‘prohibitive”, could play elsewhere on the team. If it doesn’t work out, no problem. Ott would probably be above 3 million and for several years.

  • Austin

    Lol okay let’s not get carried away I think the caps getting a good D and signing grabo is much more likely than world peace and skittle precipitation…

  • Austin

    I am totally for that!!!!!!!!!!! F&@k yea!

  • Fletcher22

    I think we’re so far past the ‘if it doesn’t work out, no problem’ at this point. It’s time to end the Joey Crabb type signings. Either get players who will help move the team forward or continue fail in the first round, or worse miss the playoffs again. Why not attempt to rid the team of the non performers (Laich, Mojo) and pay a little more for the proven commodity.

  • Luke Anthony

    With the cap, not every player on the team will be proven. You either have to sign career 4th line players or have young kids with potential for cheap and short term. As of right now our center group is awful, we might need two of them. So he could really help. I agree though we should ditch Laich and his contract.

  • Searle

    I think Steve Ott between Chimmer and Ward would be one of the hardest 3rd lines to play against in the league. Would love to have him. But I think people (including myself at times) forget that we still have Laich and his $4.5m contract to fit in the lineup, and I think 3C is where he’ll land

  • Austin

    But then I remembered 30 min after I replied this is the caps we are talking about ( I know, how could I forget)

  • Fletcher22

    I don’t pretend to know all of the details regarding buyouts and physicals and all of that. But if you remove Laich and add Ott you can solve several problems at one time.

  • orlovme

    Ehrhoff, please. Give him the big bucks for a few years, to compensate the shorter contract length. Good 2 way player that could be paired Green or Carlson. Then get an older guy for back up goalie. 7 mil/3 yrs for Ehrhoff and 3 mil/2 years for a proven vetran goalkeeper to play back up.

  • Guest

    I think the best possible course of action would be to sign Ehrhoff, then go for a cheap back-up goaltender like Greiss, and sign an undervalued 2nd line center on the cheap and that player would be Matty P. I figure Ehrhoff would be in the 6.5 Mil AAV range, with Greiss being in the 2.2 mil range, and Matty P in the 2 mil range. With the reported about 13 mil in cap space that would leave them with about 2.3 million, which could either be held to make deals at the deadline if everything is progressing well, or to sign another defensemen to bolster the blue-line depth for a year or two until Nate Schmidt and Madison Bowey are ready to move into bigger roles.

  • Steven Lemmeyer

    YOU CALLED IT! PROPHET

  • Eric Schulz

    Yeah, we know longer would have to worry about contending, we could just go ahead and start the rebuild and shop Ovie and Backstrom. Problems solved.