Yes, Caps fans, change is the offseason's buzzword. As the Caps' season was thankfully on its way to being put to rest, the slogan 'Change is Coming' was (for good reason) broadcasted for any fans still paying attention.
So, what changes can Caps fans expect?
The Caps will unveil their new red, white & blue Reebok EDGE jerseys at June's NHL Entry Draft in Columbus, OH. The new jerseys will reportedly be a synthesis of their older & newer styles.
A scoring-line center, a solidifying defenseman and a veteran winger are the three offseason addition priorities. GM George McPhee has stated his intention of beating around the trade bush whenever possible rather than going the free agent route. One, if not more, will still likely be added via free agency but it's an open question whether the Caps are able to spark the interest of top-end free agents (let alone willing to sign them large long-term deals).
Given that many of their younger players will need new contracts in the next year or two, a strategy of not overextending oneself via free agency is a wise one. Keeping Washington's young core intact will become increasingly difficult in the years ahead yet there seems to be an understanding in the front office that youthful skill alone won't make the club a playoff contender. Additional veteran leadership and experience is needed to help this young club stay focused, forge out an identity and up the overall talent & depth of the club.
Swedish phenom center Nicklas Backstrom will reportedly be signed following the World Championships in Moscow. He'll add much needed skill and playmaking presence up the middle but the Caps could use a more experienced offensive wizard at center to compliment Backstrom, tutor him and, if necessary, pick up the slack if he has trouble adjusting to the smaller ice surface. He's reportedly sought an out-clause in case he doesn't make the team but that should be the last of his worries. He's penciled in to play on the second line while centering Alexander Semin, unless the front office fails to bring in another skilled center in which case he'd likely move up and center Ovechkin.
Owner Ted Leonsis made a large symbolic admission when, late in the season, he said that the time for rebuilding was over. If the Caps learned nothing else this season (and this goes for the fire sale as well, in many respects) it's that a team without sufficient veteran experience and leadership is going to have a tough time being successful. Not to say that the Caps will add talent without regard to the big picture, but the balance between short- and long-term should be moreso in the middle.
Consistency and an overalll lack of depth has been an issue for quite some time, but the end of the season really put an exclamation point on that point. It seems as though the front office, based on their comments, has finally realized this and will act accordingly this summer. Along with this changing of the guard should be a purge of the placeholder journeymen that've taken up roster spots on the team and aren't viable long-term options. The return of Bryan Muir, Kris Beech or the (deadline-traded) Richard Zednik would be nothing but large disappointments and a sign of the status quo returning again next year.
Your guess is as good as mine in terms of who the Caps will add. McPhee has made a couple of shrewd minor trades over the last couple of years (adding Clark and Jurcina for example, along with the fire sale moves) but hasn't pulled off a really big trade since March of 2001. That deal sent Richard Zednik, Jan Bulis & a 1st in '01 (Alexander Perezhogin) to Montreal for Dainius Zubrus, Trevor Linden and a 2nd in '01 (later traded). If McPhee is to make trades over the summer, they'll likely to big similar in nature--young roster players, prospects and draft picks being dealt in exchange for more established NHL talent. Among one of their assets potentially on the move could be their top pick in June's entry draft, the fifth overall selection. While the possibility of landing a Voracek or Cherepanov makes a lot of sense over the long-term, the short-term demand of filling the club's immedate roster holes may dictate otherwise. As always, though, it'll take two to tango.