The Washington Capitals have been rather quiet in the last few weeks of this summer. They shot out of the cannon on Draft Day by acquiring centerman Mike Ribeiro from the Dallas Stars for winger/prospect Cody Eakin. Unlike last summer when General Manager George McPhee (GMGM) went on a spree with goaltender Tomas Vokoun, wingers Troy Brouwer and Joel Ward, centerman Jeff Halpern and defenseman Roman Hamrlik, this summer has been the opposite. In the last few weeks, the Caps have signed 'small name' players to fill in the roster. Joey Crabb, an 'energy' player who will most likely play with Hendricks and Beagle and spend time on the penalty kill, was signed after a solid year in Toronto. Jack Hillen, signed out of Nashville, is a stay-at-home defenseman who solid in his own end and will fit in well with someone like Orlov - both Crabb and Hillen played together at Colorado College. Ryan Stoa (Avalanche) and Zach Hamill (trade with Boston for Chris Bourque) will most likely play with Hershey. Aside from them, the only real 'splash' the Caps made was signing Wojtek Wolski for a league minimum $600k. Wolski spent his time in Florida last year but battled through injuries. Before he was signed by Washington, GMGM brought him in for an interview and was willing to take a chance on a player that knows this could be his last chance at playing in the NHL:
“We’re willing to take a chance here but we need a commitment from you,” McPhee said. "He was really good, really honest, real blunt. He said: ‘I know my career’s on the line. I have to play better. I took my foot off the gas the last couple years.’ This year was a tough one for him because he was hurt, but I think he scored the 65 points, got a big contract and just didn’t play as hard as he should have after that.”
Wolski will play in the Caps top-6, and, if he can be re-inspired, could bring the Caps an added scoring touch that was lost when Alex Semin signed with Carolina.
With the small tweaks that GMGM has done with the roster this summer as opposed to summers past, many fans are wondering if something big is in the works. GMGM has always kept quiet about his intentions in the off-season and at the trade deadline. There are rarely any rumors floating around about potential signings or trades, and with the loss of Semin, Mike Knuble, who's career might be at a close unless he gets a try out invititation from ANYone, Jeff Halpern (Rangers), Keith Aucoin (Toronto), Dennis Wideman (Calgary) and Tomas Vokoun (Pittsburg), one has to think that GMGM is trying to wheel one last deal before the start of the season. Here's a look at the Caps' roster if the season started tomorrow:
Alex Ovechkin - Nicklas Backstrom - Troy Brouwer
Wojtek Wolski - Mike Ribeiro - Marcus Johansson
Jason Chimera - Brooks Laich - Joel Ward
Matt Hendricks - Jay Beagle - Joey Crabb
Karl Alzner - John Carlson
Roman Hamrlik - Mike Green
Dmitry Orlov - Jack Hillen
John Erskine - Jeff Schultz
While this doesn't look as bad as it sounds, the Caps are a little over $59M and have a little over $10M to spend going into the season. GMGM has said, and this mosy likely from experience considering some of the questionable signings in the past, that he'd rather wait until the season moves along to acess what needs to be done. One thing is for sure - the Caps need a veteran presence in the locker room. With Mike Knuble gone, the Caps have lost a great locker room guy that can 'rally the troops' and with an already shaky leadership system, they're gonna need someone new to come in and kick a little butt. They also need secondary scoring if the Wolski experiment fails. If the Caps are going to spend some more money before the season starts, here's my top-ten list of who they could, or even should, go after:
1. Brian Rolston - at 39 years old, he piled up 15 points in the final 21 games last season after he was traded to Boston. He's still a great power-play guy with a nasty, heavy slap-shot. He's also a great voice in the locker room.
2. Petr Sykora - made the Devils last season out of training camp at 35 years old. Knows Adam Oates very well. He's very inexpensive and could fill in nicely while helping the other players learn the new system.
3. Shane Doan - Not gonna happen. He's either going to stay in the West (San Jose?) or make it big on broadway. Either way, GMGM is definitely making calls - who wouldn't?
