Last night, the Hershey Bears repeated as AHL Calder Cup Champions. The Bears claimed the 2010 Calder Cup at home with a fairly impressive, and fairly dominating 4-0 victory over the Texas Stars. I watched the majority of the game on NHL Network and had several musings at the time that I've thought some more about this morning and might be worth sharing.
During the game it occurred to me that it's clear there is likely little to be gained through another season in the AHL for the development of the following players: John Carlson, Karl Alzner, Mathieu Perrault, and Michael Neuvirth. All four of these guys should be on the Capitals rooster for the entirety of next season - more on that thought later.
Through all of last night's game numerous other Caps prospects were dominant and impressive as well:
a) Chris Bourque - well through this series and watching him, I finally saw why so many folks here in Caps Nation are big proponents/supporters of Bourque. He was dominant, his play making was creative and he seemed to have glue on his stick. Through the entire game when he was on the ice he usually made things happen and all night long, he made just one mistake and then he got back and corrected it. If he can find a way to regularly do 1/2 as much at the NHL level he will never have to play another game in the minors the next time he gets a chance at the NHL level. Given his history and his drive while I'm rooting for him now, I'd still say that's a 50/50 chance.
b) Jay Beagle - I've liked what I've seen of him when he's been given a chance up at the NHL level and it's clear he'll get some more chances and well he should. From what I saw he has a good chance of making it at the NHL level as a regular 3rd or 4th liner. Beagle is an RFA this summer and if I were GMGM, I wouldn't think twice about tending a qualifying offer for this 23 year old who is continuing to develop.
c) Alexandre Giroux - really has nothing left to prove at the AHL level, but I'm not sure there is room for him anywhere besides Hershey right now in the Capitals organization. Giroux is an UFA this off-season, if I were him I'd look to move somewhere else in the NHL/AHL where there is less of a log jam on the parent club's roster for a gifted scoring forward. I'm not saying I want to see him go - I don't. I am saying if I were him, at age 28, I'd be looking for a place where I can get a better shot an an NHL roster spot - now.
d) Kieth Aucoin - another who has nothing left to prove at the AHL level and at age 30 and under contract to the Capitals through the end of the 2012 - 2013 season, you're looking at a guy who will get some more chances to play up at the NHL here in DC and who in the meantime is likely the next Captain of the Hershey Bears when/if Brian Helmer retires.
e) Boyd Kane - After this season, the 31 year old has nothing to prove down here in "The A", that said whether anyone else makes a play for the UFA Left Wing remains to be seen. He may well be back in Hershey next season and I wouldn't mind seeing him so.
f) Patrick McNeill - I mentioned this 23 year old blue liner yesterday before the final Calder Cup Game. I don't know why I did - other than I like him and the way his development is going. Last night then he goes out and nets two goals and has a great game in all facets to boot. McNeill will be a RFA after this season and should be given a qualifying offer as well as a shot to see if he can displace either Carlson, Alzner, Erskine or Jurcina/Sha-Mo for a regular line-up spot with the Capitals in Camp this summer.
g) Other guys worth a contract spot out of the allotted 50 to the Capitals based on this year's efforts in Hershey include: Steve Pinizzotto, Andrew Jourdrey, Braden Holtby, Andrew Gordon, Kyle Wilson, and Francois Bouchard. Also though I don't think he'll get a contract from the Capitals, he should get one from Bears GM Doug Yingst - Gregg Amadio.
The Bears victory shows that there is a very deep and fine talent development pipeline in the Capitals organization these days. It also means, IMO, the Caps need to use that pipeline to their advantage - not just for development but also to trade and get a) either something they need now, or b) get more draft picks in the upcoming 1-3 years. The Capitals now need to make room to continue development the players coming up the line with a similar approach as the US Military takes - up or out. This can and should start this upcoming season in Washington - first on the blue line but up front and in goal. After watching the last couple of Calder Cup final games here's my thoughts for the Capitals 2010-2011 roster going into training camp:
On the Blue Line:
1) Mike Green, 2) Tom Poti, 3) Jeff Schultz, 4) Milan Jurcina, 5) John Carlson, 6) Karl Alzner, 7) either John Erskine or Shoane Morrisonn but not both, 8) Patrick McNeill, 9) Tyler Sloan. If things play out the way I think they will and should I think the 7 Defensemen on the Capitals roster at the end of training camp will and should be: 1) Mike Green, 2) Tom Poti, 3) Jeff Schultz, 4) John Carlson, 5) Milan Jurcina, 6) Karl Alzner and 7) either Erskine or McNeill. I'd assign Sloan to Hershey right at the beginning of the season and see if he'd clear waivers. I like Shoane Morrisonn but not at almost $2M - I think Jurcina is just as good a fit in the role that's needed there and he'll likely cost at least 0.5M less of salary cap per year. I also think Juice has more upside as he could well get better while I think Sha-Mo is pretty topped out. Since he is a UFA the Caps won't get anything for him but over the next 2-3 years having an additional $500K/year of cap space will be useful, especially when Karl Alzner becomes RFA eligible after next season. I also like the grit and size that John Erskine brings to the lineup, but I think the Blue Liners I've listed are all clearly better skaters and the overall group is stronger without him then with him in place of say Alzner. That said if one of the three current Hershey Bears: Alzner, Carlson or McNeill don't show they are ready to play in the NHL, he's the guy I'd keep. All that said If the Capitals can pick up somebody like Don Hamhuis for an average cap hit of around $3.5M, they should do it and he then becomes the #2 man and I'd move everyone from Poti on down down a slot such that the 7 guys I'd have on the roster coming out of camp would be: 1) Green, 2) Hamhuis, 3) Poti, 4) Jeff Schultz, 5) John Carlson, 6) Milan Jurcina, and 7) Karl Alzner. I'd keep Patrick McNeill in Hershey another year and I'd buyout John Erskine's final year. I look at the approach I'm suggesting to bring in Hamhuis as a "zero sum" game on the blue line corps with regard to the salary cap. The moves I'm suggesting clear the room for Hamhuis this season and likely next, after that I haven't looked at it nor do I think GMGM should do so all too closely - a lot can happen in those two seasons.
