A Flurry Of Moves in Capsville

Mike’s Musings
Washington Capitals owner Ted Leonsis hinted at big moves; GM George McPhee surely did not disappoint. Independence Day Weekend has become chock-full of Capitals news (much to my wife’s chagrin — “Arrgh! It’s July!”).

From bringing back a former team captain (something Pittsburgh was unable to do) to bidding Do svidaniya to a young netminder, Capitals fans will be seeing lots of new names in red, white, and blue. Team OFB discusses the Caps’ moves, and what might be next.

Alex on Joel Ward’s signing

If you watched Nashville’s first ever run to the second round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs last season, you’ll have noticed winger Joel Ward was a big part of taking Cup finalist Vancouver to six games. George McPhee spoke to NHL On The Fly analysts, saying that at least half the league was making a move for the Ontarian when Washington snagged him on a four-year deal worth $12 million.

So what made Ward want to sign in Washington? He said it was the drive to win, always having that chance to compete. “Oh yeah, [the Capitals] were very high on my list,” Ward said. “I’ve visited the city before. I like the way they’re made up and I just want to help push them over the edge.” While Ward and the Nashville Predators took a giant leap in their franchise’s history by making the Western Conference Semi-finals, he said he was looking forward to the new challenge. “[With Washington] it’s just about getting over that hump as a team. It was a good feeling to get past the first round in Nashville [last season]. The fourth loss in a round is a tough one to swallow but it pushes every guy harder for next season.”

There is no doubt Ward will be a physical contributor for the Caps, a quality Washington lacked particularly in their second round sweep at the hands of the Tampa Bay Lightning. When asked what went wrong for DC, Ward said, “It’s hard to pinpoint what happened. I just want to bring my game, grinding, cycling, causing a little havoc. Wear and tear on the opposition.” With a build and appetite for heavy checking like Alex Ovechkin, and a penchant for hard-working goals, we may finally see the dynamic winger to complement Ovechkin that has been lacking since the departure of Chris Clark.

DC Sports Chick on Jeff Halpern

So long, Boyd Gordon; hello again, Jeff Halpern! With Gordo’s departure to Phoenix, the Caps needed a solid faceoff center and got it in Halpern. At 35, Halpern’s no spring chicken; however, if he stays healthy, he’ll be a good contributor. He’s a long way from his 44 points with the 2005-2006 Caps, but had a respectable 26 points with Montreal last season after a few off-years with Tampa.

While it’s great to see this Maryland native and good character guy back with the Caps, some fans won’t forget the acrimonious way he left in 2006. Wonder if his father is going to get season tickets again? Still, with the return of Halpern and (assistant goalie coach) Olaf Kolzig, one wonders if Bondra will find a way back to the team.

Elisabeth on Hamrlik
Roman Hamrlik: “I’m not getting any younger,” joked the 37-year-old on a conference call Saturday. True, but it takes a special 37 year old (okay, 36 at the time) to finish 4th in the NHL in shots blocked. Now that’s a toughness and skill set you want on your roster in the postseason. Hamrlik also said on the call he can bring a good quality 20-22 minutes. On a character note, Hamrlik was voted by the Canadien media reporters as the recipient of the Jacques Beauchamp-Molson Trophy, “awarded annually to the member of the Canadiens who played a dominant role during the regular season.” Welcome to the Caps’ blueline, Hamrlik.

Empty Maybe’s Knee-Jerks
So, let me get this straight… The Capitals:

  • Get Hamrlik on the cheap (not thrilled about a 2 year deal, but whatever)
  • Sign a hometown hero for dirt-cheap and solidify the 4th line
  • Sign a solid AHL player for their affiliate, with whom they share a
    solid relationship
  • Overpay for Ward (a bit), but he was highly sought after by other teams.
  • Trade a somewhat discontented goalie for a 1st and a 2nd
  • Sign the best goalie on the market on a deal that, very literally,
    has people asking for the firing of his agent

Championships are not won on July 1st, but they can be lost. What a crazy ride these past 40+ hours these have been.

