Tuesday, September 30, 2014

This? Or That? ...

It's getting close to time for the Capitals' Coaching and management staff to start making some real hard choices with regard to roster personnel.  So I figured I'd play "armchair GM" and make some of my own... so all of these guys are listed on the roster per the team's website this evening.  Right now the Caps list 18 forwards on the roster and 11 defensemen on the roster as well as 3 three goaltenders.  Let's do the easy thing first and say we agree with the plan for goaltenders on opening night: that's Holtby & Peters.  Now on to the "this or that's" for the defensemen.

Olesky or Hillen:  Both are 28 year old Journeyman defensemen who bring something to the table.  However in my view Olesky's size, grit, and hockey sense are all greater than Hillen, making it so Olesky is actually the guy with more upside IMO. The only thing I'd give to Hillen is he's a left hand shot.  if you have the feeling that you want a left and right hand shot on each pair that means that Olesky's partners of the guys I think at top 5 on the depth chart are Alzner & Orpik while Hillen's are Carlson, Green, and Niskanen.  Sounds like in that regard you go for Hillen but then think about it it's 1-0 with 10 minutes to play and you are Barry Trotz trying to rest you top pair for a final 10:00 surge, who'd you rather have out there for the Caps on defense Hillen and Green, Carlson or Niskanen or Olesky with either Alzner or Orpik. To me that's an easy call. All of the sudden Olesky with either Alzner or Orpik are who I send out no hesitation.  On the other hand definitely not Hillen with either Carlson or Green - in those situations in the past well it just hasn't been pretty. The 160 K of salary Cap I pick up are gravy but really not a factor at all.

Schmidt or Schilling - Both have upside and I'd keep them both in "the system" I love Schilling's size ... but ... the one closer to being NHL ready is Schmidt.  So then let's ask ...

Schmidt or Carrick - Again both deserve to stay in the system but all last year while I loved the electricity that Carrick brought at times when he was on the ice, he made enough noticeable bad "hockey decisions" that required him to save himself with his skating speed, I say Schmidt. So then let's ask ....

Schmidt or Wey - Again I like them both but I think Wey definitely needs another half to full season in Hershey before I pick him over Schmidt or Carrick and right now to me Schilling vs Wey is a "dead heat." So.. now here's my last this and this or that or that for defense ..

Erskine, Orlov, Olesky or Schmidt pick three of the four ... the question that arises when Orlov gets healthy.  Me, I go with Orlov and Olesky - a Right and a Left Hand Shot, when looking at Green, Niskanen, Carlson and Alzner that's 3 right hand shots and two lefties so I guess it's a good thing that both Erskine and Schmidt are left hand shots as well.  Erskine 6'-4" 220#, age 34, played 37 games last season had 1 goal, 3 assists, 64 hits, 56 PIM and , true grit on ice.  Schmidt 6-0", 194#, age 23, played 29 games last season in a Caps sweater, scored 2 goals, 4 assists, 6 PIM and had 18 hits. Me, I start the season with Erskine as number 8 on the depth chart on defense and let Schmidt mature a little more in Hershey.  But I'm not worried when any of these four guys gets hurt this year with the talent the Capitals have on the roster's blue line and that's the first time I felt I could say that in 7 seasons. I see the opening day roster with 8 guys listed who are blue liners:  Alzner, Carlson, Erskine, Green, Niskanen, Olesky, Orpik, and Schmidt (with Orlov on IR).

Now onto a little "forward" this or that.... Any "this or that" for the Capitals at this stage has to start with looking at the alternatives for second line center ... So then let's ask ...

