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Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Caps Players You Need To Know & 2010-2011 Season Predictions

Well, hockey fans, the NHL season is finally here. Tonight marks the start of the NHL 2010 preseason, while the Capitals play their first preseason game tomorrow night in Columbus. Their regular season starts October 8th in Atlanta. Since all of that is so close, and training camp is coming to an end, here's a quick guide to those players who I think will be either on the opening night roster or see major time with the team this season....



Who You Need To Know
A list of players who you need to know and recognize, with some quick info as well.


Karl Alzner, Defenseman, #27
2010-2011 will look to be a big year for 2007 1st round draft pick (5th overall), as he looks to finally crack the Caps roster full time. With the departure of Joe Corvo, Shaone Morrissonn, and Milan Jurcina, that looks like it will definitely be the case. While Alzner has only played 51 games at the NHL level (30 in 08/09 and 21 last season), he has played top minutes in the AHL for the Hershey Bears, often paired with John Carlson. When the pairing played for the Caps in their Game 7 loss versus Montreal last spring, Boudreau and GMGM praised the duo's performance and said they're ready for the NHL.

Nicklas Backstrom, Center, #19
The super Swede needs no introduction, and after signing a 10-year contract with the Caps following his 101 point (33g, 68a, 4th most points in the NHL) breakout season, Backstrom looks to continue his development into an elite NHL centre. Quite possibly the most irreplaceable player on the team, Backstrom will continue to play with Oveckin on one of the top forward lines in the NHL.

Matt Bradley, Right Wing, #10
Entering his 6th year with the Caps (and last on his current contract), Bradley will be playing a grinder role on the 4th line once again. Looking to fight less with the acquisition of DJ King this offseason, I hope that Bradley instead continues his clutch goal scoring. 10 goals last season (a career high).... 5 game winners. Impressive.

John Carlson, Defenseman, #74
The Real American Hero, John Carlson looks to play his first full NHL season this year. A year and a half ago, Carlson was playing with the London Knights in the OHL; since then, he's played with Karl Alzner on the Hershey Bears' top defensive pairing, scored the Gold-medal winning goal in OT for the US World Junior team against Canada at the 2010 WJC (hence the "Real American Hero" nickname), scored the game-tying goal for the Caps in Game 2 of the playoffs, and scored the Calder Cup winning goal for the Hershey Bears. As Bruce Boudreau put it, "Glory follows him."

Jason Chimera, Left Wing, #25
A speedy left winger acquired by the Caps last December, Chimera will be starting his first full season with the Caps. Chimera has been playing on a line with Mathieu Perreault and Eric Fehr during training camp, and the group has been excellent. Look for this to possibly be the Caps 3rd line on opening night, depending on how the preseason goes.

John Erskine, Defenseman, #4
John Erskine is a big, physical defenseman who will likely compete with Tyler Sloan for the 6th defenseman spot on the roster. Entering his 5th season with the Caps, Erskine has played about 50 games each of the last 3 seasons. Look for that to remain the same, barring any injuries.

Eric Fehr, Right Wing, #16
A 1st round choice in 2003, drafted in front of no other that Ryan Getzlaf (yes, Canadian Olympian and top Anaheim center Ryan Getzlaf), Eric Fehr has had a multitude of injuries that have kept him from having a full, healthy NHL season (he played a career high 69 games in 09/10). However, with an injury-free offseason this summer, Fehr will look to continue on his breakout season last year, which saw him score 21 goals. More interestingly, however, is how much he scored with what little playing time he got... according to my lovely Caps 2010-2011 Media Guide, only 3 NHLers scored more goals per 60 minutes of hockey than Eric Fehr: Alex Ovechkin, Alex Semin, and Sidney Crosby. Impressive group. It will be interesting to see that, if Fehr gets more ice time, whether his goal total go up with it. After signing a very reasonable contract over the summer (slightly over 2 million per year for 2 years), Caps fans certainly hope so!

