The Washington Capitals were far and away the best regular season team last year. The Caps scored 36 more goals than any other team in the league, with a home record of 30-5-6, winning the Eastern conference by over 15 points. In a conference that was considered “weak”, a team with those credentials should have, and was considered a favourite, to go very deep into the playoffs. Alas, it was not to be, as the Capitals were finished off by the underdog team that caught fire; the Montreal Canadiens.
Alexander Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom are two budding superstars, and after Backstrom’s recent contract, these are players that Caps fans will be lucky enough to watch for years to come.
When higher seeded teams exit early from the playoffs, many point to the teams’ offensive superstars’ lack of potency. However, that can’t be said for the Caps and why they didn’t win the series; Ovechkin and Backstrom both had five goals with Ovechkin getting 10 points in the series, one better than Backstrom’s nine. Conversely, the teams’ other main offensive weapons, Mike Green and Alexander Semin, productivity was simply lacking throughout the entire series. They combined for zero goals, five assists and a +1 rating. Semin had 44 shots, 10 more than Alexander Ovechkin, but he simply couldn’t translate shots into goals. Hot goalies have won more than their share of playoff series over the years, but with Semin’s shot, speed, and hands he should have done better.
That’s what I’m here to discuss.
Alexander Semin has one of the most lethal shots in the game right now, along with his team-mate Ovechkin and the current marquee free agent, Ilya Kovalchuk. He had 40 goals and 44 assists in 73 games last year, translating to an impressive 1.15 PPG average. He is currently signed to a one year deal worth six million dollars per year. He’s a superstar right? A superstar any team would kill to have, but maybe not a team with two other equally talented players already taking up such a large chunk of cap space.
This year the Capitals signed Eric Belanger to fortify the third line with a good gritty two way player that can chip in when needed. They are also mentioned as possible suitors for defenceman free agent Willie Mitchell or said to be acquiring a similar tough gritty veteran shut down defenceman via a trade. With an estimated $1.85 million going to Belanger, the team theoretically has the ‘Michael Nylander’ cap space available for that bruising defencemen.
Even with that defensive addition though, are they solid enough on the backend to go into the season, and ultimately do battle for the Stanley Cup in eight months time?
Right now the Capitals have Green, Tom Poti, Jeff Schultz, Karl Alzner, and John Carlson, with John Erskine and Tyler Sloan playing the 6/7 spots. And perhaps more interestingly, the team is going to go with the tandem of young kids Michael Neuvirth and Semyon Varlamov in net. And with a large number of contracts coming off the books after this season, the Capitals are positioned very well to execute a mini blow up and try to redefine the supporting role to their two (three if you include Green) superstars and make another run.
But, is that defensive top 6 good enough? Deep enough to provide their young goaltenders and offensive minded forwards the confidence and ability to worry no more?
I just don’t know. I don’t know that in this day and age a ‘run and gun’ offence is enough. It’ll win you regular season games, we saw the Caps do that last season. However, when it comes to the playoffs, you need an anchor back there, and if not one, then you need two. So my suggestion is this: sign Willie Mitchell and trade Alex Semin for an equal player, playing a different position. There has to be a team out there that is deep enough on the blue line to think that they too could sacrifice one of their top defencemen to get that extra offensive weapon to help their team make the playoffs, and, in the process, draw a few more fans into the building.
I think a Washington team with a little more stability and attitude on the blue line would translate into a longer spring run this coming season.