The Capitals added to their number of bottom-six forwards when they signed free agent winger Joey Crabb to a one-year contract worth $950,000 late Sunday evening. Local reporters had the chance to chat with Crabb on a Monday afternoon conference call.
Crabb said his agent, Kevin Epp, spoke with a handful of other organizations. One of the important factors was that Washington is still considered a Stanley Cup contender. He came from Toronto, which has missed the Stanley Cup playoffs in each of the last seven seasons. The Maple Leafs didn’t seem all that interested in keeping Crabb. They touched base on Sunday, the opening day of NHL free agency, but there wasn’t much contact before that when they had his exclusive negotiating rights.
At 6-foot-1, 190 pounds, Crabb is a natural fit on the fourth line with Matt Hendricks on the left wing and Jay Beagle at center. Depends in part on who else new coach Adam Oates considers a bottom-six forward. Beagle and center Mathieu Perreault – a more skilled player, obviously – are both restricted free agents and still need to sign contracts.
Crabb doesn’t know new coach Adam Oates, either. But he did get the scoop from friend and former AHL teammate Matt Anderson, whom he played with for three years with the Chicago Wolves. Anderson spent the past two years with the New Jersey Devils’ AHL affiliate in Albany. Oates was previously an assistant coach with New Jersey.
As for Crabb, he scored a career-high 11 goals for Toronto last season with another 15 assists. That’s massive offensive production for a player granted limited ice time. Crabb averaged 1:34 on the penalty kill last season – among Maple Leafs forwards that ranked behind only old friend David Steckel (2:17) and Tim Connolly (1:41). Overall, Crabb was 16th in time on ice (13:26) out of the 19 Toronto players who reached at least 40 games. But are those offensive numbers realistic here in 2012-13 given his likely role with Washington.
“What we’re hoping for is we get a well-rounded player that can play well with and without the puck in that kind of role,” Caps general manager George McPhee said. “What you want is four lines that can play and I think we have that right now.”
Crabb said he knows Beagle and Hendricks “a little bit”. Beagle played for the University of Alaska-Anchorage and Crabb is a native of that city. One of Crabb’s good friends is Trevor Frischmon, now an AHL player with the New York Islanders’ organization, but for four years one of Crabb’s teammates at Colorado College. Frischmon, a Minnesota native, is also tight with Hendricks.
At age 29, Crabb’s career mirrors Hendricks’ somewhat. This is his first one-way contract so he doesn’t have to worry about being returned to the minor leagues at a lower salary. Crabb made his NHL debut at age 25 after four years in college, where he was a first-team All-WCHA performer as a senior, and then parts of five seasons in the AHL. He didn’t become a full-time NHLer until age 27, halfway through the 2010-11 season. Hendricks also played parts of five seasons in the AHL and made his debut at 27. His first one-way contract started at age 30 this past season. Like Hendricks, Crabb believes the talent was there all along. He just needed a break or two to finally take advantage of it.
“You always just got to keep a strong work ethic and keep working hard. I was always confident in my game and confident that I could play in the NHL,” Crabb said. “Obviously I would have liked to get there a little earlier, but I think with a couple different turns and a couple different situations I might have been there. But I think it’s made me a bit of a stronger person and it’s helped mentally.”
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