Laich or Kuznetsov - why Laich - well let's start with the fact that spending $4.5M of your salary Cap (6.5+%) is a lot to spend on someone who would end up on the depth chart below the second line, then lets look at him, 31 years old, 6'-2", 210#, 10 NHL seasons under his "belt", total of 617 games played including "iron man seasons" 70+ games each season 2005 - 2012 but only 9 games played in 2012 - 13, and 51 games 2013-14.  Best seasons 2009-10; 78 games played, 25 G, 34 A, 59 points and IMO 2010 - 11 82 games played, 16 G, 32 A, 48 points (he had more goals in 2008-09 and 07-08 but I think 10 -11 was a better season for him). But the real question is at 31, 32, and 33 years of age will he ever be as good as he was 5 on 5 before he turned 30? There's no doubt in my mind Kuznetsov has more "upside" than Laich had when he was 22 let alone now that Laich is 31.  However, the question is right now, is Laich a better fit for the second line center position than Kuznetsov.  For my money the answer is  - no - I go with Kuznetsov over Laich, I want his speed and creativity at the second line center position a lot more than I want Laich's experience and conservative, safe play.  Also for Laich to reach the levels he did in his best years he has to be braver than he has been since 2010.  He has to get into the grills of goaltenders and risk getting inadvertently hit by an errant shot by a teammate ... again because at 31, even though he's in great shape he's probably a quarter step slower than he was at 26 or 27. Can he do that and durably play 65+ games this season.  Meanwhile Kuznetsov is younger at 22, faster and has creativity and vision with the puck Laich never had.  He also despite being only 22 is used to playing "in the spotlight" with 5 seasons of KHL experience and 40 games of World and World Junior Championship experience and averaging 0.72 point per game. So then lets ask ...

Kuznetsov or Burakovsky: This is a no brainer to me, Burakovsky is 19, has none of Kuznetsov's KHL or WC "creds" and is a natural wing who needs more games at a lower level learning how to be a center if he's going to be the Capitals second line center.  Don't get me wrong he's been awesome this preseason so far and will be a talent in the NHL soon, maybe this season at Left Wing but I'd let him mature another season either in Hershey or in the OHL back in Erie even.  He'll bulk up his 6'1" frame some (he's only 178#) and he could really learn to be an awesome Center and more well rounded 200', 2 - way hockey player with one more season if that's what Trotz and the Caps want from him. So then lets ask ...

Kuznetsov or Johansson: Johansson is 23 years, has played 263 regular season games and 30 playoff games in four (4) NHL seasons.  He's averaged 0.53 points per game in regular season games and 0.33 points per game in regular season games.  So why not Johansson? Well his face off % hasn't been good ever, but to be fair he's not had a lot of chance to practice and develop that skill.  However, given this season will be Kuznetsov's first full season on NHL sized ice rinks and his first season of such long length, I'd pick MoJo to start the season as the second line center. I also think MoJo is better suited to "pair" with Brouwer, the defacto second line right wing.  That means if Trotz desires he can put Laich out as the second line LW and you have three guys on that line who can take faceoffs, and have "not too shabby" footspeed...or you could go a different way for the second line LW.  But my choice as second line center on opening night is Marcus Johannson.

I then go with Kuznetsov or Fehr on the first line as the third forward with Ovechkin and Backstrom.  Fehr can play there or as the third line center between Chimera and Ward.  Don't get me wrong, I have nothing against Laich but with the skillz at center Fehr has developed the last season and a half, the only thing Laich brings to the table over Fehr, at the price of an additional $3M of salary Cap is a slight edge as on the penalty kill unit. So if it's me I buyout or trade Laich. Going with Kuznetsov and Fehr over Laich to round out the top "9" forwards:  Backstrom, Brouwer, Burakovsky, Chimera, Fehr, Johannson, Kuznetsov, Ovechkin, and Ward. So then lets ask ...

What about the "Energy Line": I go with three Centers: Latta - at center, Beagle at Left Wing and Casey Wellman at Right Wing sending Tom Wilson to Hersehy for more ice time and to speed his development. 

And who should be the 13th forward?  I don't really care as long as Wilson spends some time in Hershey getting 15+ minutes a game of ice time.

So that's my ideas for this or that.  I have no illusions the opening night roster will be different and Brooks Laich will still be a Capital; also the Mike Green trade rumors will persist throughout the season until he's got a contract extension in hand thanks to Sports Illustrated.  All that said I'm getting excited for the upcoming NHL season to start.


Friday, September 26, 2014

Soooo ....

Soooo ... last night I tried to watch the "USA Hockey Prospects Game on NHLN but really did not get into it. 

