By Leslie Silvey
After a season of highs and lows (many of which were documented on HBO’s Emmy-winning sports documentary 24/7), the Capitals stormed their way back to the top of the Eastern Conference in the months leading up to the playoffs. But after handily knocking off a tenacious New York Rangers team in first round playoff action, the boys were swept in the second round by a Tampa Bay team who came within inches of going to the Stanley Cup finals.
Thus, Caps fans experienced yet another disappointing early exit after pinning high hopes on making it all the way this season. Fans and hockey media alike have been trying to figure out the reasons behind yet another playoff exit that sent the boys to the golf course much too early in the month of May. Now we wait and see what transpires during the off-season as the NHL free agency period begins July 1 – a mere five weeks away.
Unfortunately, this means that we may have to bid adieu to some of our favorite players who may be claimed by other teams. For the Capitals, much of the focus will be on fan favorite Brooks Laich, who epitomizes the term “heart and soul” player. Laich is now an Unrestricted Free Agent (UFA) who may be headed out of the nation’s capital should other team present more lucrative options. Others who are currently on the UFA list as of this season’s end include Matt Bradley, Jason Arnott, Marco Sturm, Scott Hannan and Boyd Gordon. As of July 1, these players are free to negotiate and sign with any of the other 29 NHL teams. Several other players become UFAs after next season and beyond, including: the enigmatic Alexander Semin, Mike Knuble, Matt Hendricks, Dennis Wideman, Jeff Schultz, D.J. King and Tyler Sloan. Some of the talented “young guns” who made quite an impression this season could possibly be in play as Restricted Free Agents (RFAs), but this scenario is less likely. This list includes Karl Alzner and Semyon Varlamov (who are RFAs as of season’s end) and John Carlson, Marcus Johansson, Michal Neuvirth and Braden Holtby, who are RFAs after next season and beyond.
The rumor mill amongst the media and puckheads alike is sure to start spinning in the summer weeks approaching July 1 but for now, we’ll all have to wait and see if the team does any major tinkering to try and get closer to the Cup in 2012.