Washington Capitals owner Ted Leonsis hinted at big moves; GM George McPhee surely did not disappoint. Independence Day Weekend has become chock-full of Capitals news (much to my wife’s chagrin — “Arrgh! It’s July!”).
From bringing back a former team captain (something Pittsburgh was unable to do) to bidding Do svidaniya to a young netminder, Capitals fans will be seeing lots of new names in red, white, and blue. Team OFB discusses the Caps’ moves, and what might be next.
Alex on Joel Ward’s signing
If you watched Nashville’s first ever run to the second round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs last season, you’ll have noticed winger Joel Ward was a big part of taking Cup finalist Vancouver to six games. George McPhee spoke to NHL On The Fly analysts, saying that at least half the league was making a move for the Ontarian when Washington snagged him on a four-year deal worth $12 million.
So what made Ward want to sign in Washington? He said it was the drive to win, always having that chance to compete. “Oh yeah, [the Capitals] were very high on my list,” Ward said. “I’ve visited the city before. I like the way they’re made up and I just want to help push them over the edge.” While Ward and the Nashville Predators took a giant leap in their franchise’s history by making the Western Conference Semi-finals, he said he was looking forward to the new challenge. “[With Washington] it’s just about getting over that hump as a team. It was a good feeling to get past the first round in Nashville [last season]. The fourth loss in a round is a tough one to swallow but it pushes every guy harder for next season.”
There is no doubt Ward will be a physical contributor for the Caps, a quality Washington lacked particularly in their second round sweep at the hands of the Tampa Bay Lightning. When asked what went wrong for DC, Ward said, “It’s hard to pinpoint what happened. I just want to bring my game, grinding, cycling, causing a little havoc. Wear and tear on the opposition.” With a build and appetite for heavy checking like Alex Ovechkin, and a penchant for hard-working goals, we may finally see the dynamic winger to complement Ovechkin that has been lacking since the departure of Chris Clark.
DC Sports Chick on Jeff Halpern
So long, Boyd Gordon; hello again, Jeff Halpern! With Gordo’s departure to Phoenix, the Caps needed a solid faceoff center and got it in Halpern. At 35, Halpern’s no spring chicken; however, if he stays healthy, he’ll be a good contributor. He’s a long way from his 44 points with the 2005-2006 Caps, but had a respectable 26 points with Montreal last season after a few off-years with Tampa.
While it’s great to see this Maryland native and good character guy back with the Caps, some fans won’t forget the acrimonious way he left in 2006. Wonder if his father is going to get season tickets again? Still, with the return of Halpern and (assistant goalie coach) Olaf Kolzig, one wonders if Bondra will find a way back to the team.
Elisabeth on Hamrlik
Roman Hamrlik: “I’m not getting any younger,” joked the 37-year-old on a conference call Saturday. True, but it takes a special 37 year old (okay, 36 at the time) to finish 4th in the NHL in shots blocked. Now that’s a toughness and skill set you want on your roster in the postseason. Hamrlik also said on the call he can bring a good quality 20-22 minutes. On a character note, Hamrlik was voted by the Canadien media reporters as the recipient of the Jacques Beauchamp-Molson Trophy, “awarded annually to the member of the Canadiens who played a dominant role during the regular season.” Welcome to the Caps’ blueline, Hamrlik.
Empty Maybe’s Knee-Jerks
So, let me get this straight… The Capitals:
- Get Hamrlik on the cheap (not thrilled about a 2 year deal, but whatever)
- Sign a hometown hero for dirt-cheap and solidify the 4th line
- Sign a solid AHL player for their affiliate, with whom they share a
- Overpay for Ward (a bit), but he was highly sought after by other teams.
- Trade a somewhat discontented goalie for a 1st and a 2nd
- Sign the best goalie on the market on a deal that, very literally,
has people asking for the firing of his agent
Championships are not won on July 1st, but they can be lost. What a crazy ride these past 40+ hours these have been.
DC Sports Chick on Jaromir Jagr
The Flyers won the Jagr sweepstakes, but “booby prize” is more like it. Make no mistake, Jagr can still play better than some of the players in the league, but at 39, his talents are diminishing. He could add some value, but is his reputation as a locker-room diva worth it? I’m not sure who’s sillier: the Flyers for paying him $3.3 million, or the hapless fans who waited in vain at the Pittsburgh airport on Wednesday night. Here’s the bigger question: will Chris Pronger still call him “Puffnuts?”
