On Monday evening while I was at the game at Verizon Center and in one of those long lines at the men's room between periods I overheard a different kind of conversation between two guys in front of me. The gentlemen in the regular attire was talking to another in a new style Red Caps Jersey and explaining he wasn't buying a Jersey right now because he couldn't figure out if "anyone" on the current team other then Ovechkin would be here then and he just didn't want to get an Ovechkin Jersey because "everybody" has those. Asides from thinking it a convenient excuse not to spend ~$200.00 on something you only wear to games if you are a grown man, I thought how much I disagreed with the basic supposition of the argument. As I look into my crystal ball, besides Ovechkin, I for see a lot of the current core still here as long as the Caps keep producing and winning. Sure I understand that will put pressure on the roster because of the salary cap and some departures are inevitable but I still see much of the current core remaining intact for another two or three seasons.
Of the "young guns + one": Ovechkin is signed through 2021; Green is signed through 2012 and at that point will still be a RFA so will likely be resigned for several more years then; Backstrom becomes a RFA after this year and at this point the discussion of his next contract is probably limited to just how long a new contract he is willing to accept but since he doesn't turn 27 for five more years there's no reason to believe the next contract term won't be at least four years. Of the young guns, Semin is the only one where there is doubt because it seems clear from his signing a one year contract extension this year that after next season, he might want to test the UFA marketplace before committing to remaining here in DC. The +1 being Brooks Laich will be a UFA after next season and in my book it's 50/50 whether he tests the UFA waters or gets a contract extension offer and resigns sometime next season after January 1st. So of those five core guys I see at least three still here for at least three years and likely longer; additionally it sure seems at least 50/50 to me that at least one, if not both of the other two are still here in 2012 as well.
For the other seven forward slots, sure there is a lot of possibilities and uncertainty but a look at the current roster and their contract status gives you some idea of where things are more firm or less so. Steckel is signed through 2013 at an affordable number for the role he plays on the team; Chimera is signed through 2012 at an affordable number for a 2nd/3rd line winger, so consider those two here next season and the next as well. Knuble is signed through 2011 so he's here next season and depending on what he's done and doing at that time it's reasonable to see him sticking around for a final additional year or two at reasonable if he wants to play beyond age 38 and the Caps want him back. Additionally Matt Bradley is signed through 2011 at reasonable numbers as well. So as of right now just with those guys I see 8 of the normal 14 forward line slots filled for the start of next season. The looking at the other Caps who are RFAs at the end of this season you've got: Tomas Fleischmann who is an Arbitration Eligible RFA and Eric Fehr, and Boyd Gordon, who in addition to Backstrom are RFA. Unless someone puts some sort of ridiculous offer sheet in front of either Fleischmann orr Fehr, given their performances so far this season, I'd expect the team to want them back and to resign them for sure. I'd also expect that since Flash is 25 and Fehr is 24 the team would loom to sign both to at least two if not three or four year terms that they can afford. I'd put Gordon at 50/50 though I'd expect the Caps to resign him as well though perhaps not to anything longer than two years. That would fill 11 of the 14 spots for next season and it gives the line up: 2 Centers - Backstrom & Steckel, 3 Left Wings: Ovechkin, Semin, and Flash; 4 right wings: Knuble, Chimera, Bradley and Fehr; and 2 swing men: Laich and Gordon. The biggest need left open up front that then needs to be addressed for next season by resigning one of the UFAs or looking elsewhere at the UFA pool is that of a second line center and perhaps a third line center as well. The final spot would then logically fall to a swing man, preferably one who can help out on the penalty kill, in my view.
Looking at the available talent pool in house right now might be the easiest way to address those needs and by the end of this coming post season we'll likely know if that's the way to go for those needs. After this season, the following folks currently on the Caps Roster will be UFAs: 36 year old Right Wing Scott Walker, currently overpriced at $2.5M but probably available for less if he wants to continue to play after this season; 32 year old Center Eric Belanger currently fairly priced at $1.75M; 34 year old Center Brendan Morrison fairly or even slightly discount priced at $1.5M; 30 year old Left Wing Quintin Laing who is currently signed to a League Minimum contract. Additionally down in Hershey we have: 24 year old center Kyle Wilson who will be a Type VI UFA after the season as well as 28 year old center Alexandre Giroux and 31 year old left wing Boyd Kane who will be UFA. 23 year old center Chris Bourque, and 23 year old wingers Andrew Gordon and Jay Beagle will be RFAs. My point here is there are several ways to see much, if not all of the current team staying together virtually in their entirety through the end of next season at this juncture. That means there are currently an additional 16 months with which Caps GM George McPhee can work his trade to maintain or improve this great team up front, and right now I think you'd be hard pressed to find fault with the roster management being done on the Caps forward lines.
On the back end the Caps made a lot of moves at the deadline that create some interesting possibilities and discussions. First let me say I see the following top four defensemen on the roster next season assuming nobody makes any sort of ridiculous offers to either Joe Corvo or Jeff Schultz - Mike Green, Tom Poti, Joe Corvo, Jeff Schultz. Depending on the price tags I see the number five guy being either Shoanne Morrisonn or Milan Jurcina. That said if the Caps don't or can't afford to resign Corvo, I see both Sha-Mo and Juice back, again assuming they are affordable. The number 7 guy on the roster next season will be John Carlson, in my opinion. I see John Erskine being dealt or waived to make the cap space and contract slot available, and I suspect someone will gladly pick up his $1.25M price tag. I see King Karl shuttling between Hershey and DC through the first half of the season before settling in with the big club after Christmas while the Caps manage the transition/end of season negotiations set-up with Tom Poti. I see Tyler Sloan being traded in some draft day deals. The wild card here in my mind would be something totally unanticipated out of McPhee though like - the Caps don't resign Corvo, they go after and sign a guy like Tomas Kabrele, they then trade or waive Poti to free up the needed Cap space and they plan on and move both Alzner AND Carlson to the big club right at the start of next season.
I won't go into the goaltender situation, the Caps have three solid young goaltenders in their system in Varlamov, Neuvirth and Holtby, and from what I can see 33 year old Jose Theodore is in the middle of his best season since he won the Hart and Vezina Trophies in 2001 - 2002, so the Caps seem to have some good options and problems of a "good nature" there.
So bottom lines here. This year's Caps are a great team, the ability to keep the majority of it together through 2012 (the next two or even three seasons) appears to be there. All that said, the Caps are playing with urgency now and it's the kind of urgency a team needs to strive for excellence and make a deep run into the playoffs and maybe, just maybe win a Stanley Cup. ...
Of course all that happens one game at a time. Tonight - Tampa Bay at Verizon Center.
LETS GO CAPS!!!!