Well it's official summer is finally here - the season started 6 days ago for climatologists but for hockey fan's the summer is kicked off by the NHL draft and that occurred yesterday. So how did our Washington Capitals "fare" - kind of hard to tell based on these picks which were in part driven by the place the Capitals finished the season and the fact that management didn't want to part with any of the "jewels" they've garnered in recent prior drafts. Here's the Capitals picks for rounds one (1) through six (6):
Round 1: 24. Marcus Johansson, F, of Farjestad (Sweden);
Round 2: 55. Dmitri Orlov, D, Novokuznetsk (Russia);
Round 3: 85. Cody Eakin, C, Swift Current (WHL);
Round 4: 115. Patrick Wey, D, Waterloo (USHL);
Round 5: 145. Brett Flemming, D, Mississaugua St. Michael's (OHL);
Round 6: 175. Garrett Mitchell, F, Regina (WHL);
Round 7: None.
So when you look at the Capitals picks a couple of things pop out at you. The philosophy of management seems to have been that the Capitals are currently a relatively complete team AND the Cap's developmental pipeline is also without any gaping holes. Another more subtle thing is that the Caps aren't too worried about the size of their lineup right now, of their 6 picks, only one - Patrick Wey a 6-1 Defenseman from the USHL, is over 6 feet. The other picks are all noted for their skating ability and speed, that would seem to fit into Coach Boudreau's approach of a fast moving team and an up tempo game. However, as we saw in this past year's playoffs there does need to be a balance between speed and size if the Caps high octane offense it to have a fair chance of carrying through from the regular season to the playoffs. In the playoffs, as we saw in both of the 2 series the Caps played - against the Rangers and the Penguins - traffic in front of the net is essential. Also the ability for defensemen to handle and tie up traffic in front of the net is equally important in your own end. Pittsburgh's ability to tie folks up and blocked shots by their own skaters were as much responsible for their Stanley Cup Win as was the scoring ability of their own high octane offense.
The Capitals draft position was pretty high or perhaps more accurately low on the list so their approach is understandable. With the pipeline consisting of two affiliates that won their respective league championships - the Calder Cup Champion Hershey Bears and the Kelly Cup Champion South Carolina Stingrays they do have a pretty highly rated pipeline. Per Hockey's Future the Capitals Organization is ranked 6th in strength, even after the harvesting of their pipeline to grow a strong, young team here in Washington, so again it appears management's approach is both prudent and is yielding solid results.
With the draft out of the way and the free agent signing period to begin next week how do things look for the Capitals roster situation anyway? Right now the Capitals have a projected total Salary Cap hit next season of $46.78M against a likely total maximum salary cap of $56.7M. The current $46.78M salary cap hit covers a roster of 15 players: 9 forwards ($28.563M), 4 defenseman ($12.867M) and 2 goaltenders ($5.35M). That leaves the Capitals General Manager George McPhee (GMGM) once again with a bit of juggling and work to do in order to manage the roster and salary cap - not surprising given the team finished with 50 wins and the 4th best record in the league for the regular season last year. GMGM and crew have approximately $9.9M to use to fill out the roster - another 8 players, ensure there is some room for trade deadline pickups to address end of season and playoff needs; and have cushion in place to resign Young Guns Nicklas Backstrom and Alexander Semin at the end of this season, among other things. Not an easy task but certainly not impossible and it is after all what these guys get paid to do.
Here's what General Manager George McPhee and the coaching staff had at the end of last season to work with, it's not a bad hand overall but there are some clear spots where work is needed. That work is needed both to ensure the Capitals continue to build on their successes in 2009/2010 and to ensure they have the room they need at the end of the 2010 playoffs to resign some key players who will become RFAs next July as well. The latter point is probabl;y why GMGM and crew haven't been over agressive in their pursuit of other teams UFAs and "rental players" these past two seasons. That said expectations continue to build amoung the fan base and ownership and not without reason. The Capitals had 3 of the top ten rated players in the league at the end of last season: Alex Ovechkin at #1, Mike Green at #2 and Alexander Semin at #7. No other team had more than 2 players in the top 10 overall and that team was - you guessed it - The Detroit Red Wings with Pavel Datsyuk at #5 and Marian Hossa at #8.
