The Capitals have limited roster decisions to make this offseason. There are no restricted free agents on the roster and only three players will be unrestricted free agents – winger Dustin Penner, center Mikhail Grabovski and goalie Jaroslav Halak.
Grabovski, who was signed last summer to be the team’s second-line center, missed 24 games with an ankle injury sustained on Jan. 24 and was never the same. He was not available to speak with reporters, but will do so on Tuesday.
Halak was acquired in a trade on March 5 and started 12 games. But he also got into a dispute with coach Adam Oates last week after Oates said his goalie “wasn’t 100 percent comfortable” starting a game at St. Louis, his former team. Halak’s agent, Allan Walsh, blasted Oates in an e-mail to reporters. Still, Halak wouldn’t rule out a return.
“We have really good group of guys in here, and I came here to make the playoffs,” Halak said. “And obviously we didn’t make it. I’ve got unfinished business here, so you know, I wouldn’t be against coming back. We’ll see what the future brings.”
Penner, who had spent his entire career in the Western Conference and most of it with the two Los Angeles-area teams, the Kings and Ducks, was non-committal.
“That’s something for management and coaching staff. I’m just a player. I’m a cog in the wheel,” Penner said.
Will he be back? “I need a job next year.”
INJURY UPDATES: On the injury front, Caps defenseman Mike Green sustained broken ribs in an April 5 game against the New York Islanders.
“It was frustrating, especially with the amount of games left in the season,” Green said. “You want to finish strong with the spot that we were in. We were still in it at that point, so it was deflating for myself, not being able to finish. Mentally, you’ve got to stay strong here, and make sure that I can get healthy and I can start training for the summer.”
Meanwhile, defenseman Jack Hillen admitted he sustained a concussion during a nasty collision with teammate Alex Ovechkin on March 25 in a game against the Los Angeles Kings. He tried to downplay his symptoms and returned to the ice twice before realizing he wasn’t healthy enough to play. Add in a broken leg sustained in an Oct. 3 game against Calgary, and Hillen appeared in just 13 games.
Forward Marcus Johansson arrived at breakdown day with his left arm in a hard cast. He broke it in Friday’s 4-0 win over the Chicago Blackhawks when teammate and fellow Swede Nicklas Backstrom’s shot hit him in the forearm.
“It’s not a fun ending, but it happens,” Johansson said. “I think it’s a part of the game. There’s nothing you can do about it. It would have been worse if we were going into the playoffs, I think, for me.”
LAICH CONFIDENT OF RETURN: Another player who dealt with a lingering injury all season was forward Brooks Laich. He had surgery to release a tight adductor muscle on March 17. That was related to his groin procedure the previous spring. The original injury was sustained while playing in Switzerland during the 2012 NHL lockout. He appeared in just nine games then and 31 this year.
“I feel mentally and physically liberated,” Laich said. “I’m not ready to play. I couldn’t play [Sunday against Tampa Bay], but with my whole heart I believe that I’ll be 100 percent ready to resume my career and excel at the game, not just participate, come training camp.”
That’s a relief for a player who began the year well and still had eight goals and seven assists. But his groin issues flared up again early in the season and he had to tell general manager George McPhee and coach Adam Oates to shut him down when they saw him hurting the team. Laich couldn’t stand to do it himself.
“I was in survival mode. The first 20 games, I felt okay,” Laich said. “And then after that it was such a nose-dive where I was just trying to survive that day and I’ll deal with trying to practice tomorrow or trying to play tomorrow. Honestly, from mid-November on it was a day-by-day kind of year for me and it’s impossible to get the work in at practice that you need, get the workouts in off the ice that you need. It’s impossible to prepare and to excel at the game.”