Matt Hendricks will get a new contract from someone this summer. Whether the Washington Capitals will give it to him remains to be seen.
If it’s up to Hendricks’ teammates, there’s no doubt he’ll be back.
“I think he’s a guy that can play on the first, second line,” defenseman Karl Alzner said. “If you ask him to, he can find a way. He obviously does all the things that you’d want your typical fourth-liner to do. … It would suck to see a guy like that go. He’s the type of guy that every guy, every team wants to have.”
Hendricks will draw significant interest if he hits the unrestricted free agent market July 5. The soon-to-be 32-year-old forward can play left wing and center, take faceoffs, block shots and eat up minutes on the penalty kill.
He’s also a shootout specialist. Linemate and friend Jay Beagle has tried to imitate Hendricks’ patented shootout move and can’t replicate it.
“I mean obviously I think he’s done everything,” Beagle said of Hendricks. “You look at him, he fights, he hits, he’s a good leader in the dressing room. … He’s a total package player, really. You need those guys on your team and those role players. He’ll go down and take a puck off the face if he has to block one. He’ll do it. He’s a good role player and those guys are hard to come by.”
Hendricks played out the final season of a two-year, $1.65 million contract, scoring five goals and adding three assists. He spent some time on the first line with Nicklas Backstrom and Alex Ovechkin and won 58.3 percent of his faceoffs.
“Really valuable, good guy,” general manager George McPhee said. “Love everything about him.”
But do McPhee and assistant general manager Don Fishman love Hendricks enough to commit to him long-term? The veteran is believed to be seeking more than a two-year deal, and, based on his play the past two seasons should be in line for a substantial raise.
Hendricks is at a different level of his career than he was when he came to Washington and earned a contract out of training camp in 2010.
“I think I’ve established myself more in this league,” Hendricks said. “Proved I can play throughout the lineup – special teams, penalty kill, things like that. I’m pretty good at faceoffs. I think I’m just more of an established player at this level.”
He’s about to get paid like it. The New York Rangers are expected to put in a call to Hendricks’ camp July 5 if he doesn’t have a deal by then, Larry Brooks of the New York Post reported. Several other teams have shown interest as well.
And that might be based solely on what Hendricks brings on the ice. Ask his teammates, and his off-ice value is impossible to quantify.
“He steps up when he needs to and addresses the whole team,” Beagle said. “When we were in the low point he was one of the guys who had a couple things to say, almost words of encouragement to kind of get us going. But he also before games he’ll bring a certain energy and just kind of get everyone going, kind of gets us all fired up before every game.”
Hendricks is, by definition, a “character guy” in an NHL locker room. Rookies Tom Wilson and Steve Oleksy singled out the Blaine, Minn., native as helping them get used to playing with the Caps.
“Sometimes, chemistry off the ice is just as important as chemistry on the ice and he’s a guy that he might not wear a letter, but he definitely leads by example,” Oleksy said. “There’s a lot of guys that he helped and I’m one of them. He was definitely a guy who helped me out a lot. To watch and to learn from him and his work ethic and what he brings to the table was huge for me.”
Perhaps the Caps can find another fourth-line grinder to replace Hendricks on the penalty kill and faceoffs. Left wing Aaron Volpatti is willing to drop the gloves and able to agitate, and 21-year-old center Michael Latta (acquired along with Martin Erat in the trade that sent prospect Filip Forsberg to the Nashville Predators) is a dark horse to make the 2013 roster.
But Hendricks became a piece of the Caps’ core, even averaging just under 12 minutes a game. He won’t get a contract the size of Brooks Laich’s, but his value to the team should get him consideration for a long-term deal.
“He comes to play every night and you can count on him every night, that’s what I think is important,” center Nicklas Backstrom said. “He’s a great guy to have around the team, brings a lot of energy but that’s not my job. That’s management.”
Hendricks knows that, too. During the season he said contract negotiations were the furthest thing from his mind, but by the time the Caps went through exit interviews he seemed ready to accept whatever was next.
“It’s a business, and it’s part of the business,” Hendricks said. “It’s a big part of the business when it comes to players’ salaries, I would assume. In my opinion. You want to get what you feel you deserve and what is right, and that’s what happens in the negotiating process.”
That said, Hendricks made it clear “I hope I’m back here in Washington.” Captain Alex Ovechkin stumped for Hendricks and center Mike Ribeiro, as well.
“It’s not my call, it’s not my decision,” Ovechkin said. “I don’t know about salary cap and that kind of stuff, but I think George and Adam gonna talk about who they wanna see in the lineup or who’s not. My job is just go out there; it doesn’t matter who’s gonna be there. My job just do my best. I hope Ribs and Hendy and those guys [in] free agency gonna sign and they gonna stay here.”
Alzner called Hendricks “the best team guy that I’ve played with.” It’s not players’ call if he’s back, but Hendricks’ departure would leave a major hole in the locker room.
“He’s a big part of the team,” right wing Troy Brouwer said. He brings a lot of leadership role, he’s a good guy in the dressing room. And he plays hard, plays tough minutes. I don’t know exactly where he’s at with his situation. I think his family likes it here, I know he likes it here and the guys would love to have him back.”