Tomas Fleischmann, Center/Left Wing, #14
The Caps have big plans for Tomas Fleischmann this upcoming season, as he will likely start out playing as their second-line center (flanked by Alex Semin and Brooks Laich on the wings). The 2C is a crucial position for any NHL team, and GMGM as well as Boudreau have put a lot of faith in Flash. While it will be his job to loose, the red-haired Czech (acquired in a 2004 trade involving Robert Lang) will have both Mathieu Perreault and Marcus Johansson waiting for their shot at 2C. After having career-highs in almost every category last season (same as most of the Caps), Flash will look to continue his development.

Boyd Gordon, Center/Right Wing, #15
Despite being only 26 (turning 27 in October), Boyd Gordon is the longest tenured Caps player, having been with the team since the 2003-2004 season. Drafted only a handful of picks after Alex Semin, Gordo is a 4th liner for the Caps. Injuries and being scratched resulted in him playing only 36 games last season, but Gordo looks to put that behind and claim the fourth line center position as his own, from the likes of Dave Steckel and numerous Hershey forwards.

Mike Green, Defenseman, #52
Love him or hate him, Mike Green is a crucial part of the Caps' team. The PP quarterback and top defenseman, Mike Green is easily the best offensive defenseman there is today (Caps Media Guide Fun Fact: Mike Green's 76 points would have led 20 NHL clubs in scoring), Green has often been criticized for his defensive play. Despite having good defensive statistics as well last season, Green still was a runner up for the Norris trophy this season, loosing to Duncan Keith after loosing to Zdeno Chara last season. Green looks to prove his is an elite NHL defenseman on both ends of the ice this season, as well as keep his game together in the playoffs. With the addition of players like John Carlson, Green hopefully won't be quite as crucial for this team, allowing him to rest a bit more, as opposed to playing almost half an hour some nights, as he did last season.

Marcus Johansson, Center, #90
MoJo was drafted in the first round (24th overall) of the 2009 NHL draft, and has been playing in the Swedish Elite League since then. However, he has made the jump to North America this offseason, signing an entry level contract with the Caps. Johansson has been praised by the management for his vision and skating abilities, and will look to be a contender for the 2nd and 3rd line center positions and the season progresses. While he may not claim either position this year, Johansson will be a big part of the Caps' future down the middle.

DJ King, Left Wing, #17
DJ King was acquired in a trade this offseason to provide grit for the Caps forwards. Primarily a fighter, King will probably be scratched most nights, but will provide a element to the Caps roster that has been lacking since 2008-2009.

Mike Knuble, Right Wing, #22
Mike Knuble, the most veteran player on the Caps roster and, to my knowledge, the only one with a Stanley Cup ring, will have his 2nd season with the team. Knuble scores most of his goals of rebounds less than a foot or two from the net, and, even as his age increases (he's already 38), his effectiveness will likely remain consistent. With 29 goals in 69 games last season, Knuble will look to break the 30 goal mark for the 3rd time in his career this season.

Brooks Laich, Center/Left Wing, #21
Brooks Laich, fan favorite and tire-changer extraordinaire, will enter his 6th season with the Capitals. Though he is listed as a center, Laich will play most of his time on the 2nd line at the wing. A grinder, Laich has increased his goals and points total each and every season, with 59 last year. Laich will hopefully sign a contract extension some time this season, as his current contract is set to expire.

Michal Neuvirth, Goaltender, #30
Neuvy has played the last 2 seasons primarily in the AHL for the Hershey Bears, leading them to consecutive Calder Cup championships. With nothing left to prove in the AHL, Neuvirth will play with Varlamov as a goaltending tandem this season, in what will likely be a season-long battle to determine the playoff starting goalie. While Varly is the more athletic of the two, Neuvirth has better positioning. Drafted mere picks away from each other in 2006, neither has a clear advantage over the other, and their fight for supremacy in net should not only be interesting to watch, but beneficial for the team as well.

