So going into training camp these upcoming weeks what does the Washington Capital's likely roster look like? I haven't pondered this in a while and I don't know how different what I project will be from the last time I looked at this but as I think about this season's positives for the Capitals a smile comes to my face... My projected forward lines are:
Ovechkin - Backstrom - Knuble,
Semin - Morrison - Laich,
Fleischmann - Steckel - Fehr,
Osala - Gordon - Bradley.
Before we get into the what?!?!? Where's Clark !?!? What about Nylander, you don't really think they'll pay him $5M to sit in the press box this season - do ya ?!?! stuff. Let's just examine this set of lines and a few of the possibilities with these guys and why the heck i think the team could easily look a lot like this on most nights and do very well....
The first line is awesome, while some folks will be missing Vicktor Kozlov and Mike Knuble is 37, comparing what each of them did last season you have to look at Knuble as an upgrade. With Knuble on the line as well as OV and Backstrom you have a line that last year scored 105 goals between them (Knuble 27 goals versus 13 for Kozlov). Also Knuble's presence and "grit" should help the line keep things simpler and may even result in opening up a that little bit more time and space for OV to have yet another 60+ goal season. The continued maturation and development of Backstrom also seems all but guaranteed and as his 1+ point per game productivity in the playoffs last season showed he too could likely benefit from the presence of Knuble driving to the net to open things up more.
The second line of Semin - Morrison - Laich is one I'm very excited about, combined they scored 73 goals last season. Assuming Alexander Semin continues to develop and play more of a two way game, something that Brendan Morrison's presence - like Sergei Federov's last season - should reinforce, and Morrison returns more true to his historical form, and this line is going to be the most different thing between the start of last season and the start of this season. Laich had another solid year last year and will only have his "gritty" style of play reinforced watching Knuble and Morrison nose for the net and drive at 37 and 34 respectively. It wouldn't surprise me to see this line quickly click with Semin relishing the time and space Morrison and Laich's style of play force defenses to give him, and using it for his first 40+ goal season. Morrison with a feeling of something to prove and finding that playing with Semin can be as exciting and fun as playing with AO might just return to 20+ goal form; and Laich with all that garbage to pick up continuing to better his season high goal production and knocking on that 30 goal season door.
If the second line "gels" like I think it will, opposing teams would be looking at playing a Washington Capitals second line that produces 90 plus goals. Talk about no place to hide. Talk about having two power play units to make your mistakes hurt even without a heavyweight enforcer and that's what the Caps could well have in their top six forwards. Talk about having to really do some juggling - if Semin has a 40+ goal season this year - GMGM is really going to have to earn his money when it comes to extending his contract before the end of the season. Talk about having a lot to shout about in Section 103 during Caps game this season - I'm grinning just thinking about these possibilities.
The third line consisting of Fleischmann - Steckel - Fehr consists of two guys on wing who though solidly deserving of a sweater each night haven't lived up to their potential and a center who really earns his money and at a salary of $725K as one of the better faceoff men in the NHL last season is a bargain. Further last season during the playoffs "Stecks" had 3 goals, 2 assists and a 15.8% shooting percentage in 14 games - if he can keep on that track (0.357 points per game) during this regular season that would be a 30 point season with 12 - 15 goals. Those would be solid stats for a third line center. Assuming that at least one of the two wings betters their last season performance (I'd bet on Fehr getting 17+ goals and "Flash" getting 21 or more) and it's easy seeing this line - a group of guys who scored 39 goals between them last regular season producing 50+ goals during this years regular season campaign. Given this year is a contract year for all three of them, nobody is probably more motivated to make that jump from 39 goals to 50+ goals then they themselves.
My fourth line of Oscar Osala - Boyd Gordon - Matt Braley is a bit of a stretch but not so much so. I picked Osala because I think coming out of training camp at least one of the Calder Cup winning Hershey Bears will have earned themselves a roster spot up here in DC. I picked Osala because at just 21 years old, 6'4", 217# the strapping Finn pairs up well with the 6'0", 201# 25 year old Gordon and the 6'3" 201# 30 year old Bradley to form a pretty big, solid checking line. Further from what little I saw of Osala during his scant 2 games with the Capitals he is driven and he doesn't seem to shy too far away from a pretty physical, but fast aggressive style of play like Coach Boudreau wants to see. As far as Gordon and Bradley go, especially in light of their 2009 playoff performances, there's no doubt when you show up for a "Hockey War" you want these guys wearing a sweater, on your bench ready to play. Gordon is a responsible guy on both ends of the ice and is a solid special teams guy as a penalty killer. The 30 year old Bradley had a solid 2008-2009 regular season then stepped up his game in the playoff notching 2 goals and 4 assists in 14 games (0.429 points per game). It's easy to see how based on what he did in the playoffs how the 31 year old Bradley, if he had a guy like Osala or Jay Beagle or Alexandre Giroux or Francois Bouchard or Chris Bourque or ... on the other wing, and Gordon has a another good solid season, might be able to notch a 25+ point 10+ goal season this year.
