George McPhee flashes a deft poker face often, not willing to share his plans for the Washington Capitals before he makes a big move. That could be the case this offseason, or the general manager could be calmly blunt about not wanting to spend a lot of money in free agency.
After the first two days of NHL unrestricted free agency, the Caps haven’t made a splash, signing just right wing Joey Crabb, who played last season with Toronto.
“It’s a very inflated market this summer. There aren’t very many players, and there are a lot of teams pursuing the players,” McPhee said Monday. “At some point, you start inventing players, making them out to be better than they are and paying them more than you should. It’s sometimes best just to sit back and stay out of it.”
The Capitals figure to have holes with forwards Alexander Semin, Mike Knuble and Jeff Halpern and defenseman Dennis Wideman not coming back. But as other teams are making moves, McPhee hasn’t done any more than dip his toes into the shallow free agent pool.
“You can survive the loss of a player, but it’s hard to survive bad contracts. Sometimes you can do something at this time of year that handcuffs you for years,” he said. “We haven’t done that; we’re not interested in doing that.”
A year ago, the Caps signed right wing Joel Ward (three years, $12 million), defenseman Roman Hamrlik (two years, $7 million), Halpern (one year, $825,000) and goaltender Tomas Vokoun (one year, $1.5 million), all in the first two days of free agency. Crabb at one year and $950,000 has been the only addition this summer.
And there might be reason to believe not much more is coming in the near future.
“Nothing really active right now. We’ve explored a lot of things as we said we would do,” McPhee said. “We didn’t expect to do a lot before free agency, and we haven’t.”
Many free agents appeared to be waiting for the top two players available, left wing Zach Parise and defenseman Ryan Suter, to choose destinations before signing with teams that came up empty in those pursuits. Those dominos will fall, but the Caps might not be in the mix because of what McPhee called “not a great crop of free agents.”
“Everybody wants to do something, but you’ve got to be careful because we all know what it’s like to feel like you’ve got to do something, you do something and at the end of training camp or the end of October, you’re looking at the guy and saying, ‘Why did we do that?’ ” McPhee said. “Better to be nimble and flexible, and we are right now. We’re not going to commit to anything that doesn’t make sense to us.”
Trades obviously could change the roster landscape between now and the start of training camp, and several intriguing players are out there, including Anaheim Ducks right wing Bobby Ryan and Columbus Blue Jackets right wing Rick Nash.
McPhee didn’t have much to say about going after either of those players, but he’ll talk to colleagues about what’s available.
“We’ve got a pretty good hockey team here. If there’s a way to improve it, we will,” he said. “We’ll explore the trade market like everybody else does. I don’t anticipate a lot happening.”
Even in replacing Semin’s production, McPhee talked up Troy Brouwer, Brooks Laich, Marcus Johansson among players on his roster. Absent of taking a chance on a free agent or making a trade, “We’ll try our own guys,” he said.