Here's the way I now see the Caps Line-up for the start of the 2011-2012 season and I'm liking it a lot.
Ovechkin – Backstrom - Knuble
Semin – Johansson – Brouwer
Chimera – Laich – Fehr
King/Beagle – Halpren – Hendricks
Green – Hamrlik
Wideman – Erskine
Alzner – Carlson
I am totally pleased and shocked or maybe that's shocked but pleased to see the Capitals able to pick up Tomas Vokoun. I've been pleased with Michal Neuvirth's progress and more than a little frustrated with Semyon Varlamov's well with Varly''s whatever it is he had been doing. Now that the situation is resolved, and the organization has two good young goalies in the system and an experienced proven world-class hand in net as well, we can really look at the rest of GM George McPhee's off-season moves so far.
Up front he's preserved the core, avoided having to spend an addition 500K of Cap space for a defensive fourth line center by swapping out Boyd Gordon for Jeff Halpren and may have also picked up some more leadership in the locker room by creating a situation where the Potomac native may be able to finish his NHL Career with the team he grew up rooting for. RFA Troy Brouwer was a good pickup as well. The twenty-five year old Brouwer has a qualifying offer to go with his 2010 Stanley Cup Ring and while he along with Karl Alzner are apparently looking to see if anyone will give them an offer sheet, should the Caps end up with Brouwer he would make a good complimentary wing on a second line with Semin and Johansson. Brouwer's arrival allows the movement of Eric Fehr down to the third line and construction of a third line of Jason Chimera Brooks Laich and Eric Fehr which means the Capitals would have three lines capable of playing and scoring with both speed and power. The presence of Jeff Halpren as the pivot on a fourth line with Matt Hendricks and any number of possible left wings ranging from D. J. King to Jay Beagle or Chris Bourque or Dmitry Kugryshev. So while I'll be said to see the team loose the feistiness and leadership of Matt Bradley and Jason Arnott, I think this team's forward lines have the potential to be even better than the great forward line play we've seen over the past three seasons.
On the blueline I confess at first I looked at the pickup of veteran defenseman Roman Hamrlik as perplexing but with Karl Alzner apparently shopping for offer sheets, Jeff Schultz coming off a disappointing season, Tom Poti fighting for his career, and Scott Hannan either looking for more than the Caps want to afford or wanting to leave the Capitals to return to the Western Conference, it all seems to make sense. When you look at these pairings you can't be anything but pleased. Sure Hamrlik is 37 and will be 39 at the end of his contract but last season he averaged over 22 minutes a game and played 79 games. He finished the season with 34 points (5 goals and 29 assists) and was +6; thirty two year old Scott Hannan he played 78 games, had an ATOI of 19:47, 11 points (1 goal and 10 assists) and was +4. Hamrlik's signed for two years with a salary cap hit of $3.5M per while Hannan's cap hit last season was $4.5M. Bottom line is wort case the Hamrlik for Hannan swap out looks like at least an even move on talent and skill and should save $1M against the Cap - money the Capitals needed to pay for Alzner's qualifying offer. Am I ready to throw in the towel on Jeff Schultz - no; but last season was not a good one for the twenty five year old, and hopefully he learned in the second round of the playoffs that sometimes you need to play more physically and use his 6' 6" frame and his 230 pounds instead of trying to stick check a driving forward. Schultz will need to step up his game this coming season, even if someone presents an offer sheet to Alzner the Caps choose not to match; there are more than a couple of guys down in Hershey who I expect will be invited to Camp that could make a statement that they are ready to join the NHL, further should Tom Poti be able to return to play vice retiring, it wouldn't surprise me if GMGM moves Schultz should he find a willing trade partner.