So that's my logic for my forward line picks.
Defensive pairings well here again the Caps are looking better then they did at the start of last season, thanks mainly to the return to the line-up of Brian Pothier, as well as the continued development of some of the other guys. My 3 defensive pairings:
Green - Morrisson,
Poti - Jurcina,
Pothier - Erskine,
Backups: Schultz, Alzner.
I look for GMGM to deal two of these guys early in the season to make some room for the up & comers, as well as possibly some cap space and get some additional draft picks assuming every stays reasonably health through the first 1/4 of the season. My reasoning for the picks and the placement of the parings is pretty convoluted.
First why does Alzner start the season in the press box or in Hershey - because he can and they can move him back and forth without putting him through waivers and he hasn't finished maturing his game in Hershey yet. Why does Schultz start the season in the press box - because he'll still be recovering from his off season surgery even though he'll be insisting he's ready to play.
Now the pairings - to me Mike Green - Shaone Morrisonn works and works well most if not all of the time. This will be the year Mike Green proves last season was no fluke but he'll also be looking to play even better in his own end without sacrificing the offensive in your face dynamic he brings to the game. I also look for Morrisonn to take a few more shots from the point when he gets the chance and expect both his shots on goal and his results in the way of goals and primary assists to go up. Last season's number for Green were =/- +24, 31 goals, 42 assists for 73 points with 243 shots on goal and a 12.8 shooting percentage in just 68 games. I won't hazard a guess on Green's production this season though if I did it would be between 20 and 30 goals with a =/- of +29 or better. Morrisonn's regular season numbers were +/- +4, 3 goals, 10 assists, 50 shots on goal with a 6.0% shooting percentage in 72 games played. I think Morrisonn will better those numbers significantly this season with a +/- of +12 or better, 80+ shots on goal, and a 9.0% or better shooting percentage I can see him producing 7 goals, and 17+ assists. I actually see this pair on the ice with the second and third line as often as they are out there with the first line as well. That's why I see Morrisonn's productivity going up and Green's staying close to last year's awesome season.
The second pairing of Tom Poti and Milan Jurcina enters this season having played reasonably well together often last seasoin. Further Jurcina's play last season earned him a $1.375M salary this year in arbitration (or perhaps GMGM deserves some credit for that by giving John Erskine a $2.5M, 2 year ($1.25M/year) contract extension in the middle of last season to keep Erskine off the UFA market.) In any case the 32 year old Tom Poti had a +/- +3, 3 goal, 10 assist 59 game injury shortened regular season and then stepped up his game in the playoffs notching a =/- +8, 2 goals and 5 assists in 14 games. "Juice" the 26 year old was second on the team in hits, played 79 regular season games, was +/- +1 with 3 goals and 11 assists. If the big Czech could improve his shooting percentage/accuracy (he was 3.2% with 95 shots on goal) his offensive production would likely improve linearly without any other aspect of his game suffering because he has a cannon of a slapper. In the playoffs Juice was +6, and had 2 goals with only 10 shots on goal in 14 games. I see this line out there and the 6'4" 233# Jurcina laying solid, legal hits on guys prone to take cheap hits on the first line. I see him able to do that because Poti will be there playing disciplined hockey and covering for Jurcina if he has to get out of position to do that aspect of his role now that the team is without a designated "heavyweight."
The third pairing I see as Pothier with whoever else is dressed that night assuming he has indeed fully recovered, stays that way and plays as well or better then he did in his 9 regular season and 13 playoff games last year. Ultimately though if things go the way i think they will I see some shuffling on the second and third pairing as GMGM deals two of the 8 defensemen listed here away, sometime between now and the trade deadline.
Goaltending I see as Theodore and Varlamov - ALL SEASON long. I also see Theo having a good year and holding onto number 1 throughout the entire year. I see Varly having the kind of year he needs to have to ensure he comes into camp next season as the number 1 as well. That should mean another 50+ win season for your Washington Capitals.
So what do you think - am I crazy? I'll ponder the fates of Chris Clark and Michael Nylander with my next post.
LETS GO CAPS!!!