Alex Ovechkin, Left Wing, #8
Capitan, leading scorer, and Russian Machine.... last season, with 50 goals, 59 assists, 109 points, and a Ted Lindsay award for best player as voted by his peers, was a "mediocre" season for Ovechkin. Only the 4th player ever to score 50 goals in 4 of his first 5 seasons (Mike Bossy, Wayne Gretzky, and Mario Lemieux being the other 4), as well as the 6th player to have 4 100 point seasons in their first 5 (Gretzky, Lemieux, Dale Hawerchuck, Peter Stastny, and Crosby being the others), it's scary to think Ovechkin will only get better. After coming in 2nd in league scoring despite missing 10 games, Ovechkin will likely once again dominate league scoring. Caps fans expect nothing less. Also, since becoming captain, the Capitals had a ridiculous record in the second half of the regular season, with 30 wins and around 11 losses. Should that continue (warning: it probably won't), the Caps might have an even better season this year that last year (regular season wise).... and last year they scored 121 points. It's stunning that I can even suggest a 60 win season for the Caps, but who knows.... it's definitely possible.

Mathieu Perreault, Center, #85
Standing only 5'10" and weighing only 182 pounds, Mathieu Perreault is not a large player. However, he is a speedy little center who hopes to use his skills to his advantage as he competes for a 2nd/3rd line center position this season. Based on his performance with Fehr and Chimera in training camp, it's entirely likely that he will be on the opening night roster... quite an accomplishment for a 6th round draft pick.

Tom Poti, Defenseman, #3
The other veteran on this team, along with Knuble, Poti has just signed a 2 year contract extension that will keep him in DC until the end of the 2012-2013 season. Poti once was a premier offensive defenseman, but now is more of an all-round player. He'll get time on the 2nd or 3rd defensive pairing this season, and will continue to provide a needed veteran presence on the blueline.

Jeff Schultz, Defenseman, #55
Mr. Nasty is not a flash player. He is not super offensive. He is not super physical. What he is, however, is a solid defenseman, and one who signed a 4 year contract this offseason. Schultz will likely continue to be paired with Mike Green, allowing Green to remain offensive while Schultz takes care of things in the back end. Schultz had a 55 +/- rating last season, good for #1 in the NHL.

Alexander Semin, Right Wing/Left Wing, #28
Semin is a maddening player, as he has the skill set to lead the NHL in goal scoring but not the consistency. What he is, however, is a perfect secondary offensive weapon for the Caps. He doesn't do many interviews, and he doesn't speak English (publicly, at least), but he can put the puck in the net; to the tune of 40 goals in 73 games. After breaking the 40 goal line for the first time last season, Sasha will look to continue improving and remaining consistent, so that he remains in this team's long-term plans.

Tyler Sloan, Defenseman, #89
Tyler Sloan will compete with Erskine for the 6th defenseman spot. An undrafted free agent signing who appeared destined for a career in the AHL and ECHL, Sloan has played 66 games in the NHL so far (all for the Caps). While he isn't an every night player, Sloan is adequate until GMGM hopefully finds another defenseman.

David Steckel, Center, #39
Steckel will be in year 2 of his 3 year contract, and will continue to play on the fourth line in a grinder role for the Caps. Steckel is a faceoff specialist, but is not know for scoring. Not much else to say really.

Semyon Varlamov, Goaltender, #1
The Russian sensation for the Caps in net during the 2009 playoffs, Varlamov was off to a great start last season before getting injured (and only ending up playing 26 games). Varlamov, after changing the spelling of his first name during the 2009 offseason, has switched his number to #1 this offseason. Though he has played with this number before, it could also be a hint to Neuvirth showing, literally and perhaps figuratively, who the number 1 really is in DC. Varlamov will compete with Neuvy in a battle for the 1 goalie spot, and it should be quite interesting to watch.

Quick Musings of a Caps Fan Predictions
 - Ovechkin will score 50+ goals this season.
 - Backstrom will once again have 100+ points.
 - Semyon Varlamov will have 30 wins, and Neuvirth will come close.
 - Fleischmann, Johansson, and Perreault will all get time at the 2nd line center position.
 - Eric Fehr will get more playing time and ramp up his goal scoring even more.
 - Carlson will be a contender for the Calder trophy (Rookie of the Year).
 - The Caps will win the Southeast Division and the Eastern Conference.
 - Mike Green will finally win a Norris trophy.
 - GMGM will make some move at the trade deadline.