Sooo .... for some strange reason I went back and reread my first three blog posts from November 2007 - my third post was November 22 and in it I mused about Glenn Hanlon's firing and Bruce "Gabby" Boudreau's hiring as "Interm Coach" of the Capitals. Wow time flies but just shy of 7 years and 633 blog posts later a lot remains the same.  Think about it - know what I'm saying?  I mean another NHL season about too start, another Caps new coach, lots of optimism, lots of good karma but the real question is come April, May and June of next year will we and the Caps have any "RAGRETS"?  I hope not.

I'll note that I am definitely NOT thinking about anything much in the way of what the Caps first three preseason games mean for the upcoming season in the way of "roster" spots.  That said I think that what I'm seeing is so far confirming my guesses about the new system and new culture that  Barry Trotz is trying to make the Caps identity.  Faster pace, more intense forecheck, deeper back check, and shorter higher energy shifts - I guessed that earlier this past summer.  What I didn't guess that I saw during the first preseason game against the Sabres at Verizon Center - that second pass out of our end. The short first pass to the boards you could have called, but that second short pass seems to be towards the center of the rink whenever possible by design.  That I wouldn't have guessed but so far, if that's "part of the system" I think I like.  Yes a little risker than up the dashers through the neutral zone, but it opens up so many more possibilities, and gives the guys breaking through the neutral zone to get into position for that third pass SOOOO .... many more ways to enter the offensive zone.  I think it will open up the game and be a good way to create a lot more scoring chances than we saw last season.  My gut says it works better against teams looking to clog up the neutral zone too.  Will it really work for more than a couple of months I don't know - but as I said I like what I saw, even when it was being played by only two (2) of the Caps top 5 D-men and l4ss than half of who I expect to be on the roster as forwards for the Caps at the season opener.

Sooo ... I remain optimistic about this coming season.


Thursday, September 25, 2014

IF ...

If Capitals Center/Wing Brooks Laich seems distracted at times this season, we can speculate on a lot of reasons... But I'll go with this as number one and just add "understandably"...

If the Caps finally go deep in the playoffs in the "Ovi era" ... I wonder will all the negative silly xenophobic drivel on TSN article comments finally slow?  I'll go with a short "not likely" ...

If the Caps go deep into the playoffs this year will the "Ovi" era give some way to the "Trotz" era .. I'll go with "to some degree" but it will really be due to a lot more than just Ovi or Trotz...

If ... If .. oh heck...


Sunday, September 21, 2014

Last Day Of Summer - First Home Preseason Game For Capitals!

  Wow, hard to believe it's here - the end of summer 2014.  For the Washington Capitals I keep hearing how it's been a very long off-season. After seven straight year of making the playoffs, not making the post-season will surely play on the minds of the Capitals players, for many of whom missing the playoffs in 2014 was a new and first time experience they definitely don't want to repeat.  Did it make this summer long for them?  I'm sure it did.  For me I can't believe its September, let alone September is almost over.  While it's hard to think about Ice Hockey on such a lovely day, I'm glad I can though.

I look forward to the resumption of Capitals Hockey every September.  This September I'm as optimistic as ever, perhaps more so. If you, like I, believe what the Capitals have needed was a stronger defense to compliment their awesome cadre of forwards, then you too are probably are pleased with the majority of what we've seen the Capitals do this summer. I'm optimistic and excited.

I'm excited to see what new coach Barry Trotz does with a team that has so much offensive talent.  I'm excited to see what Caps D-Men Green, Carlson and Alzner do as part of a cadre of blue-liners that means whoever is out there for the Capitals on the blue-line can "take it to" the opposing team if they let up one little bit.  I'm excited to see what Evgeny Kuznetsov will do with a full season in the NHL to mature and challenge his hockey skills and sense.  I'm excited to see if Joel Ward and Jason Chimera can match or exceed the year they had last regular season.  I'm excited to see who Trotz pairs Ovechkin and Backstrom with and how he uses and leverages their world class skill sets - I don't know what he will do, but I'm sure we will see yet another perspective on how these two dynamic players can propel their team forward. I'm looking forward to seeing new Caps Orpik and Niskanen play in Capitals Red, I'm really interested in seeing how these two play against Malkin and Crosby when the Caps meet the Pens during this seasons Washington - Pittsburgh games, but I also expect to see them bring a fair amount of drive and grit against the Rangers, Islanders and Canadians.  Like I said I'm excited.


