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2023 NHL Free Agency

4 Free Agent Centers The Capitals Could Target



Toronto Maple Leafs center Alexander Kerfoot.
Toronto Maple Leafs center Alexander Kerfoot.

At the center position, the Washington Capitals have plenty of questions this offseason.

Evgeny Kuznetsov, who had a down season in 2022-23 on the team’s top line, seemingly wants to play elsewhere. Nicklas Backstrom, who had his hip resurfaced, missed half of his age 34 season. And does Connor McMichael, the team’s 2019 first-round pick, fit into the plans of general manager Brian MacLellan?

With free agency opening July 1, the Capitals are armed with a handful of roster spots and roughly $7.3 million in cap space, according to CapFriendly. Here’s a look at some potential targets at the center position.

Ivan Barbashev, Vegas Golden Knights

Barbashev is exactly what the Capitals would want: a young-ish center who, as seen in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, makes his presence felt almost instantaneously.

At 27, Barbashev is coming off a 45-point regular season — the second highest of his career, and only one year removed from his career-high 60-point season. He tallied another 18 points in the playoffs, helping lead the Golden Knights to their first-ever Stanley Cup.

While Barbashev’s presence would almost instantly strengthen the Capitals’ center depth — especially if, worst-case scenario, Kuznetsov and Backstrom don’t return in 2023-24 — the team only has so much cap space to make a deal happen. And Barbashev is expected to have a bevy of potential suitors, likely driving his price up. While Barbashev’s projected $4.5 AAV deal can be doable for the Capitals, it would require lots of finagling and, ultimately, some tough decisions.

Alexander Kerfoot, Toronto Maple Leafs

Like Barbashev, Kerfoot‘s age (28) would be a major plus for one of the NHL’s oldest teams. Unlike Barbashev, Kerfoot’s projected contract AAV of $3.6 million is much more doable.

Kerfoot has long been praised for his all-around ability, making him a two-way asset on the ice. In a full 82-game season, Kerfoot tallied 32 points (10 goals, 22 assists) while competing for ice time with the likes of Auston Matthews and John Tavares. Defensively, he finished as the team’s second-best defensive forward in terms of blocked shots (46).

To top it off, Kerfoot has spent the last two seasons under the tutelage of new Capitals head coach Spencer Carbery, who most recently ran the Maple Leafs’ power play up in Toronto.

Lars Eller, Colorado Avalanche

Let’s get it out of the way first and foremost — no, signing Eller would not help the Capitals get younger.

What it would do, however, is strengthen the team’s center depth with a guy who is familiar with the organization, is expected to command a smaller amount than some other free agents ($2.3 million AAV, per Evolving Hockey) and would ultimately add another veteran presence at the position while early-20-somethings McMichael and Hendrix Lapierre continue developing to the NHL game.

Eller turned in a respectable 23 points last season, and while his offensive production is on the decline, his presence can still be an asset toward the bottom of the depth chart — especially as former teammate Alex Ovechkin pursues the scoring record.

Ryan Donato, Seattle Kraken

Donato would be an interesting pickup for the Capitals, primarily for his extensive versatility.

Primarily a center, the 27-year-old has substantial experience playing on the wing — allowing Carbery and MacLellan just a little more wiggle room when assembling the team’s final roster.

Donato, who made $1.2 million last season, is coming off a 27-point season and would be unlikely to command a substantial contract, aligning perfectly with the Capitals current cap situation.

Jared Serre covers the Washington Capitals for Washington Hockey Now. He is a graduate of West Virginia University.