This offseason, decisions will be made. There is no doubt about that. Several of these decisions are going to be very difficult to make for George McPhee, and in all likelihood, the Capitals are not going to able to retain all of their free agents, both restricted and unrestricted. In a salary-capped NHL, it is simply impossible to keep teams together for long periods of time. As such, on July 1st at 12:00 AM ET, eight Caps will be become free agents: two restricted and six unrestricted.
Among those unrestricted will be defenseman Scott Hannan, who the Capitals acquired in late November from the Colorado Avalance for forward Tomas Fleischmann. Hannan got off a brutal start with his new team as he joined the Caps right as their eight-game losing skid began, but ever since January he has been one of DC's best and most reliable defensemen, only behind John Carlson and Karl Alzner. Hannan played big minutes on the penalty kill and at even strength and he was a key cog in the transition from offense first to defense first. Not only that, but he was also a veteran leader in what was then a mostly young and inexperienced locker room.
Despite these many overwhelming positives that Hannan brought this past season, I am of the opinion that the Capitals should led him go when the clock strikes midnight on July 1, and not aggressively pursue his services on the free agent market.
Why, you ask?
The Capitals would have an absurd logjam on the back end if they were to re-sign Hannan. Assuming George McPhee locks up Karl Alzner, who is a restricted free agent (which he MUST), the Caps would have eight NHL-caliber defensemen under contract next year if they brought Hannan back. These players are Tom Poti, John Erskine, Dennis Wideman, Alzner, Jeff Schultz, Mike Green, John Carlson, and Hannan himself. Tyler Sloan is under contract next year as well; whether he is NHL caliber is the topic of some debate.
If Poti isn't healthy, which there is no guarantee he will be, having Hannan around would presumably force John Erskine into the role as the primary healthy scratch along with Sloan. Now John Erskine is no Norris Trophy candidate, but he is coming off a career year in which he set personal bests in almost every significant statistical category. And those number don't take into account his team-first attitude and his willingness to fight, which can never be undervalued. To complicate things even further, the Caps extended him through the 2012-2013 season at $1.5 million per over the winter, so it's not fair to him to have him sit every night and become a part-time player.
But if Poti is healthy, he's going to play, because he's a good defenseman, arguably better than Hannan. That would mean that the likely candidate to join Erskine and Sloan in the press box on a nightly basis would be Jeff Schultz. I have had my rage against "Tree Man" well documented in the past, but the fact of the matter is that he is a solid NHL defenseman despite his occasional and often poorly timed adventures with the puck. He can block shots and kill penalties, he's not useless at even strength, and he is not usually a liability in his own zone. And he, too, was extended last year; Sarge has three more years at $2.75 million per left on his contract. He's not going anywhere.
Logjam arguments aside, Hannan is probably going to require a multi-year deal in the range for $2.5-$3.5 million per, wherever he ends up. With about $9 million in cap space left for next season and eight players without contracts, Washington simply cannot afford this, especially with the wealth of bodies they have on the blue line (and top prospect Dmitry Orlov wasn't even mentioned in this post). The money would be much better spent on Brooks Laich and Boyd Gordon, two extremely valuable and flexible players who are respected leaders, play big penalty kill minutes, and can win faceoffs (Gordo) and score (Brooksie), but more on this later.
Put simply, the Caps are running out of money, and an extension to Hannan would not be spending it wisely. This is not to say that I want Hannan gone, or having him wouldn't be ideal, because it would be. But the other contracts the Caps have on defense make it very unlikely that we see it happen.