In goal - after watching Michael Neuvirth in the AHL Playoffs and Semyon Varlamov in the second half of the season, as much as I like Jose Theodore, it's time for the Caps to take a chance and go with the two youngsters in the net this regular season. I don't think they need to bring in a veteran UFA though if they bring in one, I'd go with Dan Ellis for an average Cap Hit of $3M or less. If that happens I'd move either Varly or Neuvey to someone that would give him a chance in the NHL - whoever I could get the most for - sorry it is a business. After Ellis, I really don't like any other UFA goaltender more than Theodore, though I still would be looking for him to resign at a number that yields a Cap Hit of $3M or less and after his last season here, I don't see him doing that. Note my moves here free up between $1.5 and $4.5M of salary cap space that I'd use that space to go get a real, bonafide Second Line Center for at least next season and then in the out years use at least half of it to keep whoever of the two young goaltenders I'm suggesting be on the roster next year for the near term (following 3 or so seasons).
Up front: My list of forwards are: 1) Alexander Ovechkin, 2) Nicklas Backstrom, 3) Alexander Semin, 4) Brooks Laich, 5) Mike Knuble, 6) A true second line center - I'd go after Patrick Sharp if as rumors indicate, he is available to help Chicago manage their Cap issues, 7) Eric Fehr, 8) Jason Chimera, 9) David Steckel, 10) Matt Bradley, 11) Boyd Gordon, 12) Mathieu Perrault, 13) Jay Beagle or Chris Bourque or Andrew Gordon. In other words fill the real need and use the pipeline for at least two of the grinders and to help with Salary Cap management issues. In the meantime I would indeed either give Tomas Fleishmann a qualifying offer but I'd prefer to trade his rights as part of a deal to get draft choices or bring Sharp to Washington. I'd let Belanger go just as the team is not resigning Brendan Morrison unless of course Belanger is willing to go for a very cap friendly 2 or 3 year deal - cap friendly to me is a Cap Hit of approx. $1.5M/year. I'd also look long and hard at Jason Chimera's $1.875M cap hit if he doesn't show up for camp with his "A" game as to my mind Jay Beagle may be ready to assume that sort of role after this past Calder Cup finals. Of course Beagle's 6-3, 200# isn't quite as imposing or intimidate as the way Chimera carries his 6'-2", 216# body on the ice. Though I'd say Beagle has better hands and touch than Chimera, while Chimera has better foot speed/skating wheels than Beagle.
Well like I said, I think it's time for some minor adjustments and judicious use of the "up or out" approach to improve the immediate team and to ensure the pipeline remains full of developing players who are getting the ice time they need at every level: NHL, AHL and ECHL.
So I guess if I wasn't musing/talking aloud here I could have shortened this whole post to read as follows. If I were GMGM this off season I would: a)try to get Patrick Sharp in a trade from Chicago, b)sign Don Hamhuis as a UFA, c)trade away the rights to Tomas Fleishmann for something, just about anything, of value to me I could get; d) resign the following RFA and UFAs: Jeff Schultz, Milan Jurcina (for no more than $1.5M cap hit/season), Eric Fehr, and Boyd Gordon; and e)buy out John Erskine. Just my musings today....
In other profession hockey news today:
Former South Carolina Stingray head coach Jared Bednar was named head coach for the Saint Louis Blue AHL Affiliate Peoria Rivermen earlier today. I guess that's because guys who use and coach the system currently being played in Washington, just don't know how to play hockey "right"...