Friday, July 30, 2010

How Much Are Teams Spending On Goaltending?

c1eaea97a548312ea355fef0a9c48c9f-getty-99563101ke088_stanley_cup_fFinnish goaltender Antti Niemi, who led the Chicago Blackhawks to the Stanley Cup, looks on during Game 4 of the 2010 Stanley Cup Finals against the Philadelphia Flyers. (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)

Not long ago, the common practice in the NHL was to sign successful goaltenders to long-term, high-paying deals to ensure that they would be able to lead their teams to championships for years to come. And for a long time, this worked; goalies such as Patrick Roy and Martin Brodeur won numerous Stanley Cups for their teams. Others such as Evgeni Nabokov, Dominic Hasek, Roberto Luongo, or Tomas Voukon were cornerstones for their franchises, leading (or expect to lead) their individual teams to Stanley Cup glory in the playoffs.   

However, this past season has lead to many questioning that model. This season, if anything, proved that you don’t need a Vezina-caliber goaltender to be successful in the regular season or the playoffs. Some teams, such as the Stanley Cup winning Chicago Blackhawks, showed that, if you have an excellent defense, the goalie matters very little. Another team to prove this was the Philadelphia Flyers, who managed to make it to OT in Game 6 of the Stanley Cup finals with a goaltending tandem consisting of Brian Boucher and Michal Leighton, neither among the top-10 goaltenders in the NHL today. The playoffs proved that, when your defense is lead by excellent defensemen, such as Chris Pronger, Duncan Keith, Brent Seabrook, or Kimmo Timonen, the person protecting the net is not crucial. Perhaps the biggest testament to this is that out of all three Vezina trophy finalists (Ilya Bryzagalov, Ryan Miller, and Martin Brodeur), none of them managed to make it past the first round of the playoffs, falling to teams lead by Jimmy Howard, Brian Boucher, and Tuukka Rask.

Goaltending is become less important in the NHL than before, especially as the salary cap limits teams spending. Teams must choose what is most important to their success, and they are not choosing to put money and precious salary cap space towards goaltending, as evidenced by the decreasing percentage of the cap that the goaltenders’ salaries take up. Take a look at total cap hit of all the teams goalies for that season (all salary cap information from nhlnumbers.com). All numbers include player bonuses.

Team 2008 - 2009 2009 - 2010 2010 - 2011
Washington 5.661 million 5.644 million 1.643 million
Atlanta 4.531 million 4.565 million 3.000 million
Tampa Bay 4.335 million 3.854 million 3.700 million
Florida 6.250 million 6.949 million 6.900 million
Carolina 3.299 million 3.587 million 6.825 million
Pittsburgh 5.849 million 5.561 million 5.600 million
Philadelphia 4.756 million 2.802 million 2.475 million
NY Rangers 7.600 million 7.574 million 7.750 million
NY Islanders 5.484 million 8.400 million 7.000 million
New Jersey 6.218 million 5.700 million 6.700 million
Boston 5.592 million 8.237 million 6.250 million
Buffalo 3.884 million 7.298 million 6.850 million
Ottawa 5.320 million 5.003 million 5.213 million
Toronto 6.199 million 6.551 million 7.350 million
Montreal 3.065 million 2.975 million 1.000 million*
Chicago 12.626 million 6.468 million 5.600 million**
Detroit 2.201 million 2.151 million 2.133 million
St. Louis 4.881 million 4.314 million 5.050 million
Columbus 4.456 million 2.105 million 2.105 million
Nashville 2.306 million 2.475 million 3.400 million***
Colorado 1.500 million 3.101 million 3.062 million
Minnesota 3.837 million 7.272 million 7.200 million
Calgary 6.462 million 7.090 million 6.333 million
Edmonton 4.916 million 4.865 million 4.550 million
Vancouver 7.810 million 7.323 million 6.233 million
San Jose 6.108 million 5.925 million 2.550 million
Los Angeles 2.604 million 2.584 million 2.550 million
Anaheim 7.319 million 5.973 million 5.035 million
Phoenix 5.018 million 5.254 million 5.250 million
Dallas 6.214 million 7.567 million 4.200 million
League Average 5.210 million 5.306 million 4.784 million