4. Jason Blake - at 38 years old, he's struggled the last few seasons being in Anaheim with last year being his worst yet. A change of scenery could be all he needs to score at least 20 goals this year. He can gain respect easily and works very hard.
5. Kristian Huselius - at 33 years old, he could bring some added scoring, although he may not have that leadership quality that the Caps need.
6. Andrei Kostitsyn - I know, another Russian. But he could gel with Ovechkin and add that secondary scoring. He's 27 and is entering his prime and could be had for a discount if no one else is interested.
7. Andrew Brunette - remember when? He was drafted by the Caps a long time ago and, at 38, could bring some leadership. He could tap in a few goals, too.
8. Jonathan Cheecho - Poor kid scores 50 goals in 05-06, slumps it the next few seasons then gets buried in the minors. Like Wolski, he feels he has more to prove, and at the league minimum, why not?
9. Tomas Holmstrom - He says it's the "Red Wings or retirement", but GMGM has to as least try. He's probably the only player in the league that has the balls enough to stand in front of the net and not blink while Ovechkin tees it up. He battled injuries last season, but at 39, he's still a work horse.
10. Eric Fehr - He was injured last year with Winnipeg and is not in their plans anymore.
It would be nice to see Fehr come back and get a fresh start with the Caps. Playing with Ribeiro could spark him to score 20-30 goals. Probably not gonna happen, but he was a fan favorite in the community.
First-things-first though, the Capitals must re-sign John Carlson. It's kind of a big deal. The qualifying offer Carlson turned down was a league formality and needed to be done, so anyone thinking that GMGM is trying to throw a wrench into Carlson's career with the Caps, he's not. Carlson is the future of the Caps defense and he'll get a nice lengthy deal somewhere around $5.5M. He will be signed. Fret not.
The Caps could take this roster until November or December until they decided whether or not to move forward with additions or subtractions. Though, it is another transition year for the Caps with Oates at the helm, his style should 'wake the dragon' that was the Caps offense, and hopefully the Holtby-Neuvirth tandem can hold strong. If not, I wonder how interested the Caps would be in bringing Cristobel Huet back. He's been in the Swiss League the last two years and is eager for an NHL return. He played very well for the Caps for 13 games in 2008, going 11-2, but could not reach a long-term deal. Holtby might be ready for his starring role, but it still remains to be seen, and Neuvirth will once again be battling for the number one spot. If by November the goaltending is still questionable, one of these two will be gone and my vote goes to Neuvirth. Nothing against the kid, but he has to be frustrated with the goaltending carousel and the lack of consistency. The Caps could get a great return on him like they did with Semyon Varlamov and fill a missing piece on the roster. Other goaltenders available at this point in free agency:
1. Antero Nittymaki - at 32 he's still a solid goalie and knows his role.
2. Dan Ellis - was injured last year in Anaheim, but could be darkhorse starter.
3. Marty Turco - came back for 10 games in Boston, but was not eligible to play in post season. Knows he is now in the 'mentor-role' stage of his career.
4. Dwayne Roloson - at 42, he had his worst season of his career in Tampa and still wants to show he has a lot left in the tank.
5. Brent Johnson - injured last year in Pittsburg, but he has always been a reliable back up. It would be nice to see him in DC again and he's good friends with Kolzig.
6. Dominik Hasek - the guy wants to return to the NHL at 47. Hasek is apparently in great shape and was still playing at the international level, but unless a team wants him for novelty purposes, I can't see anyone signing him. Still interesting though and if he wants to be a mentor, who better to learn from?
I'm not saying the Caps need to look for goaltending anytime soon, but they still have to kick the tires on some of these guys. Their pipeline is pretty stocked, but goalies take a long time to develop in this league and most of these kids won't be ready for another 5-10 years.
The season starts in 64 days, 21 hours, 31 minutes and 38..37...36...seconds. And it couldn't come fast enough.