Well fellow Caps fans it's a little more than four months and then some since my last blog post. The Caps exited the playoffs in mid-May, before they, you and I 'd have liked, but once again I find myself optimistic about the upcoming season thanks to the moves the Caps have made since mid-June. Once again Capitals GM Brian McClellan (GMBM) has seemingly filled the upcoming season with promise. The Caps Free Agent signings, especially Justin Williams, as well as what I think will be a great "hockey" trade the Capitals: TJ Oshie from Saint Louis for Troy Brouwer, Phoenix Copley and a third round draft pick. Overall while I am very sad to see the departure of Mike Green from the Capitals I understand it and I like the way the 2015-2016 Washington Capitals team roster is looking as far as which UFAs they are signing and which UFAs they opted not to resign. The Capital's roster as it's shaped up is pretty interesting.
The resigning of both RFA's Braden Holtby and Marcus Johannson are things I like as well, I think having both those talented guys back and in the fold are solid things.
Then we have the UFA departures/not resigning of Mike Green, Joel Ward, John Erskine, Tim Gleason or Curtis Glencross and Eric Fehr. I'll miss Mike Green and I think the Capitals will as well however, for the role that Barry Trotz and GMBM envisioned for Green, in the salary cap era and with the cap not going up much this season, the Capitals just couldn't afford to keep him at $6+M per season. Notice I'm not commenting on other aspects of this, as one of my biggest fears for the next couple of seasons is meeting the Red Wings in the playoffs and having Mike Green, in Norris Trophy finalist form, scoring game 7 game winners against us. So yes, I'm a Mike Green fan and will remain so and I really wish him well. All I will say is to make sure that doesn't happen a guy who now wears the number 2 on a Capitals sweater needs to step up his game, despite have a pretty solid season in his first year as a Washington Capital last year.
I'll also miss Joel Ward and I think if Ward had indicated a clear willingness to sign a 3 year deal in the neighborhood he ended up with in San Jose, he would likely still be a Washington Capital. Alas, I think the Capitals were smart to say a clear no to a four year term deal for the 33 year old Ward, and I think the change out of Wardo and Troy Brouwer for TJ Oshie and Justin Williams is overall a step forward and might be a big part of what the Capitals need to make further into the playoffs in 2016.
Another lesser discussed signing I like is Dan Ellis, to say that last season Justin Peters underwhelmed is understatement, now how the three/four goalie situation gets handled remains to be seen but I'm betting Peters is on waivers on his way to Hersehey at the end of training camp assuming Ellis is healthy and ready to go as Holtby's primary backup. In fact I'm betting that Peters is Grubauer's backup in Central PA when the season starts and asking for a trade, any trade to any NHL team that will give him a shot.
These signings and the Oshie trade all mean to me that the team that takes the ice for the season opener will be different, in a positive sense, then the one that left the ice on May 15th. The add of Oshie and Williams mean the Right Wing side of the Caps Forward Lines are looking much, much different than when the Caps left the ice this spring; and that young Andre Burakovsky as well as young Tom Wilson and Marcus Johanson can all be rotated through the second and third lines so they are fresh, healthy and productive well they continue to develop their offensive and two way games, all season long. Then on lines one and two, the Caps go from having really no clear 1RW to having ... well no clear 1RW but for an entirely different reason then this spring - because they have two guys who could/will compliment 19 and 8 on the first line.
Then we have the 180 degree change for the Caps at the 2C positing, 2C IMO has been pretty much a no mans land since the Caps opted not to resign Mike Ribero and he went to Nashville. But now? Well, to me the 2015 playoffs confirmed Evgeny Kuznetsov in the number 92 car as the Capitals 2C and McClellan has now signed him to an entirely reasonable 2 year $6M extension. Also, I'll go out on a limb here and assume that Marcus Johansson will play 3C and that line will be faster and more skillful and productive than it has been since the 2009-2010 season. So, I believe that will leave the Capitals with a top six of: Ovechkin - Backstrom - Williams and Burakovsky or Johannson - Kuznetsov - Oshie; then for the third and fourth lines I see Laich -Joahnsson- Wilson and Chimera - Beagle - Latta. This team has forward depth, size, talent and grit top to bottom in my view.
At the end of the day the guy who really doesn't fit in terms of productivity and salary cap hit vs. role though now is Brooks Laich. A guy struggling to fit into the lineup on the third or fourth line and whose main talent, right now is on the PK, should not be a guy with a salary cap hit forward of $4.5M. Look around the league and what do you see for that kind of money? I'll tell you 20 foot, two way players who are clearly on the top 6 forward, a clear cut second liners who put pucks in the net as well as they keep other teams from scoring. Brooks Laich used to be one of those but that day passed when he missed most of two seasons with injury. As yourself for his current $4.5M Brooks Laich or Brad Marchand? Brooks Laich or Matt Belesky? Brooks Laich or Louie Erikson? Brooks Laich or Scott Hartnell? Brooks Laich or Matt Stajan? Brooks Laich or Bryan Bickell? Brooks Laich or Johan Franzen? Brooks Laich or Milan Lucic? Brooks Laich or Marian Gaboriak? Brooks Laich or Max Pacioretty? Brooks Laich or David Desharnais? Brooks Laich of Lars Eller? Brooks Laich or Mike Fisher? Brooks Laich or Kyle Okposo? Oh and if you said Kyle put $1M in your pocket? Brooks Laich or Mats Zucarello? Brooks Laich or Wayne Simmonds? Oh and if you said Simmonds put $500K in your pocket. Brooks Laich or Patric Hornquist? How about this one - Brooks Laich or Joel Ward and if you said Wardo put $1.25M in your pocket. Brooks Laich or David Backes? Brooks Laich or James Van Riemsdyk? Brooks Laich or Tyler Bozak? Brooks Laich or Bryan Little? Brooks Laich or Andrew Ladd? I think the above illustrates my point going through the contracts and Cap hits of comparably compensated players I just named 20+ players I consider better values for ~$4.5M of salary cap hit (or less) than the player Brooks Laich is today. Geroge McPhee made some good deals and signings, in retrospect and with another season (the 2016-17 season) to go on it, the contract Laich was signed to in 2011 was not one of them. Hopefully he can get to be 80+% of the player/contributor that deserved that contract in the 2010-11 season. Unless he does though he will be significantly overpaid versus his "comps" around the NHL. I'll work hard this season not to bring this item up again and hopefully Brooks returns to the form that earned him his current contract so I won't be tempted to mention it ever again.
Now on to other items of interest - only forty days till the 2015-16 season opens ... though before that we'll have training camp and get to once again watch heart and soul guys like Liam O'Brien, Sean Collins, and Nate Schmidt fight for a roster spot. All while we get a chance to see how talented youngsters like Stan Galiev, Madison Bowey, Nathan Walker, Jakab Vrana, and Conner Carrick are developing and getting ready to challenge for a spot here in the NHL ... will it be now? From what I see the Caps cupboards are stocked, the system in place and the time may even be now. What time you ask? The time we've all been waiting for....