Elisabeth on Varly
The abrupt end to Team Varly is just one of those sports stories that doesn’t make you feel particularly warm or fuzzy as a Caps fan. The consensus is that GMGM did an incredible job with what he had to work with — an unhappy, injury prone-goaltender who wanted a guarantee of the one thing that cannot be guaranteed in sports with any certainty — a starting job. Heck, Super Bowl MVPs can’t even get that. So GMGM gave him to Colorado in exchange for a second round pick in either 2012 or 2013 and something else that’s worth gold to the Capitals — a first-round pick in 2012 that could be a lottery pick, since Colorado finished slightly behind the Oilers this year in the most undesired race in all sports: league bottom-dweller. Though the Caps can brag about little in the postseason, their days of lottery picks (apart from trades like these) are gone for the foreseeable future. We’ve all seen how the Caps can build a powerful roster through the draft. George McPhee may have given Colorado a pistol, but he got a sniper rifle in return.
Varlamov’s baiting and actions at the end didn’t help matters; but, that being said, I still believe it was the Caps’ poor handling of this #1 goalie situation that got them into this drama to begin with. I’ll gladly be proven wrong on this, but as of now, I continue to believe that it’s a detriment to a club to drag on the stress of who gets a #1 starting job over an extended period of time. It fuels second-guessing, mistrust, and is ultimately how you can lose extremely talented players who may in the end have been a better fit (not saying that’s the case, but it’s a possibility that must be considered). Let’s face it: both Caps goalies are good, and neither of them turned in consistently poor enough performances to say they blew their chances. The drive to be #1 is a desired quality in any athlete–and something that should be particularly valued on a talented team trying to win a Stanley Cup–but can easily sour into frustration. If the Caps aren’t careful, they could have the sequel to this saga with remaining goalies Michal Neuvirth and Braden Holtby, both potential franchise goalies.
Overall, it’s the end of what had been a huge love affair between Varlamov and the Capitals fanbase. Varly came in as a callup from Hershey and endeared himself to fans with his performance 2008-2009 playoffs. Since he got a permanent spot on the Caps roster, I’ve heard no other player except Ovechkin greeted with a crowd roar that topped Varly’s during pre-game introductions. In the end, his drive to actually get to play the game he loves without looking over his shoulder won out over his love for his teammates. And, if nothing else, it instills even more confidence in GMGM, who managed to give the Capitals a net gain in the end from a difficult situation.
Mike on Tomas Vokoun
GMGM clearly loves a large stable of netminder talent, and Varly’s departure created a spot for Czech native Tomas Vokoun. At just $1.5m for one year, the Capitals bring on a seasoned veteran looking for a chance to win, and win now. “He’s been on teams with no chance to win for a very long time,” Vokoun’s agent, Michael Deutsch, said. “The opportunity to compete for a Stanley Cup means a great deal to him.” This move seems to be fantastic news for Hershey Bears fans, as it’s likely Braden Holtby will at least start the season on Chocolatetown with Michal Neuvirth and Tomas Vokoun in DC. A reliable veteran like Vokoun can ensure Neuvith keeps his season starts in the 60-ish range, helping Neuvy stay healthy and ready for a deep playoff run.
Now What? (Mike)
Clearly the Capitals aren’t done dealing—the salary cap and a few outstanding contracts assure us there’s more to come. Karl Alzner and newly-acquired Troy Brouwer are yet to be signed; letting either one leave at this point would sour what’s been a very productive few days. As Ed Frankovic points out, even if Tom Poti’s cap hit were removed the team needs to work some cap magic between now and opening day. Trading Mike Green is highly unlikely; Hamrlik is a valuable acquisition, but he’s 10 years Green’s senior… you don’t let 25-year-old defensemen with Green’s potential hit their prime for another team (paging Scott Stevens!). Jeff Schultz and Eric Fehr are more likely to be moved, for while each can be solid contributors neither figures in as vital parts of the Caps’ new direction.
Of course, the big question is Alexander Semin. (In case he’s traded, I’ll use everyone’s favorite Semin-describing term “enigmatic winger” one more time while I still can.) Semin’s offensive talent is undeniable; at times he’s clearly the best player on the ice, and he scores some pretty goals. But his focus, and drive, are rightly questioned, particularly in the post-season when pretty goals are pretty rare. His penchant for brilliance and foolishness in the same game is legendary (i.e., the Semin Hat Trick: goal, assist, and offensive-zone and/or stick penalty)—though to be fair, a SHT means he’s been involved in 2 goals and, at worst, caused one… not a bad deal.
GMGM is crunching the numbers, I’m sure: What could they get in exchange for Alex Semin, and who has the cap space? Could Semin provide the scoring they need this year for a deep run — and is it worth taking that chance and getting nothing in return next offseason? If GMGM can make the numbers work and get under the $64.3M salary cap, I’m sure he’d rather keep Semin and his 30-40 goals on the roster. That, though, is a big if. But if a big-spending (NYR?) or cap-floor-scraping (Florida?) team comes along with the right offer, well, we’ve seen GMGM is all-in for this year’s free agency game.
One thing is certain: ownership and management are building an impressively playoff-ready roster… on paper. Let’s all beseech the hockey gods to help Coach Boudreau and the Capitals realize that potential on the ice this season.