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Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Summer Thoughts

Yesterday was July 4th, our country's 235th birthday.  And it was two months ago yesterday that the Caps' 2010-2011 season ended.  The Lightning swept the Caps.  Just as the Caps breezed through (kind of) the Rangers in 5 games and fans started to think that maybe this playoff season would be different - it wasn't.

So the Caps hit the golf course early (or "on-schedule" depending on your opinion) and the Boston Bruins did what we wanted to do.  I personally think it would have been much more fun to read about Alex Ovechkin and Brooks Laich splitting a $100,000 bottle of Ace of Spades champagne, but whatever.

One thing is for certain:  this isn't the summer of 2010.  I don't think anybody will catch George McPhee saying "I don't want 5 off days to ruin our plan" this summer.  As we all know, he has been quite busy thus far.  Holy shit has he been busy.

And the consensus is (rightfully so) that George McPhee has done a helluva job thus far -- especially in net.  But seemingly some fans have gotten carried away and are already beginning to mutter the "c-word" (no, not that one ladies).  I meant "contender".  Or maybe even "Cup".

As good of a job George McPhee has done thus far, it is wayyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyy too early to start saying shit like "This is the year".

Has George McPhee pulled off some A+ moves this summer?  Yes.  Without question.  Is the team better?  Yes.  Absolutely.

But are we going to dominate this year?  I would argue that remains to be seen.  Here are some concerns:

* When all is said-and-done this summer, the Capitals will most likely either be at-the-cap or barely below it. That leaves very little margin for error in George McPhee's moves. He will have a hard time addressing any problems uncovered during the regular season.

* While I like our top-7 defensemen very much (sub Alzner for Poti), it starts to get murky once you hit defenseman #8 (Sean Collins).  One injury come playoff time and that could screw-up everything.  See Dennis Wideman this past year.  Just a gut feeling, but I get scared when I think about just having 6 of our 7 top d-men healthy.  Something about being able to rest capable d-men on occasion makes me comfortable.  Maybe this is a common concern among NHL teams, but it still applies to the Caps......

* Ultimately, what we are changing with our forwards is "character" and "leadership".  That makes sense to some degree.  And many would like to believe that is a damning indictment of just Alexander Semin.  But Semin isn't the captain and he's not the coach.  You get my drift?

* When we start publicly blabbing about what system we think will win us a Stanley Cup, we look amateurish and predictable.  Honestly, when it comes to systems, I don't think we have a frickin' clue what we are doing. One minute we are offensive, the next minute we are defensive.  Guess what?  Neither worked.

* So that leaves our coach, Bruce Boudreau, and our top offensive talent of Alex Ovechkin, Nick Backstrom, and Alex Semin.  There is still some disconnect there.  God forbid, we have the wrong "top-talent".  Or maybe the "top-talent" isn't being harnessed properly.  This all needs to be figured out if we are going to have any shot at a Cup.  And I think it is a little more complicated than trading Alex Semin.  My biggest fear is that if it is the coach, we won't know until another catastrophic, early playoff exit.  And if we don't get our coaching/top-talent/system situation figured out til next summer - that does us no good.

* Mike Knuble is old!  And he had an o-k season last time around.  While there is no long-term exposure to him, I don't know how productive he will be this season as a top-6 forward.

* The Brooks Laich deal and the Joel Ward deal could go either way.  Only time will tell if these were savvy moves or if GMGM grossly overpaid for them.  In many ways this depends on the coach/system/top-talent issue I talked about earlier.  I like both Laich/Ward, but again, that only gets you so far......

* Tomas Vokoun is ultimatey unproven in the playoffs.  While a helluva pickup, we really don't know if he has playoff "nerves of steel".  I would like to think he does.  We really just don't know.

Where we are and Where we are going:

* According to Capgeek, we have $544,872 of cap space with a roster of 22 people.  We need to shift a couple people around and add a 23rd person to get a more accurate reading.

Goaltending and Defense:

* Goaltending is fine - in many ways.  But specifically, I mean that it is accurate on capgeek.  Vokoun and Neuvirth are our guys.

* On D:  Swap out Poti with Alzner.  Add Sean Collins.

* The 23rd person on our team (for my calculations) will be defenseman #8, Sean Collins. Tom Poti is LTIR'd.  I would argue we can re-sign Karl Alzner and add Sean Collins ($525,000) for the price of Tom Poti ($2.875M).

* So, on defense, while the people change a bit, generally speaking, we are talking no net change in cap space allotment.


* On O:  Take out D.J. King and Jay Beagle.  Add Troy Brouwer.  And for now, add Mattias Sjogren.

* The 13th forward might wind up being Beagle or Cody Eakin.  But, Sjogren has the highest salary ($900k) so I'll use him.

* Initial money available = $544,872 cap space + 637,500 King + 512,500 Beagle = $1,694,872

* Subracting 900k Sjogren = $794,872 available to sign Troy Brouwer

* That's obviously not going to happen.  So, assuming $3M for Troy Brouwer, we'll be over the cap by $2.2M or so.  Hopefully, Brouwer is signed for a little less than that?  We shall see.....

Who gets shipped:

* Semin is most likely candidate.  But you can't just trade him for picks.  There goes the talent.  You have to get some decent, immediate talent ($3M in salary) in return for Semin.

* Any salary picked up from incoming player will obviously eat at the cap savings.  So, in a good trade, you are probably only saving 3.5M in cap space by trading Semin.

* Even if the Caps trade Semin, they'll still probably be "right at the cap" or ~$1M under it.  Is that really where we want to be heading into the season?

* So then what?  Trade Mike Green? Chimera?  Fehr?  Knuble?  How close to the cap is McPhee willing to be during the regular season?  At what point does it affect the quality of our current roster?

* And, of course, this all assumes Semin is tradeable.  What if no team wants him?  How the hell are we going to shed salary then?

* We shall see, but my point is that the Caps "cap situation" is a bit more dicey than I would have originally thought.

In summary:

I like what McPhee has done thus far.  The moves have either made the team grittier or more talented.  The team is better than when it got its ass-whooped by Tampa Bay in the 2nd round.

But, there is still some more juggling to do.  And I would argue that it is the upcoming trade and juggling (not what has already been done) that will determine whether or not McPhee had a successful summer.

I am excited for the upcoming season.  It is filled with lots of potential and promise.  But then again, aren't they all at this time of year?

We'll see what happens.  Get excited.  But don't go planning any parades just yet.  Long way to go......

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