Friday, September 19, 2014

Where Are They Today - Unsigned UFA's That I Like and/or Follow For Whatever Reason....

Well hockey fans todays in today's post I figured I'd run through TSN's UFA tracker and try and figure out where the various players I like and/or otherwise follow for whatever reason who are listed by them as unsigned are today.  Do they have tryouts in somebody's camp?  Have they signed overseas? Are they still sitting by the phone?  Did they retire, etc?  This list will seem random to most readers - there's usually little logic or trend to the reasons why I care to know about how these players careers might continue from here on out.  I just do...  if I have a reason to care then I'll probably say why I care in this post as well, if I don't say that reason then I really don't know why they still are in my "field of view", etc.... So here goes in the order in general as they appear on the sort by last years team I looked at.

David Steckel - the now 32 year old Center with 9 NHL seasons and 425 regular season games played was invited to the Anaheim Ducks but remains unsigned.  Why I follow - always liked him, think he is a solid teammate and who doesn't like a Center who has from time to time led the NHL in face offs won %.  Also every time I've looked at him since he was traded I've shook my head that I can't believe he's had 9 seasons where he played at least a game in the NHL - it seems like he was a rookie yesterday.  Finally I hope he gets back in the league and lights things up so he's not just a trivial pursuit answer to a hockey question with Sidney Crosby's name in it - he's too much of a mensch to have that fate, IMO.

Ville Leino - the 30 year old Finnish Center who was bought out of his contract this past summer by the Sabres remains unsigned but was invited to training camp by the Boston Bruins.  If he remains unsigned this season he'll still make $1.22M/ year through the 2019 -2020 season.  That said I expect if he doesn't make the Bruins he will catch on somewhere in the NHL, the KHL or the Finnish Elite League.  Just watch a replay of the 2010 Stanley Cup Finals and you'll see why this guy is going to continue to play for someone, just not anybody who will pay him as much as he was making before he was bought out.  I follow him because he was just so awesome, IMO, in those 2010 Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Michal Handzus According to Yahoo! Sports the 37  year old Center has reportedly been talking to several teams, but nothing has been worked out yet. At 37 years old and with 15 seasons in the NHL and $32.5 Million of career earnings and with a beautiful wife, it can't be too hard to be Michal even though it sounds like he's waiting for the phone to ring.

Martin Brodeur - The 42 year old goalie with just shy of $82M of career earnings and a at least one first ballot Hall of Fame career under his belt reportedly remains in search of a team who will sign him and give him the opportunity to win 12+ more regular season games and reach the 700+ Win plateau.  I follow him because hey who else is even close to 700+ regular season wins, BTW last season he won 19 games, had 3 shut outs and had a 0.901 SV%.  Not bad for a guy on the "back end" of his career.

Radek Martinek - The 38 year old defenseman remains unsigned and well below the radar. Why do I follow him - I don't really know I guess his name sounds cool and he looks like a stereotypical eastern euro villain in a James Bond flick whenever I look at a picture of him.

Joe Finley - The 6'8", 27 year old defenseman from UND was invited to the Montreal Canadians Training Camp but remains unsigned.  I guess both Canadians Management and Finley are hoping that by the end of camp he looks something like Hal Gill used to in the Red White and Blue of Montreal but I don't think that's going to happen.  Why do I follow him - I had high hopes for him coming out of the NCAA to the Bears and Caps and hey he's huge so there's that too...

Daniel Carcillo - The 29 year old professional "pest" has been signed to a tryout contract by the Penguins, who haven't had an "almost felon" on their team since trading Matt Cooke but I guess with all the coaching and GM changes they want to change that too. Listed as both a LW and a RW by TSN, I guess Carcillo in addition to his other talents is an "ambi-turner."

Paul "BizNasty 2.0" Bissonnette - the 29 year old wiing, with the awesome right hook, great sense of humor, $5.25M of career earnings and large internet/twitter following, was invited to the Saint Louis Blues traning camp.  Hope he makes the team as I love some of his tweets.  the guy cracks me up.

