Well now Caps fans we are firmly into the "Off Season" a Stanley Cup Parade has been conducted in Chicago, doe that mean there really is NOT a President's Cup Jinx? Well at least not this season, I could give my thoughts on the playoffs in their entirety or the finals in particular but I'll confine them to just a single thought on the finals. To me in hindsight the defining game, the game when Boston lost the series was their Game 4 loss in Boston, if ever there was a game in a seven game series that made the statement "There's a world of difference between trailing a series 3-1 and being tied 2-2"; it was games 4, 5, and 6 of this year's Cup finals. Seriously, Boston wins game four and the world would have been a different place, instead they lost it 6-5 in overtime but worse yet they showed Chicago their weaknesses, they showed Chicago how to push the game to the Bruins and to get the Bruins to let the Hawks open things up during that loss. It was all downhill from their for the Bruins and the Hawks made sure the Bruins fully realized it during Game 5. After Games 4 and 5, Game 6 was really just an obvious, necessary footnote in the Blackhawks second Stanley Cup in four seasons.
Now what about this off season? How about those Washington Capitals? Yeah, what about those Capitals? Well so far it's been a relatively quiet off season for the Caps. No big trades or moves on draft day, not this season. However, I like the young players the Caps drafted, my gut tells me that in a couple of seasons we'll see at least two of the six "kids" the Caps drafted in the NHL, maybe, well hopefully, even in "Capitals Red". I especially like both the Caps first and second round picks: 6'-1", 18 year old, European Left Wing Andre Burakovsky; 6'-1", 18 year old Canadian Defenseman Madison Bowey; and 6'-3", 18 year old, American Left Wing Zachary Stanford. My gut says that it's entirely possible that four years or so from now, Bowey could be one of those "draft steals" that people talk about, a guy who when compared with the most talked about guy in this year's draft "Seth Jones" compares quite favorably. I also like the Capitals other three late (5th and 6th) round picks: 18 year old, 5'-11" American defenseman Blake Heinrich; 18 year old, 6-0", Providence College bound, American Center Brian Pinho; and 18 year old, 6'-1", Canadian Defenseman Tyler Lewington. I believe the truth is that this year's draft talent pool was so deep in other years guys like Heinrich, Pinho and Lewington could have been certainly fourth, if not third rounders. So who knows what the future will bring for those three and the Capitals Organization. I also especially like that the Capitals seem to be looking to get bigger and stronger. As all six of these 18 year olds mature, they should all put more "meat on their bones" and add muscle mass to their frames, and for the Capitals I think that's important, they need to play a more physical game, IMO if they are to make deeper runs into the playoffs. Getting a team, and an organization, whose size and style reflects that from top to bottom is important. I feel, or maybe it's hope, this year's draft class reflects that process and trend.
Now what about free-agency? To me it's no secret the Capitals could really use another top quality Center, and another, experienced, clearly top four, defenseman. However, so far this off season, they've made no successful moves to acquire those assets. This fact is understandable at this point. Last month, I blogged I hoped the Caps would resign both Mike Ribero and Matt Hendricks. I would not have, nor would I advocate signing Mike Ribero to the contract he got from Phoenix (4 years, $22M ($5.5M/year)) or Hendricks to the contract he got from Nashville (4 years, $7.5M ($1.85M/year.)) I really like both players but in Ribero's case the contract term is one year longer than I'd be willing to go, and take away his 17 power play points this past season and his price tag is likely $500K higher in each of the four seasons he's signed for higher than I'd like to go. The contract is great for him and I don't begrudge him doing the right thing for him, but if anyone thinks his time here in DC was "for nothing", I'd respectfully say, coming to DC this season was likely worth $5.5 - $7M of lifetime earnings for #Ribz. As for Matt Hendricks, again another guy, I'd really hoped the Capitals resigned but I couldn't see signing the 32 year old winger to a contract longer than 3 years, or for n average salary cap hit greater than $1.5M. Again, I'm happy for the guy, he's clearly a character guy who will likely garner the same fan loyalty in Nashville that he did here in DC, and while his "shootout skillz" add to his value, I would not have been willing to add $2-3M of value to what I'd have been more than willing to pay him for the next three seasons.
Truth be told, there's very few of the over 100 "UFA" signings listed on the tsn.ca site that I think are "worth it" and as far as the signings of top quality Centers and/or Defensemen. In fact, of top quality players TSN's so called "Top 30 UFA" list, of the 21 deals made so far, the only one I wish the Capitals had made was the deal that brought former Florida Center, 30 year old, Stephen Weiss to the Red Wings. Of all the UFA Centers available this season, my top three "wish list" guys were Ribero, Weiss, and Tyler Bozak. I already went over what I thought would have been a fair contract to pay for Ribero, I think Weiss's 5 year, $24.5M deal is a fair deal for a guy with his skill and potential remaining career productivity. Bozak's five year $21M deal is marginal, from my perspective, and if it's a choice between Bozak and Brooks Laich at that price (and with this season's salary cap it would be) I'm taking Laich every time. While we're on the subject who (besides Paul Holmgren and Ed Snider) thinks a 37 or 38 year old Vinny Lecavalier is worth $4.5M/year? My thoughts on that subject are if a 38 year old Sergei Federov isn't worth $4 - 4+M then the likelihood of Lecavalier being so is pretty slim. So what's left for the Capitals to look at for their needs at Center? To me the two best UFA options are Mikael Grabovski and Scott Gomez and I really don't think either of them are the answer, so my choice, if I were GMGM and Adam Oates, would likely be to put Brooks Laich into the role of second line center and hope that with Oates' coaching by December I looked like a genius. But hey, I'm an eternal optimist, and I don't see any other easy answers.
Now what about our needs for another top four defenseman? Well the last two on tsn.ca's top 30 UFA list are NJ's Marek Zidlicky and Winnipeg's Ron Hainsey. I don't think either of those guys are the answer. Where would I look, I'm not sure but perhaps to Pittsburgh's 36 year old Mark Eaton - Eaton had a pretty solid playoffs in 2013, the Penguins are past the salary cap, and Eaton could bring some maturity and stability to the Capitals blue line corps at a relatively modest salary cap hit, so that might be worth taking a chance on him. Other than that, again I think, the Capitals need to look inward and take some solace in the surprise that were Steve Olesky and Thomas Kundratek's 2013 seasons. The truth is that as it's currently shaping up the 2013 - 2014 NHL season will likely be a tough one for we Capitals fans. The team that starts the 2013 -2014 season will likely have more question marks that the team that finished the 2013 playoffs being shutout 1-0 and 5-0 in two straight games and loosing a seven game series to the New York Rangers who then went on to loose their next series with the Bruins in five games. So what am I saying, I guess I'm saying that by the end of the 2013 - 2014 season we'll likely know the answers to two questions: a) How good an NHL coach can/will Adam Oates be? and b) Is Caps General Manager George McPhee pat of the answer or is he really the heart of the problem? Again, I'll be the eternal optimist and predict the answer to a) is "really good" and in fact so much so, we won't need or get to know the answer to b).
LETS GO CAPS!!!!