Saturday, July 16, 2011

Week of 7/9 Through 7/15 Recap and Capital Thoughts Going Forward

Wow another busy week for me at my new job and another busy week for Capitals GM George McPhee (GMGM). At the end of this past week though I'd say, I expect GMGM is likely ready for and capable of taking a bit of a summer break whilst I now have an ever growing "to do" list. Looking at the Capitals the reason I say GMGM is capable of taking a bit of a "summer break" now is he has navigated through the UFA frenzy and also the somewhat (this year at least) less frenetic but all the more interesting RFA signing period brilliantly, IMO. When I got back home from my business travels last week and looked to find what had gone on in and around the NHL, the signing of Karl Alzner to a two year, exceptionally "Cap Friendly" (double meaning fully intended) deal brought a smile to my face and a twinkle to my eyes. I confess that right now from what I see the only "better bargain" in the NHL is the one year UFA deal GMGM was able to ink with seasoned Veznia quality goaltender Tomas Vokoun, IMO. So folks here's where I see things being/are with a 22 man roster at the start of the season:

Forward Lines:

Ovechkin - Backstrom - Knuble (Combined Cap Hit: $18.2M)
Semin - Johansson - Brouwer (Combined Cap Hit: $10M)
Chimera - Laich - Ward (Combined Cap Hit: $9.4M)
Beagle - Halpren - Hendricks (Combined Cap Hit: $2.2M)

Defense Pairings:
Green - Hamrlik (Combined Cap Hit: $8.75M)
Alzner - Carlson (Combined Cap Hit: $2.1M)
Wideman - Erskine (Combined Cap Hit: $5.4M)

Goaltenders (Cap Hit: $2.65M)

D.J. King ($0.637M)
Jeff Schultz ($2.75M)

Injured Reserve:
Tom Poti ($2.875M)

That's a line-up. There are a few bargains in the Capitals line-up in my opinion and they speak volumes to a few others in my book. First let's give credit where credit is due, few outside of Washington Capitals "fan-dom", felt the Capitals would have been able to preserve the entire core and improve the team given all the threats and opportunities there were for them to loose key pieces to free-agency and their salary cap situation.

The first coup of the off-season to my mind's eye by GMGM is probably the biggest and that's the way the Capitals "goaltender controversy" was resolved, moving Semyon Varlomov to Colorado and getting something for a guy who could have just as easily ended up in Russia in the KHL "for nothing" was a great move. Then in the "I'd rather be lucky than good" category comes the signing of Tomas Vokoun for a mere $1.5M has to be, arguably, to my thinking the biggest, best signing of this year's UFA period; unarguably it's the best bargain for a team. Prior to the UFA period, many both inside and outside of hockey felt that Vokoun could/would easily have ended up with a "Cup contender" for $5M/year. Yet here he is in DC for $1.5, again I say - Wow. There's no doubt in my mind that the Capitals with Vokoun and Michael Neuvirth is a pretty awesome situation. In addition to having two great goalies, we'll no doubt see even more Czech Republic flags in and around Verizon Center this season. Also I can't think of a better coach to help Braden Holtby develop further and faster than "Olie the Goalie" or to demonstrate to Neuvirth the benefits of being patient with your own development curve. There's no doubt in my mind and no bigger surprise from this off-season to me than how much better I feel about the Capital's goaltending situation with Tomas Vokoun on the team and without the young goalies being #1 and #1A... Kudos to GMGM on the moves that resulted in the line-up in goal the Capitals now have.

In a set of moves that also surprised pretty much everyone in the hockey world, GMGM next turned his sights to re-tooling the Capitals front lines. I mean the Capitals forwards were already formidable, how was GMGM going to make them much better? Well he did and here's how... Signing UFA Joel Ward for $3M/season and trading Eric Fehr ($2.2M) to make Cap room was a good move. Yes, Fehr is/was a fan favorite and will likely be even better in Winnipeg. However, the Capitals needed someone like Ward in their line-up more than they needed another sniper and that's what and where Fehr will really help Winnipeg. Ward is and will continue to be a stalwart 2 way right wing who can and does help shut down the many left wing and centers in the league who are "snipers" that's why he played 80 games last season and averaged 17:01 TOI during the regular season but hey, then in the playoffs he not only continued to shutdown opponents and play 20:25 TOI a game through 12 playoff games but he also led the Predators in offense last post-season with 7 goals and 6 assists. So we trade Fehr who was getting about 12-13:00 TOI and not really fitting in where you'd expect on the roster which I believe is on the second line where he'll probably play in Winnipeg. Great upgrade for the Capitals #1. Next we have the "swap-out" of fourth line center Boyd Gordon for Jeff Halpren saving another $0.5M/year of salary Cap and it didn't really cost the Capitals much of anything. Yes "Gordo" is younger than Halpren (27 vs. 35) but if nothing else Halpren showed he was/is at least as durable, if not more-so than Gordon last season and there's no doubt that the return of the 35-year old Potomac, MD native to the team he once Captained fills some of the leadership that Jason Arnott brought to the Caps at the end of last season. Also in terms of defensive and face-off skills, while Gordon might have slightly better numbers, Halpren is also excellent and he has more offensive skills (11 goals last season vs. 3) and can and does use his body better (42 vs. 33 hits). To me, the fourth line with Halpren as pivot is an upgrade from the fourth line the Capitals put on the ice last season. Next we have the pickup of RFA Troy Brouwer really helps, it give us a great second line right wing to compliment Alexander Semin who can play his natural Left Wing position there and gives a great second finishing piece to young center Marcus Johansson should opposing teams choose to concentrate on Semin. Brouwer had 17 goals and 19 assists in the regular season last year along with 262 hits he's a stud and knows how to dig a puck out of a corner like nobody's business. I think a second line of Semin, MoJo, and Brouwer will be an awesome upgrade for the Capitals and adding Brouwer into the mix of potential Right Wings with Semin and Knuble to finish off the first line pair of Ovie and Backy gives the Capitals another really interesting set of options when it comes to mixing and matching their so called "top six" forwards of which the Capitals now have nine (9) legitimate "top six" forwards IMO: Ovechkin, Backstrom, Semin, Laich, Ward, Johannson, Knuble, Chimera and Brouwer, along with a fourth or energy line that can either shake things up or shut opponents down. And that's how GMGM managed to upgrade the Capitals' forward lines.

On the blueline thanks to the young duo of Karl Alzner and John Carlson the Capitals have the salary cap room to upgrade their front-lines without sacrificing anything on defense. Right now the Caps are carrying eight NHL D-Men on their roster, that's because no one know how things will end up with Tom Poti. I'm showing Poti on IR at the start of the season, if he's not, then the Capitals will need to do something to clear Cap space for him but a healthy Poti means an even better blue line corps than what I'm showing right now. Jeff Schultz has to take his game up a notch this season or it's likely the Capitals will look to move him because of his $2.75M salary Cap Hit, however right now having Schultz as an option until the Capitals know at least one of the two guys who finished the playoffs injured - Poti and/or Wideman - are healthy and ready to play a full season is a very sound and fortunate position to be in. The smoothness that Wideman displayed in fitting in the line-up as a trade deadline pick-up was a very pleasant surprise to me and i consider the swap-out of Hannan for Wideman to be an upgrade and a good move as well. Re-signing Alzner for just $1.285M/season is another huge coup for the Capitals to me as well. I really can't believe he didn't get an offer sheet that raised his overall price to at least the $2.75M that jeff Schultz is making this season. Well there you have it, all of the above are why I think the Capitals are an even better team this season than they were last season.


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