*Montreal has yet to resign goalie Carey Price, so this number will go up.
**This is only counting Christobal Huet, who will almost certainly not be on the team when the season starts. This number will change.
***Nashville has yet to sign anyone to back up Pekka Rinne, so this number will go up.

Here is a graph of all the data above. While some teams are spending more on goaltending this season, generally, most teams are lowering their goaltending expenses, as evidenced by many of the lines pointing down.image

As shown by the graph above, teams are starting to take notice that high-priced goaltending is not the key to success, and as a result are spending less and less to fill that position. Many teams have started to adopt a goalie tandem, where two capable goaltenders fight each other for the starting spot; examples include Atlanta with Ondrej Pavelec & Chris Mason, Washington with Semyon Varlamov & Michal Neuvirth, Tampa Bay with Dan Ellis & Mike Smith, Philadelphia with Michael Leighton & Brian Boucher, and San Jose with Antero Niittymaki and Thomas Greiss. In most cases, having two capable goalies as opposed to one starter and a backup allows teams to save money, and quite possibly do better. In cases where there is a clear #1, many teams would suffer if that goalie went cold or was injured. Vancouver or Montreal really don’t have good, long-term alternatives to Roberto Luongo or Carey Price. However, with a tandem you can ride the hot goalie to wins, and then switch when that goalie falters. Possibly the biggest test to this system will come next season with the Capitals, who hope that the tandem of Varlamov and Neuvirth, both 22 and drafted only 11 spots apart in the 2006 NHL Draft, can lead them through the regular season and the playoffs to a Stanley Cup championship. Time will tell.

If the salary cap continues to increase by a similar amount as it will this season, it will be interesting to see whether goaltender salaries will continue to drop while GMs use the extra cap space adding forwards and defensemen, such as what is happening now, or whether goaltending salaries will rise with the cap. Part of this will be how well these lower-priced goaltenders do in the regular season and playoffs; this season will show, hopefully, whether last season’s formula for success of great defense and decent goaltending was a fluke, or is a new trend in the NHL.

At the end of the day, however, what wins Stanley Cups is what will be the strategy of most GMs going forward. And you cannot argue against the fact that, for now, cheap, decent goaltending wins Stanley Cups. (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)

e690cf6ac586eed85ba51ffffb85fb49-getty-95686628ke173_stanley_cup_f

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

How did the players get here?

9901b9bf0cdf4bad912a667f90138684-getty-98412100rr074_2010_nhl_drafThe latest Caps 1st round pick, Evgeny Kuznetsov, at the 2010 NHL Draft in LA. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

In a prior post, I made my guesses for who I though would be on the Caps opening night roster. I though, seeing how GMGM and Ted Leonsis are preaching the growth from within, it would be interesting to see how all those players actually ended up in the Washington Capitals organization. Were they drafted by the team, were they acquired as prospects, were they traded for, or were the signed as UFAs?

First, here’s a quick review of my opening night roster predictions (and please do check out the original post).

Forwards
Alexander Ovechkin
Nicklas Backstrom
Mike Knuble
Alexander Semin
Marcus Johansson
Brooks Laich
Eric Fehr
Mathieu Perreault
Tomas Fleischmann
Jason Chimera
Dave Steckel
Matt Bradley
Andrew Gordon
Boyd Gordon
Defensemen
Mike Green
Jeff Schultz
John Carlson
Karl Alzner
Tom Poti
Tyler Sloan
John Erskine
Goalies
Semyon Varlamov
Michal Neuvirth

THE DRAFT PICKS

Much of the opening night roster consists of players that have been drafted by the Washington Capitals. In fact, this comprises a vast majority. Take a look.

