Sunday, July 17, 2011

Roster Thoughts for the 11-12 Season

Tonight. You.
So McPhee finally went ahead and signed Karl Alzner. Two years, $2.57 million. Considering most people, myself included, thought Alzner would get at least $3 million *per* year, that's a steal. While I really do believe that Alzner needs a new agent, and only half-jokingly think I could take on that role, this is a great deal as far as the Capitals organization is concerned. Today was also the last day of development camp. While the roster likely is not complete, the recent moves by McPhee have given the team some upgrades in secondary areas and given a much clearer view of who to expect on the ice this fall. My well-documented thoughts on trading Varly and Fehr and the Ward signing aside, I actually do think the roster is pretty strong.. As it stands today, here is what the roster (most likely) looks like:



This lineup assumes a couple of things, of course. First, that McPhee will not make any other trades, or at least ones involving these particular players. Second, and piggybacking on the first, that Poti will not count against the cap due to retirement or placement on long-term injured reserve, thus actually giving the team the cap space to dress these lines and give the team about $2 million in space. We know the top line is not going anywhere, same as the third line. Laich, Halpern, and Hendricks aren't going anywhere either. Nor are any of the defensemen not named Schultz.  Semin is pretty much constantly attached to various trade rumors, and Chimera is looking more and more like the odd winger out. Chimera simply does not have the skill set to be a second line winger, and he did pretty poorly last year on the third line with Johansson centering him. At the same time, he doesn't really show the physicality that is typically expected on a fourth line in today's NHL. There is always a chance that McPhee could trade him for a piece that better fits the puzzle, but I haven't seen anything on the interwebs to substantiate that thought.
A little clumsy, but it gets the job done
Likewise, Schultz is looking a bit out of place, too. Last season was not a particularly good one, and 09-10 is looking more and more like a fluke year. I would be surprised to see Hamrlik, with his experience and contract, to play anywhere but on the top pairing with Green (Schultz's usual spot), while Carlson and Alzner are too good to play third pairing. I would expect Wideman, as the other big-money puck-moving D-man, to see time on the third line as a result, with the remaining roster spot going to whoever plays best alongside him. Poti has almost no chance of seeing the roster, and Erskine is at best the 7th defensman now, possibly 8th if uber-prospect Dmitri Orlov makes the lineup. So we will accept this "lineup" with a grain of salt.

The top line is pretty much set in stone at this point. Everything else has a bit of leeway. Assuming Semin stays, he is locked in at the second line RW. There have been rumblings that Laich will see a lot of time on the third line, but I just cannot buy into that with the current payroll. Johansson is by no means ready to be a second line center on a team shooting for the Cup (honestly, I still don't see why he is on the team, but that is a different story and a battle that was lost long ago). Brouwer will probably see most of his ice time in the 2LW role. Johansson somehow won the Caps' confidence last year despite what (only I think?) was a pretty mediocre year, even for a rookie. Ranking 271st in the league while playing in 69 games really is not what you are looking for from a top-6 forward, so I think he will probably spend most of his time on the 3rd line. Joel Ward will almost certainly play the 3RW the entire season, and his skill set makes him a good fit there.

Taking "strides" to improve his game?
As for the 3LW, that was usually Jason Chimera's spot last season, but as I noted, he did not perform very well there. Instead of Chimera, I would expect that spot to go to one of the prospects. Top pick right now is probably Matias Sjogren, since he has experience playing in the Elite League, is a self-proclaimed defensive forward who has shown some scoring skill to boot, and is older than the other kids. Stanislav Galiev, while young, has looked pretty good, and will be a strong competitor for the role as well. Cody Eakin fell just short of making the team last year, and you know a guy like that has only gotten better. Not to mention ever-present fan favorite Mathieu Perreault itching to keep a Capitals sweater on for more than a few games. Chimera and Johansson have some very serious competition, and in my opinion, don't have a great chance of beating that competition based on skill alone. That being said, Boudreau and McPhee have odd loyalties, and the Caps' third line is the most volatile in terms of roster moves and line changes. The 3LW and 3C roles will be hard to know for sure until training camp, but my bets are on Sjogren and MoJo, respectively, although I think Eakin or Perreault *should* get Johansson's spot.

Coming to the fourth and final line, we all know Jeff Halpern is locked in at 4C. Matt Hendricks had a very strong season, and you can expect him to play wing. I have Chimera in at 4LW solely because I don't think he fits anywhere else, but I think he actually could fit in relatively well in that role. Halpern and Hendricks score a bit more than Gordon and Bradley while bringing comparable faceoff ability and willingness to fight the gloves, respectively. Chimera is a very fast skater, but does not have the best shot. If he plays a bit more physical, the Caps could have a very threatening fourth line in terms of energy, faceoffs, physicality, and scoring. Don't forget that the team still has D.J. King on the payroll, and he proved to be more than adequate at filling that spot the very few times he was called on to play.

This is about what it takes to pay the Capitals this year

The blue line is pretty set, too, as I hinted at earlier. Despite possibly his best season yet, I really do not see Erskine cracking the lineup on a regular basis, probably because "best season yet" still isn't all that good on a top-tier team. Schultz's primary competition will probably be from Orlov, who has spent the past year proving himself capable at moving the puck and knocking guys around. With his $2.75 million cap hit, too, a team struggling to reach the cap floor could be interested in Schultz. Erskine's $1.5 million would help some teams, too. Shedding either of those contracts would further help the Caps by giving them a bit of breathing room in terms of salary cap. Those kind of moves may come after the season starts, though. But Orlov is still young, and would not be hurt by a year with the Bears. Lastly, the goaltending situation is all but set in stone. Vokoun is your starter (as he should be), Neuvirth is your backup (as he should be), and Holtby will get one more year with the Bears (including a year being coached by Kolzig, as he should).

It is very hard to deny that Washington has a very strong roster on paper. I still do not feel all that confident about the season. Boudreau showed himself to be a fairly laughable coach last season. I know he is the winningest coach since the lockout, but let's be honest, with that team it would be pretty hard not to be, unless you have lost the team a la Glen Hanlon. Which is what I expect this year. Boudreau will be coaching a lot of guys that he doesn't know from his time with the Bears. He will have to deal with guys coming from other teams, both successful and otherwise. Ovechkin and Backstrom languished a bit last year while BB tried to figure out how not to get fired. Brouwer has made it clear that he does not want to play the linejumping game, being one of the top reasons he did not want to re-sign with Chicago. The team has made terrible showings in the playoffs. They finally broke the seven-game-per-series trend this year, only to barely play more than seven games total. Add the way that McPhee treated Varly and Fehr in terms of keeping them posted (or even aware) of trade negotiations involving them, and how little he paid Alzner after dragging the process out, and I do not think that team morale will be all that high. Bad morale + bad coaching = bad season. I hope I am wrong, that McPhee's moves will free the scorers up to score while the grinders grind and play responsibly, and the veterans lend their experience and knowledge. Until then, I remain cautiously pessimistic.

Guess which one I am

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