The bad news: all of it went to Jeff Schultz. Intimidation quotient on the back end remains unchanged. Level of difficulty playing with the puck in the Caps’ end? Unchanged.
Now for the really bad news: George McPhee wasn’t kidding a week ago when he said he had seven guys he was ready to go with on the back end in 2010-11. He really believes he does. The Schultz signing — that’s top 4 money Sarge was awarded in this deal — signals that the Caps are done refashioning the top four of their blueline for next season. Sleeping easy now?
If you missed that refashioning on the back end, you’ve got company. Actually, it’s unchanged from the top four who earned most of the minutes in game 7 versus Montreal. It’s actually a top four with high-end talent and many years of good hockey ahead. Problem is, it’s not a top four upon which a club desperate — starved — for postseason success ought to rely upon right now. And most of all, it is not a top four that addresses the Capitals’ most glaring need on the back end: the hole that is help for Mike Green.
Mike Vogel has the Caps committed to about $51 million in salary with 19 guys signed under a $59 million cap for 2010-11. Eric Fehr and Tomas Fleischmann figure to gobble up a decent bit of what remains. So absent an unlikely trade, we’re all set on the blueline. Excited yet?
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Perhaps to no small degree, and unfairly, Jeff Schultz is the pinata upon which many Caps’ fans want to beat the finesse-Ice Capades approach out of the Capitals’ roster. Sarge here is the collective embodiment for an ethos that is, for these fans, antithetical to a durable stay in the NHL postseason. Evaluating the personnel maneuverings across the East this summer, there can be no mistaking the dichotomy that’s being formed: the Caps once again will attempt to “outskill” the opposition, out-finesse them; their competitors are going big and bully and ice-clogging.
It remains to be seen who’s right in this debate, but yesterday’s contract award for #55 is a fresh stake in the ground by the Capitals’ GM. And it also seems more and more like 2010-11 will carry an air of referendum to George McPhee’s roster building. Were I a manager entering a referendum season most assuredly I’d want some menace in front of my crease.
Almost a week to the day that the Caps passed on signing Anton Volchenkov for $4 million and change they committed $3 million per, beginning in 2012-13, to Jeff Schultz. There’s a symbolism there that’s unavoidable, I submit.
There was praise to be found yesterday on Twitter extolling the virtues of the deal, lauding the Caps for locking up so spectacularly average a defenseman. Problem is, the Caps are placing Sarge in a position on the ice where conspicuously average gets you golfing early in spring. As we’ve seen here for some springs now. Can average be hidden in a top four for a contender? I wonder. In the Caps’ case, however, they’re actually trying (forcing) average on as a Band-Aid for ice left open, vacated by their hybrid defenseman Mike Green. Hence the high-pitched clamor among so many Caps’ fans this summer for McPhee to sign a true, experienced shutdown rearguard.
He has refused to. Again.
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There are PR flacks and new media about our town all so adept at producing pretty numbers about our pretty hockey players during our oh so pretty regular seasons. As if such numbers mean dick in game 7s. We’ve become a town of hockey accountants. We’ve become numbed by numbers.
I’m signing up for 82 exhibition games here in 2010-11, but I’ll be referencing no such numbers. Instead, I’ll go to games and tally the number of times our rearguards plant opposing players on their asses when they encamp in front our goalies, or otherwise exact a heavy price in our end. I don’t expect to need a calculator.
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The more this offseason matures the more I gain appreciation for the diagnostics of R.J. Umberger. He had no axe to grind with the Caps. He called out the Caps after a game in Columbus late last season. Said our guys were going to be taken down, that their style was ill-suited for the rigors of the NHL postseason. He proved prophetic. His warning hasn’t been heeded in Washington this offseason. It has been heeded elsewhere in the East — among the Capitals’ chief competitors.
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This past postseason seared in my psyche the conviction that the NHL is singular among pro sports in showcasing two separate seasons within its calendar season. Conspicuous success in one (the regular season) hardly foreshadows prosperity in the other (postseason). I believe the Caps deserve great credit for assembling a roster that simply cannot be competed with in the Southeast division October through March, and as fans love winter-long winners, with all those wins come filled seats. The Capitals again are sold out all of next season.
The jury, however, is very much still out about the suitability of this Capitals roster for the postseason. I am one who does not view the April failure against Montreal in any singular sort of way, and rather looks out over the past three postseasons and tabulates enormous struggle against all comers, even the lowest seeds. For me those are warning signs.
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Incidentally, last summer, the Capitals could have signed unrestricted free agent Hal Gill, who of course ended up in Montreal. Gill of course has skated prime roles for opposition who’ve defeated the Capitals the past two postseasons.
Something for you perhaps to meditate on during our encounters with the Atlantic division this coming season: for the grand sum of $6.5 million dollars the Capitals this fall could have dressed Gill and Volchenkov in their sweater.
The Habs this season will be paying Gill $2.25 million.