Player Age Overall Draft Pick, Year
Alex Ovechkin 24 1st overall, 2004
Nicklas Backstrom 22 4th overall, 2006
Alex Semin 26 13th overall, 2002
Marcus Johansson 19 24th overall, 2009
Eric Fehr 24 18th overall, 2003
Mathieu Perreault 22 177th overall, 2006
Andrew Gordon 24 197th overall, 2004
Boyd Gordon 26 17th overall, 2002
Mike Green 24 29th overall, 2004
Jeff Schultz 24 27th overall, 2004
John Carlson 20 27th overall, 2008
Karl Alzner 21 5th overall, 2007
Semyon Varlamov 22 23rd overall, 2006
Michal Neuvirth 22 34th overall, 2006

In total, 14 of the players I think will be on the roster come opening night have been drafted by the Washington Capitals, all since 2002. Out of those 14, 11 are 1st round picks (!), along with 1 2nd rounder, 1 5th rounder, and 1 6th rounder. Not bad. The only 1st round picks the Caps have had since 2002 that aren’t on this roster are Steve Eminger (12th overall, 2002, currently with the NY Rangers), Sasha Pokulok (14th overall, 2005, currently in the ECHL), Joe Finley (27th overall, 2005, looking to crack the Hershey Bears roster after playing in college and having some injury issues), Anton Gustafsson (21st overall, 2008, played in Sweden last season and will likely play in Hershey this season), and 2010 1st round pick Evgeny Kuznetsov. Finley and Gustafsson may very well play with the Caps some day, and Kuznetsov will almost certainly as well.

PLAYERS ACQUIRED AS PROSPECTS / YOUNG PLAYERS

Most of the young players who weren’t drafted by the Capitals (i.e. Fleischmann & Laich) have been acquired as prospects, mainly during the fire-sale period prior to the drafting of Ovechkin.

Player Age Trade Info
Brooks Laich 27 Traded from Ottawa Senators for Peter Bondra in 2004
Tomas Fleischmann 26 Traded from Detroit Red Wings for Robert Lang in 2004

THE REST

Almost all of the remaining players, with the exception of Jason Chimera, were signed as free agents.

Player Age Acquired in
Jason Chimera 31 Traded from Columbus Blue Jackets in 2009
Matt Bradley 32 Signed as UFA
Dave Steckel 28 Signed as UFA
Mike Knuble 38 Signed as UFA
Tom Poti 33 Signed as UFA
John Erskine 30 Signed as UFA
Tyler Sloan 29 Signed as UFA

 

Looking at all this, GMGM has obviously been very good at developing draft picks and acquired prospects into full NHL players. None of the players on my opening night roster that have been signed as free agents, with the exception of Mike Knuble, will likely ever play higher than the 3rd-4th forward line of 2nd-3rd defensive pairing. The ability to have almost an entire NHL roster of players that have been developed by the organization is, in my opinion, impressive. Well done.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

An early look at the (potential) opening night line-up

Marcus Johansson, Mathieu Perreault, and Michal Neuvirth are among the players who are looking to secure full-time positions in DC this season. (Jersey visualizations from the NHL shop)

What are the Washington Capitals going to look like come opening night on October 8th in Atlanta? One thing is for sure: this will be a somewhat different team than the one that lost to Montreal in the playoffs. Many veterans and trade-deadline pickups, such as Scott Walker, Joe Corvo, Brendan Morrison, and most likely Eric Belanger will not be with the Capitals anymore. Other players that have had longer tenures in DC, such as Shaone Morrisonn, Jose Theodore, and Milan Jurcina will also not be there. Instead, many, if not all, of the holes left by these departures will be filled by younger prospects that have spent their last few seasons developing mainly in the AHL, with the Calder Cup – winning Hershey Bears. Players such as Michal Neuvirth, Andrew Gordon, and Mathieu Perreault hope to crack the Capitals roster full time. Also in the mix is 2009 first round pick Marcus Johansson, who has spent the last few seasons in the Swedish Elite League, and is considered by the management to be ready for NHL action. However, many of the key players from last season, such as (obviously) Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom (who recently signed a new 10-year contract), Mike Green, Semyon Varlamov, Brooks Laich, Alex Semin, and the recently-resigned RFAs such as Eric Fehr, Jeff Schultz, and Boyd Gordon. The only real question mark is Tomas Fleischmann, a RFA who has not yet agreed to a new contract. An arbitration hearing will be held at the end of July if a deal cannot be made until then.

