Another year, another Capital Punishment installment… So, the Caps suffered from yet another breakdown against the Pens. The second time of which resulted in a Pens Cup. Clearly, I am destined to hate the Pens. Ha! Anyway, let’s not dwell on the complete collapse that occurred in game 3 to bring the Pens back into the series and game 7 to give the series away and look at all the outstanding things to build on and what changes are destined to happen as well as hopes to what would strengthen the team
The Caps finished the regular season 50-24-8 for 108 pts. to take the SE Division and the #2 spot in the Atlantic. Unlike the comeback they posted last season to roar into the playoffs from the dead, this year for the most part the Caps handled the day-by-day task of winning fairly well. There were periods of largess in each game which continually begged the question – can the Caps actually play a full sixty minutes of hockey? Sometimes, yes, but mostly not. In part, due to youthful exuberance and in part due to nagging injury the Caps struggled to string together dominating full games but their record speaks high enough to the talent they have.
Ale Ove – 56 goals and 110 points was enough to go #1 in goals and #2 in points this season. He once again won the Maurice “Rocket” Richard Trophy, David Hart Memorial Trophy and Lester B. Pearson Award. The biggest two knocks of Ove are is shots on goal and his two-way play. His 528 SOG is nearly double the next player, which somehow seems to imply he’s not accurate. However, his % conversion is .106 which is just above average for the league when taking 200 SOG or more in a season and dead on for guys shooting over 300 (Blake has a .083 on the low end versus Carter’s .135 on the high end), albeit a little low compared to most of the 40+ goal club. Consider this though, how many of those SOG for Ove ended up setting up his line mates for shots by taking the D / goalie out of position? Those 54 assists didn’t come from nowhere either. As for two-way play, he was plus 8. Not exactly the stellar two-way forward but certainly nothing to scoff at for a kid in their early 20s that is an offensive juggernaut.
Mikey Green – Everything that Ove is on offense is exactly what Mikey brings from the blueline. You cannot argue with his numbers, stunning the league with his ability to navigate the neutral zone quickly and step up on the play, press the offensive zone and score. He is a linchpin in keeping the overall Caps offense strong because he adds such a unique dimension to the attack. The downside, and it can be a very big downside, is he is so young and aggressive that he gets caught behind transitioning plays allowing odd man rushes down the ice. His speed allows him to get back quick but pinching in has also cost the Caps goals on the other end.
Nickie Backstrom & Alexander Semin – If there were two bigger underdogs in the league than these two you’d be hard pressed to find them. Taking Semin’s numbers the last two seasons considering he was sidelined and stretching them out across a full 82 games and he’d be a juggernaut in the vein of any of the big name wingers. Backstrom is already there as a center. And yet, both are not only overlooked because of Ove and Green on the team, but perhaps even moreso because of other outstanding players around the league.
Simeon Varlamov – The goalie situation would have been extra-ugly if it weren’t for Brent stepping up and playing spectacularly during Theodore’s meltdown and then Varly stepping up again to do the same when Johnson went down with an injury. The biggest positive of it has to be the emergence of Varlamov, under the pressure of the playoffs, who is yet another product of fantastic Caps scouting, drafting and player development in their system. If Varly is anything like either of the last two drafted goalies the Caps had, they should be good for a few seasons in net and it could become a lot of fun to watch. Adding Varly to the Caps young core gives them one of the most solid home-grown style teams assembled in the league if his post-season play is any indication of what could come.
The rest of the Youthcorps – As if the five already mentioned weren’t enough, consider how much Thomas Flieshman, Jeff Schultz, Brooks Laitch, Eric Fehr,Tyler Sloan and grew up this season. Although not all were Caps first round pics, they broke into the NHL as Capitals though that dominant Caps system. Fleishman found a goal scoring touch and a place rotating in-and-out of the top few lines, while Laich came into his own as a center feeding the puck well and doubling his assist’s total. There is a lot of talent developing too as Eric Fehr played his first full season and Sloan was called up to prop up an oft-injured defense corps, both providing flashes of potential.
