The leadup to the NHL draft brings the greatest week of player movement on the calendar next to trade deadline comings and goings, and so this week we in Washington especially wonder: what does general manager George McPhee have up his sleeve?
We know that neither the GM nor the coach is content with the roster as it’s currently comprised. Indeed, in the immediate aftermath of the Montreal series Bruce Boudreau matter of factly forecasted five or six new bodies in D.C. this fall. Good.
The Flyers in the minds of many who watched their run to within two victories of a Stanley Cup maxed out or even overachieved. I think the larger point is that they brought to the ice each night a roster that was exceedingly difficult to play against. Orange sweaters were in Habs’ faces in every corner of the rink in the Eastern conference finals. The Hawks had no picnic against them either. In the not so new any longer NHL, it was old-style Flyers ethos getting it done in the warmer weather. From the vantage of physical toll exacted, how difficult do you believe it has been to play against the Capitals the past three springs?
You can believe, as some in the Capitals’ organization would have you, that the Caps just ran into another hot goalie in Jaroslav Halak, and that they were undone as well by a godforsakenly awful power play. Or you can look at the larger picture, which is that the Capitals’ core as it’s been comprised now for three springs has underachieved in the glory season.
“Mike Knuble is willing to go to the net and get sandy,” NHL Network analyst Kevin Weekes told Tarik El Bashir in the aftermath of the Capitals’ latest early postseason demise. “But their guys are so used to painting Picassos, I don’t know if they’re willing to get out the crayons and start sketching.”
The Capitals, the thinking at this blog goes, don’t need to blow up the core but rather surround it with a bit more size and snarl. The snarl in particular makes life miserable for the opposition in the play-’em-every-other-night postseason.
Already we know that none of Jose Theodore, Scott Walker, Joe Corvo, Brendan Morrison, Shaone Morrisonn and likely Eric Belanger will be back in D.C. this fall. Three or four Hershey Bears will graduate. And we can make reasonable assumptions that in acquiring Corvo, Walker, and Belanger at the trade deadline George McPhee didn’t secure his most coveted roster-bolstering bodies. Will he resume his pursuit of them this summer? If so, that process could culminate this week, ahead of July 1’s unrestricted free agency slow dancing.
Of the Capitals’ top four on the blueline for next season I believe we know already the identities of three: Mike Green, John Carlson, and Karl Alzner. Carlson and Alzner were Gabby’s best defensive pairing in game 7 against Montreal, and most nights they were a dominant pairing for the Calder Cup winning Bears this spring. What’s most intriguing to me is the identity of the fourth rearguard. It won’t be Jeff Schultz. Anton Volchenkov? (Don’t be surprised.) The Flyers’ acquisition of Dan Hamhuis (his signing a formality) raises Volchenkov’s July 1 value.
Some manner of veteran difference-maker desperately needs to be added to the Washington blueline. John Carlson probably will look like a veteran difference-maker by next spring, if not the fall.
Up front, the Caps need a quality pivot to follow Nicklas Backstrom on the first line, to anchor a spectacularly anemic-in-the-postseason second line. The second line was a struggle in the middle for the Caps most of last season. Alexander Semin’s 40 goals are all the more impressive when you consider he endured center-by-committee during much of 2009-10.
And speaking of Semin . . . count me as one who’d be surprised were he still a Cap come dinner time Friday evening. Long-term contract tallks with his agent collapsed during the season, and George McPhee won’t let him walk away for nothing next summer. Semin’s an enigma, everyone knows that, but the deliberate player evaluations and budget reconfigurations of summer have a way of cleansing manager palates of playoff under-performings. Semin could fetch the Caps a difference-maker on the blueline or a high-end second-line center. Were he packaged with one of the three young goaltenders in the organization we could see Washington pull off one of the blockbuster moves of the week.
George McPhee has the assets to remake his springtime soft roster. More importantly, he has the urgency to.