The Washington Capitals needed to find a first line center in free agency, and on the second day of the open market - they did just that. On another day filled with players switching teams, Washington signed Michael Nylander to a four-year deal.
Nylander returns to the Capitals after originally playing in Washington back in 2002/03 and 2003/04. He played 74 games for the Caps in that stretch and scored 58 points (17 goals, 41 assists). Until the 2004-05 NHL lockout, those were average numbers for Nylander, but the native of Stockholm, Sweden seems to have benefited greatly from the new rules. At 34 years old, Nylander has seen the last two NHL seasons be his most productive.
Last year Nylander put up 83 points in 79 games; the year before he put up 79 points in 81 games. Do the math to figure out that since the lockout, he's a point-a-game type player. He's also a +43 over that same span.
His 26 goals, 57 assists and 83 points last year with the Rangers were all career bests. His fourteen power play goals were good enough to tie for the team lead, and his 37 power play points were 16th best in the league. The crack down on holding and obstruction type penalties has definitely been a boon to Nylander's career.
The 6’1”, 195-pound center was originally drafted by the Hartford Whalers in 1991. He has played for seven different NHL teams since then - Hartford, Calgary, Tampa Bay, Chicago, Washington, Boston and New York; and of course now back to the Capitals for another tour. He has recorded 189 goals and 609 points in 808 career games.
The addition of Nylander makes the Capitals a much more dynamic team. They now have the top line center that they needed to put with Alex Ovechkin, they improved strength down the middle substantially, and it perhaps clears the way for rookie Nicklas Backstrom to ease into the NHL a little bit more. Having a fellow countryman like Nylander there, will certainly help the youngster on and off the ice. It will also remove the unfair pressures that expectations to fill a first line role, would have put on Backstrom.
Nylander's deal is reportedly worth $19.5 million over four years; so he didn't come cheap, but compared to some of the albatross contracts signed on Sunday, it was reasonable. You have to pay if you want to play.
As an organization, the Caps have made good on their promise to try and improve the overall product through free agency. With three substantial signings in the first 48 hours of free agency, it's clear that they had a plan and that they were aggressive. Give George McPhee full marks for a job done well.
While teams like the Flyers, the Avalanche and the Rangers will garner the splashiest free agent headlines, Washington made great strides in making the team better, and did so in a fiscally responsible fashion. It's a fine line between being aggressive and over-spending when making multiple additions quickly, and the Capitals appear to have balanced the two well.