I’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?