Saturday, July 5, 2008

Taking Stock and Looking Ahead

What's Next for the Caps? Development Camp Starts Monday.

The Caps have and are doing so many things right but there are a few big question marks left to ponder looking ahead to next season. Today is "arbitration filing day" but don't expect any news relative to the Caps roster. The Caps now have X question marks hanging over the lineup for next season - first and most ambiguous is the health status of two players on the roster: Team Captain Chris Clark and veteran Top 4 defenseman Brian Pothier. After that the remaining unsigned free agents that GMGM has said he'd like back "Rockin' the Red" next season: Laich, Morrisson, Federov, Gordon and Fehr. If all seven of these guys are healthy and signed the Capitals Depth Chart could well look something like this going into camp.

1) Ovechkin 1) Backstrom 1) Kozlov
2) Semin 2) Nylander 2) Clark
3) Laich 3) Federov 3) Fehr
4) Brashear 4) Steckel 4) Gordon
5) Laing 5) Fleischmann 5) Bradley

Defense: 1) Green, 2) Poti, 3) Pothier, 4) Morrisson, 5) Schultz, 6) Jurcina, 7) Alzner, 8) Erskine.

Goalies: 1) Theodore, 2) Johnson.

So if you did the math that's a total of 25 players - two too many which means that it's likely the Caps will have one of the 8 defenseman and one of the 15 forwards I've listed wither in the press box or start the season in Hershey. That will depend on a couple of factors - for Alzner it'll be his performance during next week's development camp and subsequently training camp if he does well next week. For the forwards for Schultz, Laing, Steckel and Fleischmann it'll be a function of what they do at training camp and what kind of shape and attitude they show up with. The least likely of these to be in the press box or Hershey at the start of next season is Jeff Schultz when you get over some minor appearance issues and look at his numbers from the 2007-2008 regular season. For Brashear, Bradley, and Gordon the have the experience and certain desired skill sets that unless they show up out of shape or with their heads screwed up - not likely given their personal make up - they'll be on the team and dress regularly. John Erskine needs to show up in shape and ready to skate with his best game possible given the drafting of Erskine and the other quality defenseman in the pipeline at Hershey; in retrospect Steve Eminger has got to be glad he's on a different roster.

Eight Other Forwards in the pipeline at Hershey and South Carolina who could also challenge for a roster slot are: LW Chris Borque, C Kieth Aucoin, C/RW Mathieu Perreault, RW Fracious Bouchard, LW Oskar Osala, RW Andrew Gordon, C Phil DeSimone, and C Jay Beagle. The placement of the #4 and #5's in these positions is based on their last season or couple of seasons efforts but clearly none of these guys can "rest on their laurels" though none are really the type to do so. Brashear, Steckel, Gordon, Laing, and Bradley are there based on their "grit" value to the team as stoppers. Of course Brashear and Bradley also can provide some protection to the Caps star forwards and they, Laing and Gordon hustle into the corners like nobody's business. Steckel and Laing provide the Caps two awesome penalty killers and when paired with Federov and Gordon provide the potential for short-handed scoring threats as well. All that said, if secondary scoring becomes an urgent need and Fleischmann, Bradley and Gordon haven't started to improve their productivity by November, don't be surprised if any of the 6 guys listed in the 4) & 5) slots spend some time in the press box while whoever is the "hot hand" in Hershey gets some ice time with the big club.

There are also 3 defenseman in the pipeline that could challenge Jurcina, Erskine, Schultz and Alzner for the last three of the seven defenseman slots on the Capitals' roster. In Hershey and South Carolina the following guys have the potential to make a run at an NHL spot this year: 1) Sami Lepesto, 2)Sasha Pokulok, and 3) Patrick McNiell. Further down the pipeline is 19 year old Kieth Seabrook who will also attend development camp this year.

The Caps have three good Goalies in the pipeline but all are 2-4 years away from being regulars in the NHL though if Theodore and Johnson play to their potential and turn in solid seasons the Caps could be a 100 point team.

Overall the Caps are looking good with a fairly stable roster that should only get better and more experienced for the next two years, that's why guys like Sergei Federov may indeed take a little less then they could make back home in the Continental Hockey League and elect to finish out their careers playing next to last season's MVP. There is a lot of young talent available for Coach Bruce Boudreau to mix and match on the lines however if Clark and Pothier don't come back from their injuries last season what happens. Clark brings gritty play AND secondary scoring; if he can't come back Federov's locker room leadership is even more important and valuable as is the need for Federov, and Fleischmann to ramp up their scoring, as well as somebody like Steckel who has proven his ability to score at the AHL level to find the back of the net more against NHL foes. If Pothier can't make it back as a regular then Schultz has to "kick it up a notch" quickly and find the ability to play like he did in December and January and play that way all season; Jurcina and Alzner both also have to work hard and quickly mature into the players they can be. Alzner will be a rookie and can' t be expected to play error free hockey, but Jurcina needs to not make avoidable mistakes at the rate he did at times last season. Without Clark and Pothier, the Caps can still be a solid hockey team, they showed that in December through February, but they need to play very smart intense hockey every minute - Pothier and Clark in the lineup turn a good team into a very good team.

In an aside, it certainly does appear that Olie Kolzig will wear #37 for Tampa Bay - it would be kickin' if he has a really hot year with it there too (yes EXCEPT when he plays the Caps).

Can't wait till next season. LETS GO CAPS!!!!!!!!!!!

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