Wednesday afternoon it was announced that the Washington Capitals had signed free agent forward Wojtek Wolski to a one year contract for $600,000. A far cry from the $3.8 million the suddenly enigmatic winger was paid the past two seasons. It also shows the drastic decline this once promising forward has taken in seven seasons after being drafted in the first round (21st overall) by the Colorado Avalanche in 2004. This is now going to be the fifth team that Wolski will play for in his young career, and the Capitals are hoping that they’re the right antidote to change his methods. It’s a low risk, potentially high reward move that could benefit both player and team. If Wolski doesn’t work out, the Capitals will not have spent too much to find out.
What has typically happened with Wolski is he starts off fast, or at least does well initially, then for some reason disappears, and becomes disengaged. A problem for any team, and coach, you have to wonder where the motivation button is. Wolski is very talented and has a better than average wrist shot, and his highly skilled and useful in shootouts, but over the course of time he eventually tapers off. Examples of his “pattern” can be found in this article on Pro Hockey Talk earlier today.
Wolski who was acquired by the Florida Panthers in late February from the New York Rangers, appeared in 22 games for Florida scoring four times with five assists, and was a minus 3. He had an initial impact, but slowly faded as the regular season came to a close, and only appeared in two of the seven playoff games against the New Jersey Devils. The writing may have been on the wall by that time as he only average 10:24 minutes of ice time in the two games he played.
His career has been saddled with some minor injuries which may have caused “some” of his troubles, yet he’s been know to upset at least one NHL coach with his recovery/conditioning as you can see in this article from last October.
When the Panthers acquired Wolski they gave up minor leaguer Michael Vernace and a third round pick in 2013. Most likely no huge loss, and sometimes you have to take a chance, and Dale Tallon certainly did. However Wolski, who in this writers opinion is on his last legs needs to realize that he’s running out of chances. A player as talented as he is, with the gift for scoring, has to “want” it every night. The more he played, the more I noticed one thing. He was afraid, or should I say unwilling to go into the “dirty” areas. Avoiding hits in the corner, turning sideways to avoid a hit, and not necessarily grinding it out when he needed to.
Things in South Florida have changed since sheriff Dale has come to town. He’s not putting up with anyone who doesn’t want to be here, and who isn’t willing to pay the price to be here. He’s all about character, determination, and playing the game end to end with maximum effort. Wolski was a restricted free agent, and had to receive a qualifying offer from the Panthers by July 1, otherwise he would become an unrestricted free agent. In order to qualify him the Panthers would have needed to match salary of $3.8 million. By not doing so, he became a free agent and able to negotiate with any team including the Panthers.
Based on his “trail” performance over 24 games, it’s obvious the Panthers decided that it was time to go another direction. I have no idea if an offer was made that was similar to what the Caps are giving him, but I’m not disappointed that an agreement wasn’t reached either. Maybe the mixture here wasn’t right, and maybe it will be better in Washington. Either way, let’s move on. I’m sure Dale has something else in the works, and this discussion will become a distant memory.
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