For just about the entire offseason, we have been preaching that the Capitals need to make a bold move or two and sign someone — anyone — to make the team better, with a particular eye toward the rigors of the postseason. After two disappointing postseasons in a row, you’d think the front office would have approached this offseason with an eye toward being aggressive when it came to filling holes on the team.
However, I have realized that maybe they are being aggressive this offseason . . . just inside the organization instead of outside it.
This tactic makes complete sense. For the last two seasons, Washington has essentially looked outside the organization for answers to their problems. Whether it was the signing of Mike Knuble and Brendan Morrison, or the trades for Sergei Fedorov, Eric Belanger, Joe Corvo, Jason Chimera, and Scott Walker, Washington has tried to fill holes and add depth by bringing in players from other organizations. Of all these moves, only about three of them could have been said to have worked out, and yet the Caps have not lived up to anything close to their potential in the playoffs.
When the Caps have filled holes from within, however, by promoting Semyon Varlamov, John Carlson, Karl Alzner, and to some extent Mathieu Perreault, the team has found success — in admittedly limited engagements with the young defenders and the young center. To General Manager George McPhee, Head Coach Bruce Boudreau, and owner Ted Leonsis, maybe that is a sign they should use the Hershey Bears to find success instead of the rest of the NHL.
Looking to the back-to-back Calder Cup champions for help in the NHL may be one of the smartest hockey decisions in the league from any team this offsseason. Not only do the Caps not have to spend any money or trade away young assets to alter their lineup, but they also fill their team with players who know how to win and execute Bruce Boudreau’s system– and have done it before.
The first big move of the offseason was made just moments after the Capitals were knocked out of the playoffs by Montreal. We all knew that John Carlson was going to stay with the team; how could he not — he looked great on the ice. But Alzner’s future was somewhat up in the air, until Boudreau essentially confirmed after game 7 that he would be with the team next year. Not only is that great for Alzner (most would agree he has earned it), his promotion would seem to aid Carlson’s continued development. The two had a lot of chemistry on the ice together in the American League — and it is important for a player to feel comfortable when their surroundings change.
Boudreau was not alone in his belief that Alzner and Carlson were ready to contribute full time in the NHL. Many bloggers, including us at OFB, took their performance in game 7 as the sole bright spot from the playoff run. Corey Masisak over at CSN.com saw the pairing as a sign that while Washington may have lost in the playoffs, they had a great shot at being victorious in the long run.
The Caps clearly have a strong set of goaltending prospects, and the position is one of the organization’s strong points in development. This year the Capitals appear poised to use much of that depth. According to Hockeyfuture.com, it is the main reason Washington ranks fourth overall in organizational rankings. Michal Neuvirth was tapped as the team’s backup goalie early in the summer, and for good reason. Not only has he stopped just about everything that has come his way in the minors, and backstopped the Hershey Bears to consecutive Calder crowns, but he has also shown he can hold his own in an NHL game. His ability to handle an NHL workload is important given Varly’s history of injuries and his relatively poor performance in the regular season last year.
The final no-brainer move Washington appears poised to make this fall is with the promotion of Mathieu Perreault to fill a major hole. Washington has been looking for a second-line center since the departure of Sergei Fedorov and has yet to find an adequate replacement. The Brooks Laich experiment didn’t work, Tomas Fleischmann was solid in the faceoff circle at home, but not on the road, and Eric Belanger largely looked out of place. Matty possesses a top-six skill set.
Perreault skates well, has elite player tools, and appears to have no fear, even in corners. Not only does he drive to the net with nifty moves, but he also battles beautifully in the corners, often taking angles there that not only allow him to make plays but also limit his vulnerability there. He’s especially adept at kicking pucks out to teammates in scoring positions. He is not very big, standing only 5’9′, 175 pounds, but he doesn’t play a physically weak game. George McPhee, in speaking to OFB about Matty two summers back, said that if you’re good enough to play in the NHL, you’re big enough to play there. Matty sure looked good in his third- and fourth-line duty auditions in 2009-10, and this summer, it sure looks as if the Caps want him as a primary contender for the second-line center spot.
Perreault’s promotion, while it may be overlooked by many, could have a huge impact on the Caps’ season. A player who can finally quarterback a line with Alexander Semin would give the team two legitimately deadly scoring lines — something it has not only lacked in the regular season, but was an obvious Achilles heal in the playoffs. And Matty possesses a toolbox that is an obvious asset for a second-unit power play.
Even guys who have spent much of their career in the NHL haven’t been able to center a second line, and there is no proof yet that Matty can either. Our friends at Russian Machine Never Breaks believe Perreault could be a boom player, but there is just no guarantee, like anything in the NHL, he will succeed. Still, he’s done everything the Capitals have asked of him in his young pro career — including improving each and every season. There’s one last intangible with Matty I believe is a must to consider, and it’s something that John Walton likes to discuss when talking about players transitioning from the ‘A’ to the National League. Some guys who bear relatively modest numbers in hockey’s second-best league make the jump and just catch lightning in the proverbial bottle. They play bigger in the big league than numbers alone would seem to indicate they should. That sure seems like what happened in 2009-10 with Matty.
After such a disappointing season the Caps’ lack of moves may be a head-scratcher to some. After taking a step back, however, suddenly it seems as if only limited transactions have to take place in order to improve this team. Washington is absolutely loaded with talent in Hershey. Not only is Hershey overflowing with guys primed for professional success, but the whole organization is rich in talent.
Sure, an Anton Volchenkov would have been a nice addition. But he may end up being someone the team doesn’t need. Instead, Washington now has some cap room to play with at the deadline if someone doesn’t work out in a new role or (cross your fingers this doesn’t happen) a major part of the team goes down with an injury. In fact, in retrospect, not making a free agent move was probably the best thing the Caps could do this off-season.
In poker it is rarely smart to bet on the long-shot, that the impossible happens. Play the odds, build on the cards you have, and you have a better shot at winning. Sometimes the best strategy is to simply play the cards you were dealt — particularly when that hand is pretty darned good already.