The Washington Capitals have taken a hands-on, proactive approach to this offseason as they gear up for the 2011-12 season. After a productive June that saw the Caps add a handful of players through trades, free agency and the draft, George McPhee and his staff made a splash on the first two days of free agency.
When the NHL’s free agency period opened at noon on Friday, July 1, the Capitals were quick to reach the phones. The first order of business was to add some experience down the middle. The Capitals brought back former captain Jeff Halpern
, a native of Potomac, Maryland, to strengthen their depth and improve their team’s defense. He collected 26 points (11 goals, 15 assists) in 72 games with the Montreal Canadiens last season while logging the second-most shorthanded minutes (2:20) per-game amongst Canadiens forwards and helped lead the team’s penalty kill unit which ranked seventh in the NHL. Halpern also finished second on the team in faceoff percentage (56.9%) and registered one goal in four playoff games.
The Capitals then announced they had acquired a first round pick in the 2012 NHL Entry Draft and a second round pick in the 2012 or 2013 NHL Entry Draft from the Colorado Avalanche in exchange for goaltender Semyon Varlamov.
Next, the Caps announced they had signed free agent right wing Joel Ward
. Ward, 30, recorded 29 points (10 goals, 19 assists) and 42 penalty minutes in 80 games last season with the Nashville Predators. He ranked second among Nashville forwards in blocked shots (57), third in takeaways (51) and fourth in hits (67). In addition, Ward led the Predators in goals (7), assists (6) and points (13) in 12 games during the 2011 Stanley Cup playoffs. He recorded a point in nine of Nashville’s 12 postseason games (including four straight).
Washington added some depth on their blue line by signing veteran defenseman Roman Hamrlik
. The three-time NHL All-Star recorded 34 points (five goals, 29 assists) in 79 games with the Montreal Canadiens last season. He finished second amongst Montreal blueliners in points, first in assists and third in goals while finishing the season ranked fourth in the league in blocked shots (192). The 6’2”, 207-pound defenseman logged the third-most minutes (22:16) per-game with Montreal and collected three assists in seven postseason games.
In the second day of free agency, the Caps made a surprise move by signing goaltender Tomas Vokoun
, regarded as many to be the best available netminder this offseason. The 6’, 215-pound goaltender completed his 13th NHL season while posting a record of 22-28-5 with a 2.55 goals-against average and a .922 save percentage in 57 games with the Florida Panthers. It marked the eighth consecutive season in which he has recorded 20 or more wins and the third-straight season he has registered a save percentage of .920 or higher. He finished the season ranked sixth in the league in shutouts (6), 10th in save percentage, 12th in saves (1,616) and tied for 19th in goals-against average.
The offseason is still relatively young but already the Capitals have drastically improved their roster. Next on the schedule – the Capitals Rookie Development Camp, set to begin Monday, July 11 at Kettler Capitals Iceplex.