DC Sports Chick on Jaromir Jagr

The Flyers won the Jagr sweepstakes, but “booby prize” is more like it. Make no mistake, Jagr can still play better than some of the players in the league, but at 39, his talents are diminishing. He could add some value, but is his reputation as a locker-room diva worth it? I’m not sure who’s sillier: the Flyers for paying him $3.3 million, or the hapless fans who waited in vain at the Pittsburgh airport on Wednesday night. Here’s the bigger question: will Chris Pronger still call him “Puffnuts?”

Elisabeth on Varly

The abrupt end to Team Varly is just one of those sports stories that doesn’t make you feel particularly warm or fuzzy as a Caps fan. The consensus is that GMGM did an incredible job with what he had to work with — an unhappy, injury prone-goaltender who wanted a guarantee of the one thing that cannot be guaranteed in sports with any certainty — a starting job. Heck, Super Bowl MVPs can’t even get that. So GMGM gave him to Colorado in exchange for a second round pick in either 2012 or 2013 and something else that’s worth gold to the Capitals — a first-round pick in 2012 that could be a lottery pick, since Colorado finished slightly behind the Oilers this year in the most undesired race in all sports: league bottom-dweller. Though the Caps can brag about little in the postseason, their days of lottery picks (apart from trades like these) are gone for the foreseeable future. We’ve all seen how the Caps can build a powerful roster through the draft. George McPhee may have given Colorado a pistol, but he got a sniper rifle in return.

Varlamov’s baiting and actions at the end didn’t help matters; but, that being said, I still believe it was the Caps’ poor handling of this #1 goalie situation that got them into this drama to begin with. I’ll gladly be proven wrong on this, but as of now, I continue to believe that it’s a detriment to a club to drag on the stress of who gets a #1 starting job over an extended period of time. It fuels second-guessing, mistrust, and is ultimately how you can lose extremely talented players who may in the end have been a better fit (not saying that’s the case, but it’s a possibility that must be considered). Let’s face it: both Caps goalies are good, and neither of them turned in consistently poor enough performances to say they blew their chances. The drive to be #1 is a desired quality in any athlete–and something that should be particularly valued on a talented team trying to win a Stanley Cup–but can easily sour into frustration. If the Caps aren’t careful, they could have the sequel to this saga with remaining goalies Michal Neuvirth and Braden Holtby, both potential franchise goalies.

Overall, it’s the end of what had been a huge love affair between Varlamov and the Capitals fanbase. Varly came in as a callup from Hershey and endeared himself to fans with his performance 2008-2009 playoffs. Since he got a permanent spot on the Caps roster, I’ve heard no other player except Ovechkin greeted with a crowd roar that topped Varly’s during pre-game introductions. In the end, his drive to actually get to play the game he loves without looking over his shoulder won out over his love for his teammates. And, if nothing else, it instills even more confidence in GMGM, who managed to give the Capitals a net gain in the end from a difficult situation.

Mike on Tomas Vokoun
GMGM clearly loves a large stable of netminder talent, and Varly’s departure created a spot for Czech native Tomas Vokoun. At just $1.5m for one year, the Capitals bring on a seasoned veteran looking for a chance to win, and win now. “He’s been on teams with no chance to win for a very long time,” Vokoun’s agent, Michael Deutsch, said. “The opportunity to compete for a Stanley Cup means a great deal to him.” This move seems to be fantastic news for Hershey Bears fans, as it’s likely Braden Holtby will at least start the season on Chocolatetown with Michal Neuvirth and Tomas Vokoun in DC. A reliable veteran like Vokoun can ensure Neuvith keeps his season starts in the 60-ish range, helping Neuvy stay healthy and ready for a deep playoff run.

