The Washington Capitals are close to a Stanley Cup. Real close.
After falling in seven games to Pittsburgh, the best team in the Eastern Conference (don’t let that No. 4 seed fool you), the Caps are just a few changes away from the promised land. And after a huge let down in the biggest hockey game this town has seen in 10 years, the speculation of those changes will fuel all the excitement until training camp begins in the fall.
So let’s start at the top, shall we. Let’s start with Alex Ovechkin.
No, silly, I’m not advocating to trade the best player in the world, even if Bill Simmons thinks him to be a villain. But I wouldn’t mind seeing him moved – from the power play point to the left wall.
It’s not that Ovechkin does a bad job at the point with Mike Green, but on the wall he’ll force the defender to choose his poison between the leading goal-scoring forward and the leading goal-scoring defenseman. Making him commit one way or the other would open up that side of the ice, giving some room to either sniper and allowing them to skate to the center of the slot for a higher percentage shot. Plus, it wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world to have someone besides Green (95 giveaways) and Ovechkin (107) as the last men back. Giveaways may not be the best stat, but Ovechkin still led the NHL in the category, with Green not far back. That could be a big reason the Caps allowed 11 short-handed goals this season, the fifth-most in the league.
But who am I kidding? The offseason is all about roster moves and the Caps have plenty of questions in that department. Let’s take a look.
How do the Caps beat the Cap?
The Capitals have about $7.7 million to play with. But if they can find a taker for Michael Nylander and his $4.875 million per year cap hit, they can really add a big piece to the puzzle.
GM George McPhee said it wouldn’t make sense to buy out the Swedish center, but making your third-highest-paid player a healthy scratch in the playoffs seems even less logical. If the Caps are going to make any big moves this offseason, Nylander needs to be cut loose in one form or another.
And with talented, and cost-effective, Simeon Varlamov emerging in the crease, dumping presumed backup goalie Jose Theodore ($4.5 million) wouldn’t hurt either.
How much will Sergei Fedorov pay for a Stanley Cup?
Okay, so he’s not actually going to buy one, but he’ll still have to take a discount from his $4 million salary last season for the Caps to retain him. It’s not that Feds isn’t worth the investment, but Washington has bigger needs – a hulking defenseman and a goal-crashing forward.
Would you rather spend $4 million on Fedorov, or use it to make up the difference in salary between Chris Pronger and Shaone Morrisonn? What about signing a Cup-winning crease-crasher like Eric Cole?
Feds is great for the Caps, and no one will forget Game 7 against the Rangers. However, his price tag needs to drop for it to make sense to hang on to him.
Who do the Caps target to play power forward?
Nothing against Viktor Kozlov, but the Caps need a harder working player opposite Ovechkin. When a guy takes 528 shots on goal, there are going to be a lot of rebounds, and Washington needs someone who will grind to deposit them in the back of the net. Especially in the playoffs. As was noted in the Washington Post, the Caps struggled with physical players like Brandon Dubinsky, Ryan Callahan and Bill Guerin. Of their eight combined playoff goals thus far, five of them were within 15 feet. Those are the types of goals the Caps lacked this season and they need to fill that void.
Want some possibilities? Cole is a free agent ($4 million last season, 18 goals), as is St. Louis veteran Keith Tkachuk ($4.5 M, 25 G), who could add some veteran leadership to the young club as well. Another possibility? Lift free-agent-to-be Guerin ($4.5 M, 21 G) from the Pens. We all saw the flag he planted at the post of the Caps’ goal last series and he moves the puck well, too.
Trade targets? Shane Doan and his $4.55 million deal with the cash-strapped Coyotes could be available for prospects and/or picks. And the Lightning, also looking to cut salary, would love to find a taker for Ryan Malone’s $4.25 million package. Maybe the Caps wouldn’t mind some of the 26 goals he scored.
Can the Caps net the D-man they need in free agency?
Pickings are slim for shut-down defensemen in free agency. Jay Bouwmeester is the top candidate and if the Caps are going to shell out big bucks, do they really want to commit to a guy who’s never seen the playoffs?
Mattias Ohlund of the Canucks and Mike Komisarek of the Canadiens are also possibilities, but Komisarek will be in high demand on the thin blueline market. That leaves just one other opportunity.
Do the Caps make the blockbuster trade?
Here’s where the real fun begins. Around the trade deadline, the Caps were asking about Anaheim defenseman Chris Pronger. The name rumored to be heading to Anaheim for Pronger? Alexander Semin.
That’s a big price tag, as 30 goal scorers don’t grow on trees, but a deal with those two principle players would solve a lot of problems. Pronger’s deal expires after next season and it’s going to be tough for Washington to ink both Semin and Nicklas Backstrom as restricted free agents. It would be a gutsy move, but it’s juicy, isn’t it? And this season is all about juicy rumors.