Thursday, July 16, 2009

My Thoughts Looking Ahead to Next Season Now The Roster is Shaping Up ...

So there is no shortage of posts on the net today about development camp - I'll stop by tomorrow - haven't done so yet but can't wait... and there's a fair amount of chatter or at least was before the dust settled about Jeff Schultz's qualifying offer status but not about what things are looking like thinking ahead to next season - at least today on "blogdom" so I'll contribute things there. But first if you haven't seen it go here and look at WaPo's blog and Tariq's Q&A with Capital great Dale Hunter - it seems pretty cool to me.

One other thing - Caps Fans, especially those 2,000 or so of you now on the season ticket waiting list, mark your calenders for the Thanksgiving Roadtrip to Montreal - that's right - Montreal -
The Washington Capitals will play the Montreal Canadiens on November 28, 2009. This is the much-rumored game to be played inside Montreal's Olympic Stadium in front of 60,000 fans. Whether or not the kinks are worked out to make that happen, Alex Ovechkin is sure to make the highlight reels as in the past two seasons he's had his four-goal game and added yet another classic goal to his ever-growing resume against the Habs. Should be a real "kickin' good time. If you like that road trip another good game for a roadtrip will be to South Florida in February when the Calgary Flames meet the Florida Panthers on February 5, 2010. It's not a Caps game but it'll be when former Cat Jay Bouwmeester comes back to South Florida and the geographic area that he claimed doesn't hold enough hockey passion for him to re-sign there. You would think Bouwmeester would be booed loudly every time he touches the puck.

With that out of the way here's how I think things look for the Caps on their roster and the start of the season - what say you fellow Internet savvy hockey fans? Here's the news on the wires yesterday without the attending confusion and drama: The Washington Capitals have signed defenseman Shaone Morrisonn and Jeff Schultz as well as forwards Eric Fehr, Chris Bourque and Kyle Wilson to one-year contracts and forward Steve Pinizzotto to a two year-contract.

So as of today the Caps have the following players signed for the 2009/2010 season; salary & bonus (not their cap hit) listed as is the last year of their current contract to the Capitals:

Forwards: POS AGE SALARY Last Year of Current Contract

Ovechkin, Alexander L 23 9.000 2022
Nylander, Michael C 36 5.500 2011
Semin, Alexander L 25 4.200 2010
Knuble, Mike R 36 2.800 2011
Clark, Chris R 33 2.650 2011
Backstrom, Nicklas C 21 2.500 2010
Laich, Brooks C 26 2.100 2011
Morrison, Brendan C 33 1.500 2010
Bradley, Matt R 31 1.000 2011
Fehr, Eric R 23 0.772 2010
Gordon, Boyd R 25 0.761 2010
Fleischmann, Tomas C 25 0.725 2010
Steckel, David L 27 0.725 2010
Osala, Oskar L 21 0.850 2011
Beagle, Jay R 23 0.875 2010
Gordon, Andrew R 23 0.660 2010
Bourque, Chris C 23 0.578 2010
Aucoin, Keith R 30 0.500 2010
Laing, Quintin L 30 0.500 2010
Pinizzotto, Steve R 25 TBA 2011 (Note Last Season "Pinner" made $615K)

Green, Mike D 23 5.000 2012
Poti, Tom D 32 3.500 2011
Pothier, Brian D 32 2.500 2010
Morrisonn, Shaone D 26 1.975 2010
Erskine, John D 29 1.250 2011
Schultz, Jeff D 23 0.682 2010
Alzner, Karl D 20 1.675 2011
Sloan, Tyler D 28 0.640 2010
Collins, Sean D 25 0.675 2011
Carlson, John D 19 0.846 2012

Theodore, Jose G 32 4.500 2010
Varlamov, Simeon G 21 0.850 2011
Neuvirth, Michal G 21 0.850 2010
Holtby, Braden G 20 0.683 2012

In Arbitration:
Jurcina, Milan D 26 Salary Last Season: 0.912

With that roster here's my current forecast for the opening night lineup:

1) Ovechkin - Backstrom - Knuble
2) Semin - Morrison - Laich
3) Fleischmann - Nylander - Clark
4) Gordon - Steckel - Bradley

Reserves: Fehr (start Season on IR then he will transition to a regular spot rotating into the lineup with all but the top six forwards unless one of them is injured or "in a slump"), Bourque, Osala, Beagle, Aucoin

Green - Morrisonn
Poti - Schultz
Pothier - Erskine

Reserves: Jurcina ****, Alzner, Carlson, and Sloan.

Goaltenders:Theodore, Varlamov
Reserve/Hershey: Neuvirth, Holtby


**** Eric Fehr will not be ready at the start of the season so look for Chris Clark and Matt Bradley to move up a line while Chris Bourque, Oskar Osala and Jay
Beagle all get some NHL playing time and try on Caps sweaters. After Fehr recovers from his shoulder surgery then look for him to routinely rotate into a regular position on the roster with all but the top six forwards unless one of them are hurt or in a prolonged slump.

**** Milan Jurcina is the only Capital who requested arbitration, given he was second on the team in hits (behind Ovechkin) and was a defensive leader in blocked shots I believe he'll return this coming season. However, if the arbitrator awards him much more than his qualifying offer the Caps my now have to let him walk away from the team given their salary cap position. Assuming that doesn't happen look for Jurcina to be paired with Tom Poti, when he's in the lineup. Also if necessary and if Jurcina starts the season off playing like he did when he played well in the playoffs both he and Karl Alzner can pretty much pair with anybody else, except possibly John Erskine, when they adjust their styles appropriately so I look for both them to get a fair amount of playing time this coming season. I look for Carlson to get at least a try or two up in DC when somebody is hurt and to start the season off in Hershey. After playing ~40 minutes a night at the tail end of the regular season in Juniors and playing well for Hershey in the Calder Cup playoffs, there's little to be gained in the way of development if he doesn't move up and he's clearly shown he's able to play at least at the AHL level so there's no reason for a career stop in Charleston, SC at all.

The big question now is do the Capitals have enough horsepower to significantly improve on last season's performance. To significantly improve they probably have to advance through the playoffs to the finals and at least compete for Lord Stanley's Cup. That is a tough, tough challenge - winning the Stanley Cup may well be the hardest thing for a professional team to do in sports given, the length of the regular season, the length of the playoffs, the pace and "physicality" of professional ice hockey and now in the "modern era" the parity the salary cap creates in the NHL. To automatically assume the changes to the Capitals will all gel is not prudent. Clearly they have a coach and a team core with drive and talent but so too do the league's other top echelon teams. One thing for sure this season will be a fun one to watch, can the Caps improve on their 50 win season of last year sure but 100+ points is a big deal in this league. Can the Caps finish the regular season better positioned than last year for a very, very deep run in the playoffs? We're all waiting for that answer with baited breath. Our anticipation started this week, I wasn't there but it's clear from the pictures here in "Caps Blogdom" yesterday's scrimmage was SRO - Standing Room Only so I know at least a couple hundred other folks are as impatient as me to see what next season will bring.


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