Five Key Caps’ Roster Questions for Summer 2009

Cup'pa JoeI’ve decided that going forward it ought to be a lead organizational aim to have either the parent or an affiliate playing hockey still on Memorial weekend. The Bears are — they resume the Eastern conference finals tonight with game 3 in Providence, and play again Sunday and Monday.

And in point of fact, both Capitals’ affiliates are still competing in the postseason. The South Carolina Stingrays begin their participation in the Kelly Cup finals tonight in Alaska. Last year some of my particularly partisan readers took issue with my referencing Alaska governor Sarah Palin’s enthusiasm for hockey, but I thought it of mild interest that her name has surfaced again this week with our sport: she and South Governor Mark Sanford have a wager on the Kelly Cup finals.   

In both series the Bears and Rays are playing in a 2-3-2 format, which is particularly beneficial from the perspectives of travel cost and player fatigue. The Rays could return to Alaska for games 6 and 7. What a trip. Do you think the NHL should move to this format for its postseason? I do — I think it rewards more the team with four home games. Think how difficult it is to win three straight games against a quality postseason foe, which really is what is asked of the lower seeded club.

Next season, perhaps we’ll see all three clubs in the organization still skating on summer’s first weekend.     

But with the titular arrival of summer we at OFB begin our look ahead, and at least with respect to the Caps leave behind 2008-09. For me, there are five significant roster questions for General Manager George McPhee to ponder amid shore breezes and sunscreen applications.

(5) Bring back Brash? There’s no disputing Brashear’s popularity in the Capitals’ room, but he will be 38 come January. Is he still an 80-game enforcer? While there is no viable enforcer apparent anywhere else in the organization, acquiring those isn’t quite like securing a shutdown defenseman. And do the Caps want to open up a fourth line slot for a younger, cheaper prospect from the ranks of the Bears? The Capitals must have an enforcer in their lineup next season (preferably two or three gritty guys in sweaters) — Alexander Semin’s back depends on it. But is Brash their guy?

(4) A return engagement for Feds? We know precisely what Sergei Fedorov’s thoughts are these days — he wants to return for a 19th NHL season, and he wants to return to D.C. It’s abundantly apparent that Feds is no longer a productive 80-gamer; still, the Caps must give serious consideration to re-upping their second-best pivot — at an admittedly lower cost than the $4 million Feds earned in ’08-’09. I think the Caps have to view Feds as a quasi player-coach, and his value to a still young club in that regard is significant. With both his games and minutes conservatively managed by Bruce Boudreau next season, Feds could again arrive at next postseason with a key role for the club. His versatility, too, argues powerfully for his return.   

(3) Where will the big physical presence on the blueline come from? The Capitals’ blueline in 2009-10 is almost certain to be improved — Brian Pother will arrive at training camp healthy, Karl Alzner will push hard for a spot, and John Carlson will get a good look at some point in the season. Still, what the Caps desperately need on the back end is somebody to make life miserable for opposing forwards in the slot, and especially somebody to dislodge Sidney Crosby from his encampment there if there’s another postseason showdown with Pittsburgh. That veteran big body doesn’t today reside in the Capitals’ organization. Meaning, he needs to be acquired this summer, in either a trade or via free agency.    

(2) Might on the Right. Maybe Viktor Kozlov returns to the Capitals in 2009-10, maybe he does not. Chris Clark and Eric Fehr should report to fall camp healthy, but are either today the right wing desperately needed to bring scoring balance up front? Alexander Semin spent a fair bit of 2008-09 on the right side, but to me, he seldom looked comfortable there — especially in the Pittsburgh series. He did look comfortable playing along the half boards on the left side of the power play. I think he’s a left wing. But even if Bruce Boudreau plans to keep Semin the right side, it’s in the best tactical interests of the team to keep Semin and Ovechkin on separate lines. Meaning: the first line still needs an impact right wing. Could such a player arrive via free agency? Well, one Erik Cole is a UFA in a few weeks’ time.

(1) Ridding the salary cap lard. You might say that Michael Nylander is a bit overpaid for 2009-10 at $5.5 million, insomuch as he rarely plays any more, and when he does, he rarely scores. He’s simply a horrible fit in Bruce Boudreau’s system. In less obvious fashion, Jose Theodore certainly appears expendable today. The justification for his signing last summer was uncertainty about the development of the organization’s young netminders. Between Nylander and Theordore the Capitals are staring at $10 million worth of thoroughly unproductive roster lard. Can any NHL club viably compete for the Stanley Cup with nearly a fifth of its cap not with its oars in the water?   

