Jan 14, 2014; Washington, DC, USA; Washington Capitals center Mikhail Grabovski (84) skates with the puck as San Jose Sharks center Joe Thornton (19) chases in the second period at Verizon Center. Mandatory Credit: Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

An Old Ghost: Second-Line Center Options for the Washington Capitals

When Mike Ribeiro was acquired by the Washington Capitals at the 2012 NHL Entry Draft, the nightmarish, festering maw at the second-line center position seemed to have been finally solved. And indeed, Ribeiro performed well for the price he was acquired at (Cody Eakin and a 2012 2nd-round pick), with 49 points in 48 games and this memorable overtime winner in the 2013 first-round series against the New York Rangers:

Yet Ribeiro departed for the Arizona Coyotes after the 2012-13 season, after they offered him a longer deal and the Capitals chose not to. This left the organization searching once again for a solvent to their longstanding woes at second-line center. Enter Mikhail Grabovski, freshly bought out by the Toronto Maple Leafs and hungry to prove his critics wrong. The Capitals snapped him up at $3 million for a year on a “prove-the-doubters-wrong” deal, and Grabo came through, posting 35 points in 58 games and leading all Washington forwards in Corsi-for percentage.

Yet Grabovski will be looking for a higher, longer-term deal this summer after a solid season. Though Grabovski’s agent, Gary Greenstin, says that Mikhail would like to stay in D.C., talks are still ongoing, and impending free-agents are free to begin negotiating with other teams on June 25th until the 30th. In the event that Grabovski isn’t retained by the Capitals, the team’s need at second-line center would once again become glaringly important to fill.

So what are the other options available? A quick glance at the free-agent center list doesn’t show a tremendous amount of ideal options (David Steckel, anyone?) apart from Grabovski or Paul Stastny, who will command a lot of attention if not re-signed by the Colorado Avalanche. Other players, like Olli Jokinen, David Legwand, or Derek Roy, seem like stretches to fill the void because of age or lack of production from a player ideal for the position.

We’ve covered several trade targets as well, including Patrick Marleau, Joe Thornton, Ryan Kesler, and Jason Spezza. Any of these players would solve the potential issue, with favorable Corsi and Fenwick rates, and they certainly could be upgrades at the position. But they come with their issues as well. Both Marleau and Thornton are on the wrong side of 30 and command larger salary cap hits. Kesler also has a high cap rate, and is coming off of three consecutive sub-50 point seasons after signing his 6-year $30 million extension in 2010. Jason Spezza has one year remaining on his deal for $7 million and, as Ottawa GM Bryan Murray says, would ideally go “somewhere we don’t have to play him every night” which may exclude Washington as an Eastern Conference team.

One would also imagine that all of these trade targets would come at high prices, including prospects and high draft picks. Yet if the Capitals and Grabovski can’t come to terms, the Capitals may find themselves having to pay a high price, monetarily or in a trade, to keep the old ghosts of the second-line center position from haunting them once again.

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Tags: Capitals Jason Spezza Joe Thornton Mikhail Grabovski Patrick Marleau Paul Stastny Ryan Kesler

  • BT Farley

    The Caps would be smart to get rid of Mike Green while he has some value. He’s the type of player that may fetch a 2nd line Center and a young defenseman which they need. Erskine cannot play top 4 minutes. He’s really a 6th or maybe 7th D. He makes too much to be a 7th defenseman but he is why the Rangers beat the Caps in 7 last year. Or part of it anyway. Depth on defense is important for 82 games season. Playoff season and if you’re lucky and good enough the season that is the SCF. The Caps don’t have that. Nor a real shutdown top pair. Their prospect pool is shallow outside of Kutznetzov. He looked good but trades Quik be tough for caps. Corsi for % on that team would be enough for me to resign Grabovski. Not a good possession team so to have a good Center that can possess the puck is important for depth. They should give Brower or Laich the C if you ask me. Ovie may be the worst captain in the NHL. He’s lazy on D at times and if he’s not leading on the ice the C is useless. The best player isn’t always the best leader on the team. Like Crosby. Shouldn’t be captain either. It’s why both teams have waisted prime years of top players and the Caps have nothing to show for their talent. Should have kept Halak too. Holby is a battler, not athletic at all and a little weird if you ask me with all those rituals. Joe Thornton might be a good fit there. He’s big and always in the lineup. Trade Green and get Big Joe! That’s my advice but my NYR are in the SCF so I wouldn’t know.

    • Sasan Mousavi

      Thanks for posting! A top-4 defenseman is definitely a need for the team as well, but I think getting rid of Green would be detrimental to solving the issues on the blue line. And Green, though a bit overpaid for what he provided, had a solid year last season: him and Orlov posted high Corsi-for rates while they were on the ice (no surprises, considering they’re the offensive pairing.) While trading Green might be an option in the future, I’d like to give him the benefit of the doubt and see what he can do for a year under the tutelage of Barry Trotz. Green, IMO, is poised for a bounce back year, and I’d at least like to see what will happen under a new coaching staff.

      I agree that Erskine belongs nowhere near an NHL roster. Hillen is an acceptable bottom-pairing guy, and the Caps certainly have options for his counterpart: Orlov (if they acquire a top-4 guy this offseason), Schmidt, Kundratek, and maybe even Schilling are names that come to mind. That’s some good depth in case anything happens.

      It appears also that Trotz is bringing Mitch Korn with him to D.C., and he’s considered one of the top goalie coaches in the league. Holtby’s still young and has a lot to learn—last year was a bit of a step back with the bizarreness that was Adam Oates. Again, I’d like to see what Holts can do under a new coaching staff before making any assumptions.

      Ideally, the Caps would retain Grabovski at a reasonable rate (maybe $4.5-5 million a year) and use the remaining space to either sign depth players, or to acquire a bonafide top-4 defenseman. But that’s just me!

      • BT Farley

        They could keep Grabovski. He’s a decent 2nd pivot for what they’ll pay and what they’d pay for free agent Centers out their. It doesn’t seem like theirs a whole lot of good talent out their. Tho Grabovski is a bit small but he gets the job done.
        Trading Green clears cap space and they could get a ton for him. They could trade him for a better 2way or stay at home defenseman and pick/prospects which they have none of. I think most prospect sites have the Caps last in prospect talent. I understand Green is a tremendous talent but he’s not very good in his own end. Trading him for at least one shutdown defenseman would allow the Caps to take away 1 or 2 of the oppositions top offensive players. They don’t have a single guy like that. Guys with good Corsi for stats are not just good offensive players. If you can’t stop the other team from holding the puck and taking shots. It doesn’t matter how good you are offensively as a defenseman. Corsi will dip. So if you have good Corsi stats you also have to look at zone starts and QoC. QoT is kind of important too. If he’s starting 60% of his shifts in the offensive zone (Sheltered mins) and is 4th on D in QoC. 51% Corsi for isn’t good enough. It’s like me or you playing against 15 year old girls and having decent stats. Would you be happy with a 52% Corsi close against 15 year old girls? Not likely.
        Green shot his load. Had one big season. Trade him while that 100point season is still fresh in GM’s minds and you can get a good return. Green didn’t play well or much while Hunter was coach. Trotz has that same defensive Phylosophy. You need good 2 way mobile D. Greens value will only drop as he plays under Trotz.