There are many ways to win consistently in the NHL. One of those can be by having the right talent, another by having a great system and sticking to it. It doesn’t necessarily matter whether it’s offense or defense-oriented or a little of both, a team with a solid approach that plays it well game-after-game can sometimes make up for talent issues on a roster. And even teams with the best players need a good plan.
In this lockout-shortened season that came without a proper training camp and preseason, it’s apparent that the Washington Capitals could have used that time to learn their new coach’s system. It’s also clear that Adam Oates and the Caps could use a bit more talent in certain areas, one of them being within the six forwards on their first two lines.
With the Caps coming off a 4-0 win in Winnipeg Thursday night, now might seem like an odd time to talk about one of the areas where the team is lacking. But, if the Caps keep winning and make the playoffs or even just miss it, the issue could rear its head again. And, going into next season, it will likely need to be addressed for the team to become a true threat.
In their top six forwards, the Caps have three very talented skill players in Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom and Mike Ribeiro. They also have several wingers who are top six material as a compliment to these players.
For example, Brooks Laich, just back from an injury, is a talented and capable left wing that the team can try pairing up with the Ovechkin-Backstrom duo. 22 year-old Marcus Johansson has struggled to develop further as a player while showing promise at times in his still-young NHL career, but he may be another who can be plugged in alongside Backstrom and Ovechkin as he was on Thursday.
Matt Hendricks has also been tried on the top line, though he may deliver better value skating on a lower one. And it appears that Wojtek Wolski and Jason Chimera are done, at least presently, getting time with the top unit.
On the second line with Ribeiro, Troy Brouwer is a solid choice at right wing. With 11 goals and 21 points in 29 games this season, Brouwer is putting up numbers that justify his $3.6 million cap hit and the move the team made to acquire him two summers ago.
On the left side of the second line, Oates can plug-in any number of players, such as he did with Laich last night while skating Johnasson in that spot on the top line. Eric Fehr is also an option as are some others. However, with their current roster of players, it is here on that left side of Ribeiro that the Caps run into the hole in their top six.
Washington has good players that can be used in this second line role, but they are guys that, when put in a top six spot, should mostly be used to complement a skilled duo. The top line currently has Backstrom and Ovechkin. The second has Ribeiro and needs someone else in the highly skilled department, even with Brouwer putting up some nice numbers this season.
In past years, the Caps had a legitimate goal-scoring threat on the left side of their second line in Alexander Semin, but he rarely had the opportunity to play with a second line-caliber center. The Caps now have that center in Ribeiro, but let Semin go and have yet to properly replace him.
Should Washington play well the next week or so and decide to become buyers at this season’s April 3 trade deadline, a deal for a sniping or highly skilled left wing should be high on their list. And going into October and the 2013-14 season, it’s an issue they should eliminate if they are to become a top team again.
The Caps could get by without this player, if they execute Oates’ system consistently. But even then, to take the team’s play to the next level and make them tougher to shut down, the Caps could use someone to fill this gap in their top six.
- The case for trading Mike Ribeiro (brookslaichyear.com)
- A look at next season’s Washington Capitals defense and Jeff Schultz (brookslaichyear.com)
- Soon might be the time for Caps to trade goaltender Michal Neuvirth (brookslaichyear.com)
Some of the Caps fanbase on Twitter and other social media outlets seems a bit uneasy about the fact that the Caps have not yet made a big splash in the free agency market. While certain players may have made some sense (i.e. PA Parenteau), I’m in no way bothered by the Caps lack of activity thus far. I would rather the team save the cap space to address needs at a date later than July 1st than rashly fill a hole in a manner that will likely prove to be inadequate or with a contract that will become regrettable. That being said, there are holes on this roster that need to be fixed, most notably, a winger to replace Alex Semin on the second line.
The Caps filled a major hole on the roster by acquiring Mike Ribeiro from the Dallas Stars. However, with the impending departure of Semin via free agency, the Caps still have some work to do in terms of their top 2 lines. Given the lack of top-6 talent on the free agent market, the Caps may be best served to make a deal for a winger to play on one of the top two lines, which brings us to scenario one…
Trade for Bobby Ryan or a similar player.
This scenario was brought up recently over at Japers’ Rink with the hypothetical package of Dmitri Orlov, Marcus Johansson and a 1st round pick going to Anaheim for Bobby Ryan. For a good debate on the value of that deal, head on over and read the comments section. For my purposes here, I’ll assume the value makes sense for both teams. If this trade were to happen, or one for a player similar to Ryan, the Caps group of forwards would look like this:
Perreault-Backstrom/Ribeiro-Ryan( or similar player)
Is Perreault a top-6 winger? No. But could he be a serviceable option given the quality of the players on his line as well as the quality of the other lines? I would vote yes. The top two lines would have plenty of scoring and prove difficult to play against with physical players such as Ovechkin, Brouwer and a Ryan-type player. I see no question marks with the third and fourth lines listed above, they’d make Dale Hunter proud (and probably be his first and second lines).
However, we can play arm-chair GM all we want, but it doesn’t magically make Bobby Ryan or a similar player available and/or affordable. So what if the Caps can’t bring in a second-line winger? What if the contract or asking price for such a player is currently at a level that will do more harm than good for the Caps? This bring us to scenario 2…
Sign Jason Arnott
This comes with a disclaimer. Ultimately, the Caps need a to acquire a 2W, not Jason Arnott. Without acquiring a winger to play on the second line, the Caps are not legitimate Cup contenders. But what if nothing makes sense? Should the Caps stand pat? Depending on the what’s available, possibly, but I hope it doesn’t come to that. Instead, the Caps should put a band-aid on the situation and wait until a trade for a 2W opens up. A band-aid type fix would involve bringing in a player on a short-term, low-risk deal so as not to handcuff the team should a 2W becomes available. To me, the easiest way to do this is to sign a player to solidify the center spot on the third line to free up Brooks Laich to play wing on the second line. Of all of the available free agents, Jason Arnott strikes me as the player best suited to serve in this role. He’d likely be available on a one-year deal for a reasonable amount of money. The forward lines would then look like this:
I wouldn’t have a lot of faith in this team contending for the Cup, but I don’t think it’d be a disaster over the short term, either. The intention here is to put a band-aid on the 2W situation until a legitimate one hopefully becomes available via trade during the season. This is certainly not an ideal option, but it’s better than signing Player X, who is questionably adequate to play as a 2W for the duration of his contract, to a deal that will be harmful to the team’s cap management.
