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:

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_-fORXmSaRA]

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

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