Jeff Halpern - The 38 year old Center and Washington DC native and former Capitals Captain with 14 seasons of NHL experience remains unsigned.  His was the first Capitals Sweater I bought and wore to games in our seats in Section 103 of Verizon Center.  It saddens me to know we've probably seen the last of "Halpy" in the NHL but with 14 seasons, 976 regular season games and 39 playoff games played, if he's waiting by the phones it's probably only so he gets another 25 regular season games in his career. 

Kieth Aucoin - "Coiner" - the 35 year old former Cap/Bear undersized Center signed with HC - Ambri-Piotta in the Swiss National League for this upcoming season and will ply his wares in Europe this winter.

Dustin Penner - The 31 year old, 6'4", 247 pound, two time Stanley Cup Champion, dog loving,  Left Wing remains unsigned for the 2014-15 NHL season.  With $24.7M of career earnings, if he's played his last NHL game I'll conjecture he'll be fine as he didn't seem like a guy who had flamboyant tastes, etc. but I'll also conjecture his hockey career isn't over yet.

Well only a couple more weeks to go till its:


Sunday, September 14, 2014

Capital's Rookie Camp Barely Underway; TSN Commenters Already Quite Ridiculous and Irritating

Well Caps fans yesterday my Caps Season Ticket Holder (STH) package arrived - not sure if I'll really use my new "Club Red 365" Lunchbox but I like it.  If there was a 10 year old mini-me here I know what his sandwich would be in tomorrow morning.  The arrival of the Caps STH package always cements the idea that hockey season is just around the corner and prompts me to check out the usual hockey blogs and media haunts as well as start some more research as to where and how I think the Capitals prospects and approaches for the upcoming season are starting to flesh out.

If you read my blog last week you'll know I am a fan and generally an optimistic one at that.  Last year this time I was curiously optimistic as to how the Adam Oates era would begin and go here in DC hockey, now we know those answer - short and not at all sweet.  Now we start the Barry Trotz era, given Trotz's last "gig" was so long in Nashville, I think we can all expect our current head coach's era to be longer than our last one here in Cap Nation.  I also think we can look to the style that Nashville played for at least a few clues as to the type of game he is going to be expecting from the Capitals and we will be watching.  Combined with the off season Free Agent pickups I think we will be looking at - believe it or not - a much higher energy game plan, and yes a "200 foot game" as has been speculated.

 But what does that really mean, I'm thinking shorter shifts for the forward lines and shifts of no more than 1:00 on average for the Blue Liners.  To me, I expect at the end of this regular season Ovechkin and Backstrom will have played 77+ games and have an ATOI of 18:45 - 20:00 - there 5 on 5 Corsi and +/- will be at career highs; and both will be 100+ point producers for the season with no more that 50% of those points coming on the power play.  Remember that you read that here first. Why did I lead off with that - just read the comments to this article over on TSN - it's typical of what their readers usually post about our Captain who they clearly do not watch actually play. Further if at any time you've ever wondered why reading my blog I'll occasionally rant about  "xenophobia" against anyone who is not a Canadian in the NHL in hockey media, etc.  just read more comments in articles on TSN where posters talk about any Russian, European or American players.  Now back to my more on point hockey musings.  I think the improved success of Backstrom and Ovechkin will be sparked by two things an even more talented and creative new Left Wing on the line (either Kuznetsov or perhaps Burakovsky) and smoother, faster breakouts from the Defensive zone enabled by a collectively more talented, bigger defensive corps. To me the addition of Niskanen is huge - it means the Caps now will have three pairings with anchored by a really skilled puck mover.  It takes a huge load off Mike Green and John Carlson and means other teams cannot sit back at all when 74 and 52 are on the bench.  Orpik brings grit and means gives some relief to Alzner - his addition means that 27 isn't the only NHL top four "shutdown" D-Man on the team; but I feel Niskanen's addition means other teams will have to play a much more intense forecheck if they expect to beat the Capitals during a game's five on five play.  I also think these changes mean the Caps, who had and continue to have tons of talent on the forward lines, now have a full set of three defensive pairings that will be able play the same game no matter who is out on the ice.  That will mean opponents won't be able to focus so much of their game plan on stopping 8 and 19.