Jose Theodore – No one expected him to come in and do what Huet did. No one expected him to come close to what the Caps saw for over 10 years with Kolzig or even be the flash in the pan of Jim Carey. But the rubics cube that is Theodore never managed to even get one side of the puzzle lined up. This turned out to be a good thing though, as it eventually necessitated Varlmov to play. Should be interesting to see, what, if anything can be done to move him in the off-season so the albatross noose he creates can be loosened.
Mike Nylander – Second stint as a Cap was no more productive than the first. He never quite fit into any role. He couldn’t center any line effectively either as a skills player or as a role player and never quite clicked with Boudreau to make matters worse. Disenfranchised he was reduced beyond being a backup to being a benchwarmer and hardly was effective as that by the time the playoffs came around. It’s not a knock on Mike, the Caps just aren’t the right team for him, again. He’s perfect trade-bait for the right offer.
Chris Clark – Unfortunately for Chris 18 games last season only increased to 32 games this season due to injuries. His presence is immeasurable. He is a force, when he’s healthy and on the ice, both as a gritty role player and as the team Captain providing veteran leadership. Ironically enough, the lack of Chris’ presence is measurable, as when he went down the team carried on winning and for the last two season’s despite not carrying an actual captain due to Chris’ injuries the Caps were playoff bound. There is no reason to cut Chris loose unless the injuries continue to pile up, but his role on the team has to be in doubt.
Three classes of UFA are broken down as follows for the Caps. There are four noteworthy players in this mix that their loss will be toughest on the Caps, especially if the Caps don’t fill their production and their role playing leadership either through trades or other FA acquisitions. Ideally, it would be nice if these guys didn’t leave but
As for the RFA group, there are a couple of notable guys the Caps should make moves to retain based on their contributions and how they fit into the Caps system that produced the numbers it did throughout the season.
Donald Brashear, Jakub Cutta, Sergei Fedorov, Alexandre Giroux, Bryan Helmer, Brent Johnson, Viktor Kozlov, Graham Mink.
RFA G2 Untendered
Andrew Joudrey, Daren Machesney, Travis Morin, Sasha Pokulok
RFA G2 Tendered
Chris Bourque, Eric Fehr, Boyd Gordon, Milan Jurcina, Shaone Morrisonn, Steven Pinizzotto, Jeff Schultz, Kyle Wilson.
Sergie Federov – The mighty Russian should have found a home with the Caps finally, after the exile years wandering post-Detroit. He seemed happy in the system and was having a career resurgence. His veteran leadership would help any young club, for sure, but including him on the Caps with the depth of Russian talent was a godsend. It not only helped Semin and Ove and later Varly, but also brought out the best in Viktor Kozlov after a mediocre stint as a Cap thus far. The added depth he provided by being responsible two-ways and even playing D on occasion was a huge part of the Caps success the last year and a half. Rumors are all probably true and he’ll be in the Russian league next year.
Donald Brashear – Huge veteran presence in the locker room and demanding player on the ice. Donny is one of the last of the old school tough guys. He can fight, he can hit but it’s more his presence that keeps things in check as he stabilizes threatening attitudes and can play rough and tough against any third or forth line or be used to be aggressive physically on any top line. He’s responsible both ways providing some extra depth at the blue line while occasionally having a scoring touch. One would hope he too had found a real home with the Caps, but as a FA he’ll be coveted by a number of teams, especially in the east.
Viktor Kozlov – A roller coaster ride of a time with the Caps saw Kozlov go from seeming washed up to seeming extraordinary. His overall numbers were not too bad, but it was more about those magic moments where Ovechkin, Semin, Backstrom, Federov, Fleishman and he would come together as different variations of two stunning top lines. When it feel apart it wasn’t pretty but the addition of Federov really seemed to invigorate him. No word yet on what he, or the Caps, intend to do, but rumors have him following several expatriots to the Russian league.
