Just after announcing that they had signed goaltender Braden Holtby to a two-year contract extension, the Capitals announced a two-year extension for veteran defenseman John Erskine. Erskine would have become an unrestricted free agent this summer.
The 32-year-old Erskine came to the Caps as a free agent just prior to the 2006-07 season. Among all Washington blueliners, only Mike Green has been with the team longer.
Limited to just 28 games last season and enduring long stretches of games as a healthy scratch, Erskine has benefited from being seen with the fresh eyes of a new coaching staff this season.
“Obviously one of his greatest elements is his physical play,” says Caps coach Adam Oates. “With a new coaching staff coming in, it was kind of a clean slate for everybody. He impressed us and he’s played well. They talked about how he hasn’t handled too many minutes before, and I think that was more a product of he just never got them. He has played well. Good for him.”
Erskine is the most physical of the nine Washington defensemen, and he has demonstrated an ability to be able to step into the lineup when needed and perform credibly after lengthy stretches out of the lineup.
“He adds a dimension that we don’t really have,” says Caps defenseman Karl Alzner of Erskine. “It takes a special type of guy – strong physically but mentally as well – to play the way he does.
“This year it’s been nice because he has been rewarded with more minutes, but to come in and sometimes not play and then come in and fight a tough guy or take some serious punishment in the corners, hitting or whatever it is, it’s pretty impressive in my opinion. Having a guy like that be able to step in and play big like he does, it’s hard to find. It’s hard to find someone who does it as good as he does.”
In 11 games with the Caps this season, Erskine is averaging 19:30 per night in ice time. That figure is easily the highest of his NHL career, eclipsing the 18:03 figure he averaged in 28 games in 2006-07, his first season in Washington.
The signing of Erskine leaves Washington with eight players (forwards Joey Crabb, Eric Fehr, Matt Hendricks, Mike Ribeiro and Wojtek Wolski and defensemen Jack Hillen, Roman Hamrlik and Tom Poti) who are set to become unrestricted free agents this summer and four more (forward Marcus Johansson, defensemen Karl Alzner and Tomas Kundratek and goaltender Michal Neuvirth) who are slated to become restricted free agents this summer.
According to capgeek.com, Washington has now committed a total of $47,717,628 in salary cap to 13 players (eight forwards, four defensemen and one goaltender) for the 2013-14 season. With the cap slated to drop to $64.3 million next season, that leaves Washington roughly $16.5 million with which to flesh out its roster on as many as 10 more players.
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