Play the above out through the 40 minutes of each game that Ovechkin and Backstrom are on the bench and it should mean the rest of the team will also have more room to play the game and put up solid five on five numbers.  I don't see any reason why 42, 25 and 20 can't once again have career or near career years.  As with last week's article I think this year could be the year when we see if 90 is really better off as a natural center and a second line of Burakovsky (if Kuznetsov is on the first line) - Johansson - Brouwer could be surprisingly awesome.  I would NEVER count Eric Fehr out of the mix for the top lines.  Last season Chimera and Ward made whoever played pivot between them better, IMO.  I believe Tom Wilson will continue to develop, as will Casey Wellman as well.  What does the above mean - to me it means that Brooks Laich and Jay Beagle as well as any other forward on the team better show up to camp as fit as they've ever been and ready to play a harder faster game than they've ever played if they expect to be in this lineup on Thanksgiving.  The same really goes for the blue line corps.  I expect this team, far more than the 2013-14 Capitals will push each other to be much better hockey players both as individuals and as a team.


Sunday, September 7, 2014

Looking Ahead to the 2014-15 Washington Capitals ...

It's been quite a while since my last blog post here but I just thought about it more and more and missed this outlet - at least for my hockey musings.  So with my cautiously optimistic feelings about the prospects for the Capitals during the upcoming 2014-15 NHL Season nearly upon us and training camp just two weeks from opening, I decided to begin "blogging" about my musings again.

I look at this off season's moves and can really only forecast one thing with high certainty - that is the 2014-15 Washington Capitals will play a different game and style than the 2013-14 Washington Capitals.  What that "game" and style will be remains to be seen, though I think it will be a grittier, 200 foot game than they played last season.  I also think they'll be more focused on sound play at 5 on 5 and they will start their breakouts from their own end with shorter crisper passes than they did last season.  Those are just "hunches" but it sure seems to be something one can say after having watched the Nashville Predators mush during the past several seasons.  Combine that with the free agent pickups - Orpik and Niskanen - and I think one has to conclude the changes are likely to be focused on creating and playing a more "balanced" solid five on five game. 

However, what will the lineup look like? Who will be the Capitals Defensive pairings?  Who will be the First Line Left Wing?  Who will be the Second Line Center?  Will Jason Chimera and Joel Ward once again have career or near career years?  Will this be "the year"? These and so many questions are percolating in my cranium, I can't help but muse about them... As I've mentioned before, I am at my core - an optimist.  I also really felt at the end of last season the Capitals needed to make some fundamental changes and I've always liked what I saw the Smashville Predators do when they were led by Barry Trotz.  Brooks Orpik was a guy I loved to hate as a Penguin but I'm happy the Caps picked him up, yes I think it's a contract that is "one year too long and one million too much" but I'd rather the Caps give it to a guy like Orpik then some of the guys who got those deals in the past - I think he'll be a solid leader "in the room."  I actually think the Caps got Niskanen at a fair to good value.  I also think that add those two guys to the other guys on the Caps blueline: Carlson, Alzner, Green, Orlov, Carrick, Olesky and Schmidt and you are looking at a group of nine guys that will form a much better and more stable group than the thirteen plus that cycled through the roster last season.  Of course look at what that statement likely means: 1) what do they do with John Erskine; 2) Orlov, Carrick, Olesky, Wey and Schmidt - pick three of the five...

Lets talk the answer to 1) I love John Erskine but if there's room for him in the mix after the Orpik and Niskanen UFA signings then it will not be a good regular season for the Capitals, IMO. Others will say the odd man out should be Mike Green but I look at him John Carlson as the guys who will benefit most from the Orpik and Niskanen, particularly the Niskanen  signing.  To me assuming he comes to Camp ready play and play hard, the number six D-Man is likely Orlov.  Behind those six I see Carrick, Olesky, Schmidt and Wey before I get to Erskine on the Capitals Depth Chart as I see this team shaping up both next season and then almost surely any season beyond then.  Erskine has twelve (12) seasons of NHL experience and he has great size (6-4; 220) he's a total beast and "hockey player's hockey player" IMO but his foot speed just isn't there for the game I think the Caps will be looking to play.  Also note - I put Jack Hillen who is also still on the roster below Erskine on that depth chart, so as for people who worry about the salary cap situation there's $2.6M of salary cap space tied up on Hillen and Erskine vs. $2.4M total for all four of Carrick, Olesky, Schmidt and Wey. So if you give two of the young guys the 7 and 8 slots on the roster vice "4" and "38" and you've freed up $1.2M of Salary Cap for the season...

