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Caps Qualify Nine

by Mike Vogel / Washington Capitals
Two days after the completion of the 2010 NHL Entry Draft and three days before the start of the league’s free agent shopping season, the Washington Capitals got back to business on Monday. The Caps issued qualifying contract offers to nine players for the 2010-11 season.

The list of players qualified is as follows: Jay Beagle, Chris Bourque, Eric Fehr, Tomas Fleischmann, Andrew Gordon, Boyd Gordon, Patrick McNeill, Zach Miskovic and  Jeff Schultz. The first six players listed are forwards while the latter three are defensemen.

Washington qualified all nine of its restricted free agent players, and those players now have until July 15 to decide whether or not to accept the team’s offer.

Eight of the nine players – with McNeill being the lone exception – carry arbitration rights. Those eight players have until July 5 to file for arbitration. The NHL’s salary arbitration hearings will be conducted from July 20-Aug. 4 in Toronto.

Fehr, Fleischmann, Gordon and Schultz are all key members of the Capitals while the other five players were part of the Hershey Bears’ second consecutive Calder Cup championship team in 2009-10. Fehr, Fleischmann and Schultz are likely to get significant pay increases, which will leave fewer dollars available for the Caps to spend on unrestricted free agents.

As the July 1 free agent shopping season approaches, the Capitals have 17 players (including rookie center Marcus Johansson) under contract for a total of just under $47 million. The 2010-11 NHL salary cap has been set at $59.4 million.

“We have a pretty good idea of what our costs are going to be now,” Caps general manager George McPhee said last week. “Where the [salary] cap is now [is what] we had planned for. We’re pretty comfortable with where we are on the cap and the way we’ve spent our money.

“We’d like to wait until after the draft to make final decisions on some of our restricted free agents, and then we’ll go to work on free agency. I don’t expect to do a lot but if there is something there that makes sense, we’ll do it. The good news is we don’t have to spend a lot of money and do long-term deals and real expensive deals to make our team better. Our team is a pretty good team; we’ll just work around the edges.”

Beagle, Bourque, Gordon and McNeill could challenge for roster spots in Washington this fall. Last week, there were reports that Bourque had signed a contract for 2010-11 to play in Russia in the KHL, but both Bourque and McPhee have said there is no deal done just yet.

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