Now What? (Mike)
Clearly the Capitals aren’t done dealing—the salary cap and a few outstanding contracts assure us there’s more to come. Karl Alzner and newly-acquired Troy Brouwer are yet to be signed; letting either one leave at this point would sour what’s been a very productive few days. As Ed Frankovic points out, even if Tom Poti’s cap hit were removed the team needs to work some cap magic between now and opening day. Trading Mike Green is highly unlikely; Hamrlik is a valuable acquisition, but he’s 10 years Green’s senior… you don’t let 25-year-old defensemen with Green’s potential hit their prime for another team (paging Scott Stevens!). Jeff Schultz and Eric Fehr are more likely to be moved, for while each can be solid contributors neither figures in as vital parts of the Caps’ new direction.

Of course, the big question is Alexander Semin. (In case he’s traded, I’ll use everyone’s favorite Semin-describing term “enigmatic winger” one more time while I still can.) Semin’s offensive talent is undeniable; at times he’s clearly the best player on the ice, and he scores some pretty goals. But his focus, and drive, are rightly questioned, particularly in the post-season when pretty goals are pretty rare. His penchant for brilliance and foolishness in the same game is legendary (i.e., the Semin Hat Trick: goal, assist, and offensive-zone and/or stick penalty)—though to be fair, a SHT means he’s been involved in 2 goals and, at worst, caused one… not a bad deal.

GMGM is crunching the numbers, I’m sure: What could they get in exchange for Alex Semin, and who has the cap space? Could Semin provide the scoring they need this year for a deep run — and is it worth taking that chance and getting nothing in return next offseason? If GMGM can make the numbers work and get under the $64.3M salary cap, I’m sure he’d rather keep Semin and his 30-40 goals on the roster. That, though, is a big if. But if a big-spending (NYR?) or cap-floor-scraping (Florida?) team comes along with the right offer, well, we’ve seen GMGM is all-in for this year’s free agency game.

One thing is certain: ownership and management are building an impressively playoff-ready roster… on paper. Let’s all beseech the hockey gods to help Coach Boudreau and the Capitals realize that potential on the ice this season.

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16 Responses to A Flurry Of Moves in Capsville

  1. TG says:

    Overall, I’m OK with most of the moves. I think I would have preferred Hannan to Hamrlik, and they still need another D. (We all saw what happened last season when they went into the season with seven D. As soon as someone got hurt, big issues.) And for our purposes I’m assuming Poti’s done.

    And I wonder what “kids” the braintrust feels will make the team this year.

  2. TG says:

    Sorry, and forgot to say, compare what the Caps did to what happened just up the road. Flyers traded Carter, Richards and Leino for Bryzgalov, Jagr and Talbot. As a Caps fan, I’m in favor of that.

    And NYR signed Richards to a nine year deal? Just when they get out of salary cap issues…

  3. @ TG, well said. The Philly moves are puzzling to say the least… and while Richards is a terrific player, nine years seems, well, Ranger-esque.

    I hope the Capitals can hang onto Wideman. I like Hannan, but I *REALLY* like what we saw from Wideman before his gruesome injury.


    The Flyers trades seem to be more from locker room chemistry issues than on ice performance. Rumors of late night partying (sound familiar ?), also who the captain truly was.

    As for Caps , some of these seem like win now moves. Getting a potential lottey pick for Varly is pretty good.

    I know this is approaching dead horse territory, but I honestly think Green is too much of a defensive liability, especially for the top D pair. But I was spolied by Langway, Stevens , and Hatcher, so what do I know ?

    Some positive sports news for a change, at least until the NFL knuckleheads get their heads out of their backsides.

  5. kelly Chuba says:

    I will always love Varley. I hope he does well.

  6. Dougeb says:


    Try as I might, and I read your piece 3 times, I don’t understand how you say the Caps hindered Varly’s development. I just don’t believe that is the case. It was clearly Varly’s health issues that were the problem. Had Varly been healthy, clearly he would have been the number 1 goalie. In 3 years, Varly has likely missed at least half of the potential starts he would have been given, simply due to a combination of injuries.

    So, how is this mishandling? Clearly, if Varly was NOT injured, you would have a legitmate point. At least, in my opinion, your case for Capitals mismanagement is a null and void argument.