The Captials Players and Off Season Status are as follows:
Player Rating Salary Current Status
Alexander Ovechkin 103.75 $9.0M Signed through 2013
Alexander Semin 89.86 $5.0M RFA after 09/10
Nicklas Backstrom 83.13 $850K RFA after 09/10
Brooks Laich 73.21 $2.1M Signed through 10/11
Tomas Fleischmann 67.04 $725K RFA after 09/10
David Steckel 65.03 $725K UFA after 09/10
Matt Bradley 62.51 $1.0M Signed through 10/11
Michael Nylander 60.87 $5.5M Signed through 10/11
Chris Clark 58.54 $2.65M Signed through 10/11
Kieth Aucoin 87.32(AHL) $500K UFA after 09/10
Jay Beagle - $688K RFA after 09/10
Oskar Osala - $735K Signed through 10/11
Andrew Gordon - $660K RFA after 09/10
Free Agent Forwards
Player Rating Class 08/09 Current Status
Sergei Fedorov 69.77 UFA $4.0M Signed KHL, Metallurg
Viktor Kozlov 69.08 UFA $2.5M Signed KHL, Salavat
Eric Fehr 65.71 RFA $735K
Boyd Gordon 60.63 RFA $725K
Quintin Laing 57.29 UFA $500K Resigned to a 1 year deal
Donald Brashear 55.22 UFA $1.2M
Chris Bourque - RFA $525K Age 23;
Alexandre Giroux 90.51(AHL) UFA $475K Age 28;
Player Rating Salary Current Status
Mike Green 100.33 $5.0M Signed through 11/12
Tom Poti - $3.5M Signed through 10/11
Brian Pothier N/A $2.5M UFA after 09/10
John Erskine - $1.25M Signed through 10/11
Karl Alzner N/A $875K RFA after 10/11, age 21
John Carlson N/A $850K RFA after 10/11, age 19
Free Agent Defense
Player Rating Class 08/09 Current Status
Shoane Morisson - RFA $1.975M Age 26;
Milan Jurcina RFA $912K Age 26;
Jeff Schultz RFA $650K Age 23;
Sami Lepisto RFA $675K Age 24;
Tyler Sloan UFA $475K Age 28;
Staffan Kronwall UFA-VI $500K Age 26;
Bryan Helmer UFA $475K Age 36;
Sean Collins RFA $625K Age 25;
Player 08/09 SV% Class Salary Current Status
Jose Theodore 0.900 N/A $4.5M UFA after 09/10
Brent Johnson 0.908 UFA $825K Age 31, Likely Gone
Seymeon Varlamov 0.918 N/A $850K Signed through 10/11
Michal Nuevirth 0.892 N/A $850 RFA after 09/10.
I highlighted Nylander and Clark in red italics, probably for obvious reasons. While both are solid hockey players, they clearly aren't meeting or exceeding the expectations any of us likely have given their combined ~$8M salary cap hit. Now that Sergei Federov has decided to likely finish out his career playing alongside his brother Fedor in the KHL and Vicktor Kozlov has also decided to return to his homeland, the Capitals either need some of their young talent to join Ovechkin, Laich, Semin and Backstrom to fill out the top 6 scoring forwards on a consistant basis next season or bring in someone to fill the role. It is possible that Chris Clark gets healthy this offseason and again returns to be a 20+ goal scorer and as the current team captain and a locker room leader will likely be given the chance to do so.
