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Caps Add Trio of Bottom-Six Wingers

Caps fortify third and fourth lines with additions of Panik, Hathaway and Leipsic on Day One of free agency

by Mike Vogel @VogsCaps / washingtoncaps.com

When the NHL opened its randomly stocked free-agent shelves at noon on Monday, the Capitals weren't among the teams with the fattest wallets. But that didn't stop Washington general manager Brian MacLellan from making a quick dash through the aisles of the UFA emporium, and plucking a trio of bottom six forwards for his team.

Most notably, Washington has signed winger Richard Panik to a four-year contract with an annual salary cap dent of $2.75 million. The 28-year-old Panik, a 6-foot-1, 208-pound left-handed shot from Slovakia, is likely to slot in on the right side of the Capitals' third line.

Moving over to the fourth-line winger aisle, MacLellan added right wing Garnet Hathaway on another four-year deal with an annual salary cap hit of $1.5 million. Finally, the Caps signed left wing Brendan Leipsic to a one-year contract for $700,000.

Panik averaged more than 16 minutes per night in each of the last two seasons, skating 16:37 for the Arizona Coyotes in 2018-19, including 1:59 per night in power play time and 1:12 per game in shorthanded time. A second-round draft pick (52nd overall) of the Tampa Bay Lightning in the 2009 NHL Entry Draft, Panik has also played for Toronto and Chicago over the course of his seven-year NHL career. He has totaled 75 goals and 159 points in 410 games, which is an average of 15 goals and 32 points per 82 games.

Panik had his best season in 2016-17 when he racked up 22 goals and 44 points Chicago, playing frequently with Jonathan Toews. While the Caps see him as a third-line player, he has the ability and skill to move into the top six should injuries require someone to do so. Panik brings a good blend of size and speed to the third line, where he is expected to play with Carl Hagelin and Lars Eller. All three members of that unit are under contract for the next four seasons.

Following in the skatesteps of Brett Connolly (first round, sixth overall in 2010 NHL Draft) and Radko Gudas (third round, 66th overall in 2010 Draft), Panik will be the third player drafted by Tampa Bay to sport a Caps' sweater in the last few seasons.

Hathaway is a non-drafted, self-made player in the Jay Beagle mold. In each of his four seasons in the NHL - all with Calgary - the 27-year-old winger has increased his total of games played as well as his goal and point totals, culminating in an 11-goal, 19-point season with the Flames in 2018-19. The 6-foot-2, 210-pound Hathaway is an old-school, north/south winger who gets in on the forecheck, finishes his checks and can kill penalties.

With the Flames last season, Hathaway logged 1:42 per night in shorthanded ice time, fourth among Flames forwards and tops among the team's wingers. He also led all Flames with 200 hits in 2018-19, finishing in a tie for 26th in the league in that department, along with Washington's Tom Wilson. Hathaway played four seasons at Brown University before turning pro in 2014-15.

Leipsic was a third-round draft choice (89th overall) of the Nashville Predators, but he never donned the mustard-colored sweater in a regular season NHL game. Leipsic was dealt to Toronto in a midseason swap for Cody Franson in February of 2015. Since then, he has had a nomadic and sporadic NHL career, playing for Vegas, Vancouver and Los Angeles. Leipsic is coming off his best NHL campaign, a seven-goal, 23-point season in which he averaged 13:47 per night over 62 games with the Canucks and Kings. He logged 1:36 per night in power-play ice time in his 45 games with Los Angeles last season.

A native of Winnipeg, Leipsic is a 5-foot-10, 182-pound winger who plays bigger than his size; he brings some abrasiveness and tenacity to the rink. Those are elements the Caps were lacking on their fourth line at times last season.

With Monday's addition of these three forwards, the Caps now have a dozen forwards, six defensemen and two netminders under contract for the upcoming campaign, and they have just under $4.3 million in salary cap space remaining (according to CapFriendly.com). With that money, they'll need to come to terms with RFA left wing Jakub Vrana and RFA defenseman Christian Djoos. Aside from those two items, MacLellan's offseason work is all but finished. Caps winger Chandler Stephenson is also an RFA in need of a contract this summer, but today's additions are going to make it difficult - if not impossible - for Washington to get him under contract, too.

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