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14 Responses to Five Key Caps’ Roster Questions for Summer 2009

  1. VT Phil says:

    Quick question on the salary cap. If the Caps bring Feds back as a player/coach as you suggest, could we pay him 2 mil as a player and 1 mil as a coach and only have the 2 mil count against us? Or does the entire salary a player makes need to count? I’m going to guess that the whole thing would count since that would be a loophole lots of teams would try to use.

  2. Tim says:

    5) No.
    4) 2.5M
    3) FA
    2) FA
    1) No

  3. Ernie5 says:

    One possibility for #3 in the organization: Joe Finley. Is he ready to compete for a spot?

  4. Ernie5 says:

    (5) No
    (4) 1.5 M
    (3) Finley and/or free agent
    (2) Kozlov at 1.5 M or free agent
    (1) Buy them both out, if feasible

  5. Bucky Katt says:

    “You might say that Michael Nylander is a bit overpaid for 2009-10 at $5.5 million”
    A “bit”? I’d say “Circles” Nylander is way overpaid for what he contributes. Unfortunately, I believe we are stuck for this next year, unless some sort of miracle occurs.

  6. Ernie5 says:

    No miracle with Nylander, I’m afraid. His salary makes him untradeable (not to mention his NTC). I don’t fully understand why buying him out is untenable, but apparently it is (unless McPhee is just blowing smoke).

  7. Jim says:

    Lets see who’s left after the draft. I still wonder if Theo or Nylander get traded. Management has said that they have no plans of trading either, but remember that was also the stance taken by the exact same management on Jagr, 2 weeks before they traded him to the Rangers.

  8. jonathan says:

    Get a free agent on the right side Shane Doan, Keith Tkachuk or even Ryan malone. cole is weak. Camelleri down the middle.Resign Johnny. Bye bye Feds,Kozzie,Theo and Nyls

  9. Doug says:

    @ Jonathan — some grand ideas, but a little issue called “salary cap” likely makes those ideas nothing but a dream. Unlikely we’ll rid Theo & Nyls, either.

  10. Murshawursha says:

    I’d sign Mike Komisarek as our physical defenseman. Bring back Feds and kozzie if possible, but only if they’ll take pay cuts. I was sort of dreaming of Kovalev at RW, but Erik Cole is an intriguing possibility. I also think Bill Guerin would be a good pickup.
    I’d wave goodbye to Nyls in a heartbeat, but I’d hold onto Theo.He’s still a solid goalie, and while Varly had a stellar playoff, I’m not sure I’m ready to hand him the keys just yet.

  11. Devil Dancer says:

    Good, I’m not the only person intrigued by the possibility of signing Erik Cole. I think he’d be a brilliant replacement for Kozlov.

  12. valleycapfan says:

    I too like the idea of Cole on the RW. Telling McPhee to buy out Nyls is easy when it’s not our money, (or even his). Unless I’m mistaken, I still think part of his salary is a cap hit even if he was bought out.
    Keep Theo. I know Varly was brilliant, but when it comes to 21 year-old goalies who get off to sensational starts I have two words: Jim Carry (out of hockey by age 25).

  13. NHL Observer says:

    There are lots of things to ponder this off season:
    1) Don’t believe McPhee won’t think about buying out Nyls. If Nyls retires before the buyout period, the Caps owe him the WHOLE $9M. If they wait for the buyout period, the hit is only 2/3, spread over 4 years. Also, if the Caps could move him at the Draft, McPhee would be bargaining from a weaker position, if people thought a buyout was lurking.
    2) Joe Finley might be the defenseman needed to reach out and touch someone, but a veteran would be a better option.
    3) IF your could move Theodore, do it and resign Johnny. The buyout would hurt too much, although you could get Theo off the books by sending him to Hershey and marooning him there for the season.
    4) TSN is reporting that Feds is about to sign to play in the KHL with his brother. If that’s true, it sucks, because then your new “high energy” center is Keith Aucoin.
    5) Brash may be done. Kozzie may be done, too.

  14. Burgundy says:

    I’ve heard some of those Komi rumors too. I still have a feeling he’ll sign with NYI, but think he’d fit in very well in Washington. He and Tom Poti could be a great tandom.
    I think Alzner is ready for the NHL and I’d like to see Sloan in as well.
    I don’t see Cole fitting in that well though. I’m not convinced he’s a top 6 forward.

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