Next season will truly be a test of the Capitals’ long-term strategy. While many teams do succeed with players they have drafted, few teams have a roster that will be composed almost entirely of players drafted by the team they’re playing for, such as the Caps will have. What the Capitals are doing is unconventional, but it makes it easier to build a great team while avoiding (hopefully) a huge salary cap crunch like the one that has struck Chicago this off season. While they did win a cup, and that makes it all worth it, Chicago has had to let go of many players from their championship roster, and will likely not be nearly as good next season. I at least don’t think they will be a top-4 team in the NHL like they were last season; they could conceivably not even make the playoffs. When having a roster full of drafted players, the Capitals can have great talents playing for them on entry-level deals or have players, such as Backstrom, who have resigned with the team for far below market value. This strategy does involve its own risks, but those can also have huge rewards. (For example, are John Carlson and Karl Alzner ready? If they are they could be great, or they could be only ok. What about Marcus Johansson? Is he ready to be a 2C? He could not be terribly good. Or he could end up like Backstrom, excelling on a top line. You never really know.)

With all that in mind, here is my very-early guess of what the Capitals’ lineup could look like on opening night in Atlanta.

Forwards

Line 1 Ovechkin Backstrom Knuble
Line 2 Semin Johansson Laich
Line 3 Fleischmann Perreault Fehr
Line 4 Chimera Steckel Bradley
Scratches A. Gordon, B. Gordon

For next season (or at least opening night) I don’t expect the top line of Alex Ovechkin – Nicklas Backstrom – Mike Knuble to change. They were effective last season, and barring the replacement of Knuble by either Brooks Laich or Eric Fehr, I think the unit will stay intact.

The second line, which was made of Alex Semin – Brendan Morrison – Brooks Laich last season, will just end up getting a new center following Morrison’s departure. The team essentially has 4 options to fill that role (Laich, Fleischmann, Johansson, Perreault), and I personally think that, should Johansson be good during rookie and training camp, it is his for the taking. I hope that he has success similar to how Backstrom did when paired with Ovechkin on the top line; it would definitely help the team a lot.

The third line, which last season was Eric Fehr – Eric Belanger – Tomas Fleischmann / Jason Chimera, will also be getting a new center, as Belanger will likely not return. This center will probably be Perreault, though it could conceivably be any of the players also in contention for the 2C spot. Should Fleischmann not return, even though he has arbitration rights, Chimera or maybe Andrew Gordon will fill in next to Fehr and a center. Hopefully Eric Fehr gets more minutes this season…

The fourth line, which essentially is the players who aren’t on the top 3 lines, could have any combination of Jason Chimera, David Steckel, Matt Bradley, Boyd Gordon, Andrew Gordon, or whoever else comes up from Hershey. I have it as Chimera – Steckel – Bradley with both Gordons as scratches, though this could really be anything – whatever ends up working best.

Defense

Pairing 1 Green Schultz
Pairing 2 Carlson Alzner
Pairing 3 Poti Erskine
Scratch Sloan

Last season’s top defensive pairing, consisting of Mike Green and Jeff Schultz, will probably stay together for the time being.

The next pairing, I think, will consist of the two new rookie defensemen, John Carlson and Karl Alzner. They have been paired together in Hershey and also played together in Game 7 of the Capitals – Canadiens series. I think that they will be paired at least to begin the season.

