“Who’s putting the puck in the net?” in D.C. next season, Greg Wyshynski wonders, while digesting the news of Alexander Semin signing with Carolina. I wonder too.
Let us hope that the captain shows up in shape this fall.
Or: Let us hope there’s prolonged labor strife.
It’s one thing to jettison Semin as at last intolerably inconsistent, maddeningly mercurial, and simply not worth the big dough. The room perhaps will be improved by his no longer being there, even. But it’s quite another to wave goodbye to the gamebreaker (and yes, he is one) and make no attempt whatsoever at replacing his production.
Semin was no savior for the underwhelming power play of recent seasons, but his skill was such that he did keep PK units honest. How much sleep do you imagine the rest of the East is losing this summer imagining a Capitals PP next season minus Dennis Wideman and Alexander Semin?
Your offseason acquisitions to date by the GM:
- Joey Crabb ($950,000)
- Jack Hillen ($650,000)
- Wojtek Wolski ($600,000)
A Murderers Row, isn’t it?
And graduating from the ‘A’? Basically, nobody.
Tell me: As you watched the Capitals lined up at Madison Square Garden’s center ice to shake hands with their Blueshirt vanquishers this spring, how many of you in that moment had an offseason wish-list of Crabb, Hillen, and Wolski, in furtherance of the Capitals Stanley Cup aspirations? And: how many of you wished for those three while simultaneously wishing for the walking of All-Star talents Wideman and Semin . . . for nothing in return?
Or put another way: what do you imagine is the data on 20-game plans purchased this July on the basis of those Big Three in this summer of RGIII and Natsensational?
It’s a whole new sporting landscape in town this summer, and I’m not so sure Capitals brass realize it.
Or perhaps they do. A case could be made that by going Ben Clymer and Mathieu Biron on free agents this summer George McPhee knows full well that he needs a rigorous rebuild of his top six up front, and that the two key components for that are overseas and not donning Capitals colors before the 2013-14 season. And in the case of Evgeni Kuznetsov, not before 2014-15, at the earliest. If you watched Kuznetsov at the most recent World Juniors you understood how it might have been that McPhee foresaw Semin’s walking the plank this summer and being instantly replaced by the young, dynamic Russian with the bigger heart. Problem is, early this spring heartbreak on that score set in. To the best laid plans.
I’ll take it a step further. Dale Hunter, who covets association with a Stanley Cup every bit as much as he does his next breath, high-tailed it out of town before the ink on his apartment lease was dry. It’s possible that he got a real good look at the Cup worthiness of the current Capitals roster, such as it is, and said to his pal the GM, ‘Lemme know if I can help out in about two years’ time.’ Not long after, as draft advisor, Hunter guided the Caps to Tom Wilson, after the Caps had already landed the contact-loving, highly skilled Swede Forsberg. Some might call that a marked departure from draft trends of recent years; also: rebuilding.
Additionally: McPhee could have entered into his calculus the thought that Braden Holtby is another couple of seasons away from being primed for leading the Caps to the promised land as a legit, experienced no. 1.
So new coach Adam Oates will favor a more offensive style of play, relative to his predecessor. But even if you play pond hockey you have to have more than two-thirds of a first line in your top 6. The offseason is not yet over, but this morning the Capitals are missing merely a no. 1 right wing and a no. 2 left wing. Other than that, the top 6 is set. Maybe. No one this summer, other than George McPhee, was much lining up to pick Wolski’s stick out of the pond puck pile as sides were being selected. Ditto that for Joey Crabb. And Jack Hillen.
For years, Washington’s hockey fans were tormented by a dearth of reliable playmaking pivots in town to set up the Sashas, Mike Knuble, Tomas Fleischmann, Jason Chimera, and Brooks Laich. Now that Mike Ribero is here, the Caps look rock solid down the middle. But out on the wing — especially in the top 6 — the Caps have gone grab-bag, journeyman, driftwood . . . and prayer, apparently.
Mathieu Perreault as a top 6 winger? That’s what the diminutive pivot told Washington’s hockey media his GM expected at his signing presser earlier this summer. Matty knows no greater admirer than I in these parts, but undersized shiftiness like his belongs where it’s been his entire hockey career, and that’s not getting thumped and concussed in corners and along walls. Moreover, Matty doesn’t possess anything approaching an on-rushing heavy shot that would force respect from any defenders.
Again, I think Kuznetsov really threw this organization a curveball with his enduring commitment to development back home, but that’s no excuse for McPhee ignoring the center of the second line for three years running, for failing to address right wing with any impact draft after draft after draft, and most especially for choosing Joel Ward over Erik Cole in free agency last summer. Now he’s paying a heavy price. And most especially so are you, the ticket-buyers.
The Caps would never admit to it, but I believe they’re rebuilding. George McPhee might credibly believe he needs a new slate of impact top 6 forwards to seriously challenge the likes of the Rangers and Penguins in the East. I would agree. The good news is those players are in the organization; the bad news is they’re overseas, and neither Evgeni Kuznetsov nor Filip Forsberg will wear a Washington sweater as the window further closes on the captain’s claim to changing the fate of hockey in Washington.