What the Capitals do with Michael Nylander so he earns even half of his salary cap hit remains a mystery. Nylander is a talented skater and why he doesn't fit with the current Capitals team isn't obvious unless of course you just watch a couple of games. Nylander is a talented, puck control skater so you might be tempted to feel he ought to fit in easily and nicely. However, its the way Nylander controls the puck and the direction he skates that are the issue - he moves away from the defenders to protect the puck and that results in a game he plays that is as much or more "East - West" as it is "North - South." Since the inception of the Bruce Boudreau era in early December 2007, the game plan and focus for the first two lines has been to take the offense to the Capitals opponents - aggressively. The game is a skating game and a speedy one at that; the Capitals rarely if ever play a trap. Offensively when faced with a well executed 1-4 trap they respond with an even more aggressive approach and juggle the top two lines to overload the weaker side of an opponents lineup. In short the direction they press is North - South and out to the perimeter to get past the trap into the offensive zone. Once in the zone they rely on either their quick releases and laser sharp aim shots (Ovechkin and Semin) or their ability to simply drive to the net and controlk the puck while doing so (Backstrom and Laich). Young gun "wannabes" such as Fleischmann and Fehr do the same at one time or another. Nylander, an accomplished, successful vetran NHL player plays a different game - he circles, even when necessary in the nuetral zone. It's like he is the one introvert in a room full and group full of extroverts - he just doesn't fit. At age 36 its doubtful he can really change his game enough to not be the guy who interupts the flow of the Capitals offense let alone be a guy who fits in well enough to earn his current second highest salary on the team. It's unfortunate, he's clearly a good guy, a talented skater and a solid influence in the locker room. However, he's also clearly NOT worth a $4.875M salary cap hit and at 36 with a NMC he's likely to finish his career languishing here in DC and pulling the Caps down for two more season. There is no doubt though that GMGM will continue to look for ways to make this situation better - he has to as Nylanders Cap his eats up almost 10% of what he has to work with.
My Current Projected Caps Opening Day Lineup is:
1) Ovechkin - Backstrom - Clark
2) Semin - Laich - Fehr
3) Fleischman - Steckel - Bradley
4) Nylander - Gordon - Aucoin
Reserve Forwards: Beagle, Osala, Laing and Bourque or Giroux.
Green - Erskine
Poti - Jurcina
Pothier - Alzner
Reserve Defenders: Carlson, Schultz
Goaltenders: Jose Theodore & Seymeon Varlamov
Reserve: Michal Nuevrith.
I expect the following 2008/2009 Caps will be playing on other teams at the start of the 2009/2010 Season (in addition to Sergei Federov and Vicktor Kozlov):
1) Donald Brashear - Look for the Capitals to drop their "enforcer" down to the middleweight class from the super heaveyweight that "Brash" represents. The enforcer duties will be taken over by: John Erskine, Milan Jurcina, Quintin Laing and Matt Bradley - when the Caps need an enforcer. One of the things that Alexander Ovechkin's hard charging style of play has done is keep opposing teams from taking liberties with the Capitals star by letting them know he can take care of himnself by using his wicked hard, clean checks to keep them at bay. However as we saw in the playoffs and from time to time during the last regular season having guys like Bradley, Laing, and Erskine on the team who are willing to take on all comers if need be is also needed from time to time when you have a high powered smooth skating offense centered on a set of "Young Guns" who are obvious targets to shoot at.
2) Brent Johnson - "Johnnie" had a great season going until his injury, between that and the solid play of young netminders Neuvirth and Varlamov it just seems like another team will be more than willing to give him a raise and it's unlikely the Capitals will do the same.
3) Shoane Morrisson - With the current salary cap situation, Pothier ready to come back, and Alzner and Carlson in the wings, the Capitals will probably make a minimum qualifying offer for ShaMo and then let him go to anyone that puts forth a larger offer sheet.Whiole he had a pretty good set of playoffs his regular season last year was a step or two below his prior years effort in 2007/2008.
Other guys "on the bubble": Clearly Nylander if anybody would take himn in a manner that would work. Bryan Helmer - he had a great season last year and if he wasn't 36 somebody would be picking him up for sure, as it is someone may still do so and give him a shot at a final NHL season or two. Here's a name I doubt you'll be thinking about but it seems to me virtually certain that Sasha Pokaluk will be playing in Russia or Europe at the start of this coming season.
Well I think that has me caught up on hockey blogging. This summer continues to be hectic and I just don't seem to have any time to blog much these days. I'll try to be more regular in my postings - blogging helps me clear my head of other things anyway. That said I still have to keep meeting my deadlines for my "day job" and that isn't getting any easier - being busy in this economy is a blessing and sure beats the alternative in my view.
So what are all your thoughts on what the Caps will be doing in this off season to improve the team?
Can't Wait Till October....
LETS GO CAPS!!!!!