The third line will then consist of Tom Poti and one of John Erskine or Tyler Sloan, unless GMGM either makes a move to sign a defenseman or any of Dmitri Orlov, Joe Finley, Zach Miskovic, or Patrick McNeill prove to be ready for this position. Orlov will probably stay in the KHL, and Joe Finley missed last season with an injury and will likely compete for a spot in Hershey. This leaves Zach Miskovic and Patrick McNeill as alternatives to Erskine and Sloan. If anybody, I’d say McNeill has the biggest chance. He already has some AHL experience, and most recently scored 2 of Hershey’s goals in Game 6 of the Calder Cup Finals, a 4-0 win for the Bears. Carlson and Alzner happened to be the other two scorers that time, funnily enough. Perhaps we will have 3 Bears as full time defensemen with the Caps, but it will likely end up being one of John Erskine or Tyler Sloan that plays alongside Tom Poti. 

Goaltending

Next year the Capitals goaltending will almost certainly consist of a Semyon Varlamov – Michal Neuvirth tandem in net. It has been confirmed by GMGM, and I’d be surprised if anything else was to happen. The only question is who is the #1, and who is the #1a goalie…. a question that will be answered only in training camp.

 

For next season the Caps look like they’ll be as strong as ever. A few small question marks remain, such as who will step up to be the 2C, who ends up as the 6D, and which one of our two young goalies ends up being the starter. All these will hopefully be answered during training camp. Other than all that, the core remains mostly intact, and the Caps look forward to another great season (hopefully) cumulating in a Stanley Cup championship. Now we just have to wait until October!

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Olli Jokinen returns to Calgary and other tales from free agency day 1

ollijokinenimbackOlli Jokinen photo link, Calgary Flames logo link 

Stories from NHL Free Agency Day #1…

  • Olli Jokinen is coming back to the Calgary Flames, after being traded away just a few months ago… when does Dion Phaneuf become a UFA? [NHL]
  • The Pittsburgh Penguins, Ottawa Senators, and New Jersey Devils completed a UFA signing swap, with Pittsburgh signing New Jersey’s UFA defenseman (Paul Martin), New Jersey signing Ottawa’s UFA defenseman (Anton Volchenkov), and Ottawa signing Pittsburgh’s UFA defenseman (Sergei Gonchar). [NHL] & [NHL]
  • Meanwhile, Dan Hamhuis has signed with the Vancouver Canucks. [NHL]
  • Goalies on the move: Martin Biron fills the backup role for the New York Rangers [NHL], former NYR backup Alex Auld heads to Montreal to backup Carey Price [NHL], Antero Niittymaki finally gets his chance at a #1 spot with the San Jose Sharks [NHL], Dan Ellis goes to the Tampa Bay Lightning to replace Niittymaki [NHL], and Chris Mason signs as the #1 goalie in Atlanta. [NHL]
  • Saku Koivu signs a new 2-year contract with the Anaheim Ducks. [NHL]
  • Martin St. Louis signs a 4-year contract extension with the Tampa Bay Lightning. [NHL]

And the Washington Capitals? They did……. absolutely nothing.

Maybe tomorrow will be more interesting for GMGM and the Caps.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Meet the Prospects

The 2010 NHL Entry Draft has come and gone, and the Capitals drafted a total of 5 players from 4 different countries. Say hello to the newest members of the Washington Capitals organization!

Evgeny Kuznetsov (Forward, Russia) Photo by Harry How/Getty Imagesa24bd1cd3ee46f21a09cd28389eea085-getty-101592832rb141_2010_nhl_dra (1)

Stanislav Galiev (Forward, Russia) Photo by Harry How/Getty Images92d820f0a995e4d76940b29c09afb39a-getty-101592832rb342_2010_nhl_dra

 Phillip Grubauer (Goalie, Germany) Photo by Tyler Brownbridge, The Windsor Star2686392.binCaleb Herbert (Forward,  USA) Sorry, couldn’t really find a good photo…

Samuel Carrier (Defense, Canada) Photo by Harry How/Getty Images 57eefaa9477434f708c1028fc5d14ec8-getty-101592832rb357_2010_nhl_dra