Just as predicted and just as wise, the Washington Capitals did not dive head first in the shallow pool of free agents on the first day. Instead, like a frugal shopper, they waded in and found specifically what they needed and left in time before the other kids started to splash around.
That man they were after? Mike Knuble has been a steady consistent right winger for the Philadelphia Flyers. He has scored at least 21 goals in each of his last six seasons, scored 27 times and scored 47 points in the 82 games played last season for the Flyers. He is a grinder, hard working, nothing too fancy just get to the net type of player. A player's qualities that has been missing from the Capitals' lineup.
The Caps signed the 36 year old (soon to be 37 as his birthday is on July 4th) to a two year, $5.8 million contract today. The only signing by the Caps on day one of free agency. From all accounts, this was the player to get.
"Our scouting staff was unanimous, he was the guy we wanted," George McPhee told reporters via phone conference. "Backstrom, Ovechkin are going to have the puck a lot and we needed someone to go to the net."
It's something the Caps seemed to lack in past years. They had a slew of pretty goal-getters but no one to do the clean up work in front of the net. Brooks Laich was called on to do most of that stuff on the power play, but he never really worked out. Here now, the Capitals have a veteran at it.
"I'm pretty confident that the way I play the game and the things that I do that I've proven, playing with Joe Thornton and Peter Forsberg, guys like that," Knuble boasted his resume on the conference call. "I know what to do for these guys, how to work, win battles in corners and do a lot of the dirty work to get these guys the puck. I take pride in that. No one needs to tell me how to play with these guys."
More than a few experts were ready with praise for the Capitals on the smart signing of the day.
“Nice. That’s a professional, big-body player who makes everyone there a little bit braver, a little bit better," Pierre McQuire said about Knuble on TSN's coverage of free agent signing day. "That’s a really nice move, good job George McPhee. They’re going to have a net presence now on the power play.”
The price tag seems to even work out beautifully. The Caps aren't married to Knuble over 6 to 10 years and they get him for the same price he played for in Philly. Plus they get an excited veteran that already has his name on the Stanley Cup. He brings leadership to a locker room that sometimes did not have it.
"It was everything I wanted in another team," Knuble told reporters about his new team. "It was on the East Coast ... another team that's considered one of the best teams in the Eastern Conference. I think this team is on the verge of something good, maybe even something great."
While most Caps fans looked upon Mike Knuble's name in disgust before this signing because of his second overtime goal in game in game four of the year before playoffs, his presence in a Caps uniform should give them cautious cause to be optimistic. His leadership and veteran abilities should make him a valuable commodity for the Capitals in big games. He isn't there to be nice, he's there to make some noise, be sandpaper, add grit. A little growl in the Capitals' bark can't be all that bad.
The Capitals had to let a fan favorite in Donald Brashear go. McPhee rationing was that Brashear was too much for what he was. Sure you needed big guys, but he did nothing for the Caps roster toward the end of the year or in the playoffs.
"We are happy for Brash," McPhee said. "But we couldn't pay that number."
Brash would replace Colton Orr on the New York Rangers' roster as their resident tough guy. Orr signed with Toronto.
McPhee claims he isn't finished and it may take a couple of days to a couple of weeks for them to maybe add a piece here or there. He didn't flinch nor did he waiver in the face of a sometimes hectic crazy day. True to form, he got what he needed and bolted for the door.