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Thursday, July 12, 2007

Are The Capitals The Next Penguins?    

I don't know if you've been paying attention, but the Capitals have had a pretty excellent offseason.

On the free agency front, they made a slew of smart deals.  They signed pass-first center Michael Nylander to feed Alex Ovechkin for the foreseeable future.  They added power-play specialist Tom Poti to their bombed-out and depleted corps of defensemen.  They signed Viktor Kozlov to provide depth to the scoring lines.  Considering that their only front-line scorers last year were Ovechkin, Alexander Semin (show of hands if you knew he'd scored 38 goals last year), journeyman Chris Clark, and assorted turds, all this is very, very good news.

But more indicative of the team's direction, they brought 2006 1st-rounders C Nicklas Backstrom and G Simeon Varlamov into the fold and into America, with Backstrom a likely candidate to contribute immediately.  They've amassed a pretty ridiculous crop of young talent... Joe Finley, Backstrom, Varlamov, Sami Lepisto, reigning QMJHL MVP Mathieu Perrault, Eric Fehr, Chris Bourque, Tomas Fleischmann, and more.  That talent base is pretty excellent.  They're not all ready to contribute, but they're fast approaching their collective tipping point; sooner or later, the Caps will have no choice but to find big-boy ice time for the youngsters.

At any rate, it's safe to say this year's Caps should be improved.  After the Dainius Zubrus trade, they didn't have a single center on the roster worthy of the #1 line; now they have Nylander, and possibly Viktor Kozlov or even Backstrom taking second-line pivot duty.  Given what Ovechkin managed with hardly any help besides Zubrus, what would he be capable of with a better center in Nylander and a legitimate scoring threat in Kozlov at his side?  (All due respect, I see Clark as more of a beneficiary of OV than a legit 30-goal guy.)  And if the best-case scenario on Backstrom comes through, and he's pivoting the second line between Semin and Clark by season's end, isn't that group of six formidable enough to make you go "hmmmmmmmm"?

The defense is still awfully shaky.  They have a fair amount of talent, but they're in trouble if Tom Poti is not just their #1 defenseman but the clear #1.  Good as the youngsters are (Shaone Morrisonn, Milan Jurcina, Bryan Pothier) they're not enough, barring a major breakthrough.  They're probably not going to get much better until the likes of Finley and Karl Alzner are ready to drop the hammer on the blue line... or unless they scare up a true shut-down defenseman some other way.

As for the goaltenting, 37-year-old Olie Kolzig is likely to break down before Varlamov stakes a claim to the net.  And Brent Johnson isn't deserving of the job he has, let alone a starting spot.  That's going to be a major problem pretty soon.

So the team isn't playoff-ready yet.  But at least the light at the end of the tunnel is not just visible but growing.  There's an actual vision for the future now.  It's kinda nice to see that the days of budget operations and treading water appear to be over.

Now if only they'd stop pulling our pants down on ticket prices...

2 Comments:

  • Also of note is the fact that I discussed Alexander Semin without making any jokes.

    By Blogger Jeff, at 4:53 PM  

  • On this topic, OFB is watching Capitals rookie camp, and has much more helpful observations, since he's actually watching the prospects in question.

    By Blogger Jeff, at 11:25 AM  

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