Brent Johnson – The perennial backup goalie stole the #1 slot away from Theodore and only relinquished it when playing more than 20 games finally took it’s toll on him physically. He carried the Caps the majority of the season (overshadowed of course by another backup doing similar – Clemmensen in NJ – and by Varly’s play come the playoffs). He could come back (Caps are talking to him) but with Theodore still in the mix (and difficult to unload) chances are, he’ll be backstopping behind someone else next season. After all the quality years Johnson provided backing up Kolzig it’ll be sad to see him go.
Milan Jurnica & Eric Fehr – Tendering an offer to both guys should be huge. They have arbitration options right now, which could play a role in how Washington chooses to continue handling them. Jurnica spent the majority of his short career as a Cap (after two seasons in Boston bouncing between the big club and the minors) and provided solid D and timely scoring. Fehr is more a product of the Caps system and his first full season as a Cap really shouldn’t be his last with the potential he’s shown.
Holes to Fill – FA moves & Trades
Stay-at-home Defenseman – When the wily veterans of your defensive corps are Tom Poti and John Ernskine there is room to build, especially when the youngsters Green and Jurnica have a penchant for hopping up on the play a solid veteran blueliner would be a huge asset. The Caps need probably more than anything a seasoned veteran who can stay back and be responsible through the neutral zone and control the play down low on defense and help the youth better balance their responsibility on defense. The ability to strip the puck and create outlet passes would be an added bonus.
Defensive Forward – The first line is pretty solid as is, but the second and third lines could be full of holes losing so many veterans. A right winger that offers both a scoring touch and a lot of veteran grit and toughness would offer depth and balance. With the way the Caps roll lines already, being able to get an opposite side winger that can move from first to third line as necessary and provide the kind of solid two-way play the youth so desperately need would be a linchpin to being able to help the youth and the scoring. A center would be nice in this role as well, but the Caps will get more depth out of a winger here.
Tough Guy – It does not have to be a traditional enforcer like what Brashear did the past few years. It could be what Langway, Iafrate, Stevens or Witt brought to the table with the huge hits back in the day of defense, or it could be a really brutal forwards like Hunter, Hatcher, Konawalchuck or Carpenter brought. If they can get someone to bring that level of consistent checking and role playing grit and grind it would help define either the defense or the later line offense and give a truly balanced presence to the team. If they could pick up a true enforcer, there would be no harm in it considering what some of the rest of the east has, but a more balanced tough guy who can layout the opposing offense anywhere on the ice would be just as nice.
Resolve of the Backup Goalie – Is it Theodore? Is it Johnson? Is it someone else? Is Varly really the starter? These are serious questions that deserve serious consideration and if the answer is Varly is the starter is Theodore really your best backup? If they cannot move Theodore’s contract, this is a null point, for now. If they can, is Bret the best asset? Or, are there other goalies that could assist.
Nice to Have Moves
A Russian Vet – Losing Sergie and Viktor might not seem like a lot but the two truly stabilized the youth of the team and considering the Eastern Bloc influence on the Caps (not just now, they’ve always had top notch old-school Eastern Europeans) it would be nice to see the Caps continue that history into the new season. If they cannot, they will need some solid veteran ethnic diversity that will help bring together those young kids they’re developing from outside of the traditional USA-Canada minors.
Veteran Two-Way Forward – As much as the Caps have offensive openings either needing a defensive forward or a tough guy, they can actually support either or both in almost any position, but if they get either in a winger, they need the opposite in a center, or vice versa. They can move more kids through the system, but remember how truly young the Caps are and they will have half as many veterans going into 09-10 than they had coming out of the 08-09 season. That staff is an amazing generation of home-and-semi home grown but at some point you need experience to help fill in the gaps. The Pens were blessed from day one with huge names and great experience in developing their youth, the Caps have gotten this far with shrewd moves and fantastic cross-franchise development.