Now onto 2) Orlov, Carrick, Olesky, Schmidt and Wey - pick three of the five.  I pick Orlov (I think he's the most NHL ready of the five despite some of the bonehead moves he made last season); Schmidt (the only Left Hand Shot of the other four); and Olesky (I give him the shot at the start of this season as I like his grit, hockey smarts, and size).  I think both Wey and Carrick can use at least a half season of regular play in Hershey to bulk up a little in Carrick's case and get used to a pro vs. NCAA game in Wey's case. But in no way should any of these guys be competing with Hillen or Erskine for ice time or roster spots beyond the first week of the season - the Caps need to move 4 and 38 before then, IMO.

Now what about who should be the first line right wing?  To me the two choices are Kuznetsov or Johannson, both are Left Hand shots and natural Centers but to play where they think they should - as top six forwards - then the logical place for them is on Backstrom and Ovechkin's Left Wing.  To me the guy I think meshes best with 19 and 8 of these two is 92 - Kuznetsov.  He's also bigger and as fast or faster than 90 - Johannson at 6-0; 172# - with a little help from the Caps Strength and Conditioning team the 21 year old should be able to add another 10-12 pounds of muscle without loosing any flexibility or slowing any other aspect of his game.  That should make a 92 - 19 - 8 line into a first line on par with any in the league and very much to Barry Trotz's coaching stff's liking as long as they backcheck as fearlessly as they can and do when they "want it."  That leaves Johannson free for part of the discussion to the next question which is the 2nd and 3rd line Centers...

If 92-19-8 are the first line that leaves 16, 20, 21, 25, 42, 43, 46, 48,83, and 90.  Just to make the discussion more traditional and despite them both having career years in 2013-2014 lets call 25 (Jason Chimera) and 42 (Joel Ward) the third line wings; and lets say after we finish the discussion of the "second line" we'll need to assign a center to them - since last season it seemed like they made whoever played between them look better than they had looked elsewhere in the lineup.  The "second line" for the Caps, at least coming into this season remains pretty much undetermined and a bit of a mess.  Going by salary cap hit the logic thing to say is the second line is 20 - 21 -16; however that didn't seem to work last season because 21 (Laich) couldn't stay healthy; also even when he was in the lineup he looked out of place there - at center - in Adam Oates' system.  Personally I think that Johannson is a natural center, as is Fehr and that Laich should be played at Right Wing; but with a productivity last season of just 8 goals and 7 assists in 51 games (0.29 pts/game) it remains debatable whether the Caps can afford to give the 31 year old Laich top six or even top 9 forward ice time at even strength.  Personally, if he doesn't light it up early and show he's back in top form at training camp and the first 10 games I'd drop him to the fourth line and have him focus on his Penalty Killing if they can't trade him or don't want to waive/buy him out.  For the start of the season though I'd put Laich at second line left wing and have either Fehr (16) or Johansson (90) at Center and have Brower over on Right Wing.   That way if Laich doesn't "cut it"/regain top form which unfortunately I don't think he will, I could quickly go to a 16-90-20 second line.  It's really time, in my opinion to move Laich somehow though to clear Cap Space and a roster spot for a stable second line, as this is the final year of Ward and Fehr's current contracts.  So I'd start the season with 21-16-20 as the "second" line and 25-90-42 as the "third" line.

My fourth line would be 43 - 83 - 46/48 (Wilson - Beagle - Latta/Wellman).  So that means I'd send Volpatti to Hershey - which requires he clear waivers, or trade him.  So to recap that makes my forecast opening season roster for the Capitals is:

Kuznetsov - Backstrom - Ovechkin
Laich - Fehr - Brouwer
Chimera - Johannson - Ward
Wilson - Beagle - Latta/Wellman

Green - Orpik
Carlson - Alzner
Niskanen - Orlov


I think that will be a better team than we ended the season with last April