  7. Fashi13 says:

    Mike, nothing personal, but you’re nuts if you really think Neuvy gets close to 60 starts.

  8. Thanks, Dougeb, for your analysis. I guess I would take issue with saying that had Varly been healthy, he “clearly” would have been the number 1 goalie. If that’s so, they would have named him #1 for 2010-2011 (especially since they had decided to not resign Theodore), but instead they turned it into a huge competition with Varly and Neuvy. Boudreau liked to keep everyone guessing on that for much of the year, even when both goalies could play. And Boudreau gives his goalies a fairly short leash for mistakes, compared to the rest of the roster. It’s a system the Caps are clearly comfortable with (not naming a #1 goalie), and I wouldn’t be surprised if you saw a similar scenario played out this year with Vokoun and Neuvy, which I’d argue is rather unfair to Neuvy, since he did everything that was asked of him. McPhee has been indicating there will be a competition for #1. I could see how that may potentially make Neuvirth frustrated. And I think that in the end fosters some bad feelings. When you’ve done everything that’s been asked of you and perform well, and still aren’t awarded the starting position, you lose motivation.
    I think Montreal is an example of a club that went in a different direction. Price fizzled in the playoffs, they went with Halak, but then, rather than try to satisfy two potential starting goalies on a roster the following season, they stuck with one and got a stellar following season out of him.
    I’ve watched the constant jockeying happen in the NFL, too, at the quarterback position, and it rarely turns out well.

  9. @ FASHI13, no worries, nothing personal taken. Are you thinking Vokoun gets the starting role? After last season that role is Neuvy’s to lose… of course, he might indeed lose it to Vokoun, but for the price the Caps paid Vokoun could very well be Neuvy’s backup. Regardless, it’s exciting that the Caps now have two netminders who are definite #1 candidates, with Holtby getting plenty of playing time in Hershey as the future franchise goalie (IMO).

  10. muddapucker says:

    Ryan Lambert wrote on Puck Daddy, speaking of Colorado concerning Valarmov, “… had the Avs simply signed him to an offer sheet for the price they eventually paid him, the compensation would have been just a second-round pick.”

    Is that correct?

    Whether it is or isn’t doesn’t diminish the fact that GMGM got what amounts to Valarmov for a first and second/third and Vokoun for a minimum of a year. Who wouldn’t have made that trade?

  11. Mike Rucki says:

    @ MUDDAPUCKER, that’s sort of but not entirely correct, because the Capitals would likely have signed Varly for that amount rather than let him go for only a second-round pick. So if the Avs really did want Varly, then they wouldn’t have wanted to let the Capitals match their offer.

    Regardless, you are correct that GMGM displayed his mastery yet again.

  12. Spank That Donkey says:

    Caps loaded with talent again… check
    Uncle Fester behind the bench… check
    Just Saying… check

  13. Dougeb says:

    Elizabeth, okay, I see your point and there might be something there. So how would you have handled the Varly/Neuvy scenario last year? Furthermore, how would you handle the Vokoun/Neuvy tanden in 2011/2012?
    For this year, I would likely envision Vokoun as the number one and Neuvy number two, but that could change if Vokoun slips, gets hurt, etc.

  14. Geo says:

    I still would’ve liked a veteran 2nd center signing. It’s reminding me too much of last season when the assumption was Flash would be 2nd center or M. Jo would grow into it. Flash is of course gone and M. Jo made great strides but seems more a 2nd center.

    So now we’re back to thinking Laich is “the answer” or M. Jo might grow into it… 🙂

    Otherwise, I think we made smart moves, added lots of character guys and a couple who like to hit, forcheck and work the crease, without making any ridiculous 7, 9 etc. year contracts. Nobody can really say whether all that’s going to mesh well on the ice, but on paper, it looks good. 🙂

  15. penguin pete says:

    just what i wanted to see on july 1st, the caps making some great moves.

    hope you jerks are happy!

    is it october yet?

  16. MulletMan says:

    Varly may be receiving the same treatment in Colorado now, seeings how they signed J.S. Giguere also.

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