Regardless of what the Caps end up doing, I like the patient approach they have opted for thus far. Doing nothing to address glaring needs is generally a better approach than addressing those needs in an inadequate or fiscally irresponsible manner. That being said, signing a player such as Arnott makes sense for the short-term. The would allow Laich to fill-in as a 2W while also not handcuffing the team financially when/if a 2W becomes available.
In an interview Wednesday morning with The Sports Junkies on 106.7 The Fan, Washington Capitals forward Brooks Laich was asked, “This is worst case scenario, but if the Caps do wind up missing the playoffs, is there one game from the past month or so that you’re going to look back on and say that’s the one that cost us a playoff spot?” Laich responded, “We’re making the playoffs. We’re not talking worst-case scenario. We’re making the playoffs.”
As Dan Steinberg wrote in a D.C. Sports Bog post about the interview, “…it was pointed out to Laich [by the Junkies] that he had just guaranteed a playoff berth. He sort of laughed, but didn’t respond.” Laich never actually used the word “guarantee” himself.
To me, it sounded like Laich didn’t quite know what to say when he ‘sort of laughed,’ as the Junkies joked that he’d just made a “guarantee.” As one of The Junkies pointed out once Laich was no longer on the line, “I think Brooks is probably saying, ‘Holy shoot, what did I just say. That’s gonna be all over the papers.’”
Laich did not back down from his comments later in the day at Caps practice, as The Washington Post’s Katie Carrera reported on the Capitals Insider blog: “I have a belief we’re going to be in the playoffs and that’s it,” Laich said. “I don’t want to discuss any scenario that we’re not. My belief is that we’re going to be in the playoffs.”
Some media outlets and Twitter users have labeled Laich’s comments a “guarantee,” like in the headline of Carrera’s Capitals Insider article that’s linked to in the previous paragraph. (Caps radio guy John Walton wasn’t a fan of that approach). Other have compared him to Mark Messier, who guaranteed a Rangers victory during the 1994 Stanley Cup Playoffs.
It seems to me that Laich is just looking at things in a confident, positive way—somewhat like Baltimore Ravens’ quarterback Joe Flacco was with statements he made this week about his quarterback skills—and, like Flacco, perhaps Laich should have chosen his words differently…or maybe not.
These two situations with Laich and Flacco are examples of how the media often chooses to focus on the sound bite that generates attention, produces web hits and causes reactions like the one from the Buffalo Sabre’s goaltender Ryan Miller about Laich’s comments. The press will pick that one statement and run with it, sometimes without providing context or the rest of the story. When the full interview is taken in, Laich’s words seem more about a mindset than a guarantee.
As for Flacco, on Tuesday he said he thinks he’s the NFL’s “best” quarterback—or at least that’s how his comments came across to some.
On CSNBaltimore.com in a post titled “What Joe really said”, John Eisenberg wrote about Flacco’s comments:
Numerous national experts weighed in with a range of opinions, many either mocking him or daring him to prove it.
My response? Yeah, yeah, big deal. Let me know when he says something interesting.
If you actually listen to the interview, which took place on WNST 1570, he merely responded to a question about whether he thought he was a “top five” quarterback by suggesting all NFL quarterbacks should believe in themselves along those lines.
“Without a doubt [I'm in the top 5],” he said. “What do you expect me to say? I would assume everybody thinks they’re a top-5 quarterback. I think I’m the best. I don’t think I’m the top 5, I think I’m the best. I wouldn’t be very successful at my job if I didn’t feel that way. That doesn’t mean that things are going to work out that way. It just means that’s the way it is – that’s the way I feel that it is and that’s the way I feel it should be.”
Going back to Laich’s comments, Buffalo Sabres coach Lindy Ruff commented to the Buffalo News, when told about them: “Those are all predictions that you live with, you die with, you hope to motivate your team with. He probably believes sincerely they’re gonna make it. They probably like their schedule, their chances of playing Florida in their building. We got our work cut out for us, they got theirs. Our thoughts are making the playoffs too.”
Is that a guarantee, Lindy? Quick! Somebody better go ask the Caps what they think of that.
The Caps did a lot of little things well in yesterday’s 4-3 win over the Bruins in Boston. Here are a few of them that really jumped out at me:
- The Caps stood up for their goalie beginning early on in the game, shoving away many Bruins that got near Tomas Vokoun
- John Carlson was especially impressive during one segment of a first period penalty kill, tying up the puck along the boards to waste some of the Bruins’ power play time, then roughing up Lucic a bit in front of the net as he tried to settle in there, and stepping up to block a shot to close out the sequence
- As Russian Machine pointed out on Twitter, Mike Knuble had some great puck possession time in the game.
- Alex Semin’s pass to Jay Beagle for Washington’s 3rd goal was excellent, not to mention the work to get that puck before making the pass
- Brooks Laich’s tip-in for the 4th goal was nice to see — he was set up by Alex Ovechkin for what appeared to be an even easier tip-in the previous game but missed
- Troy Brouwer’s play with one second left to knock away a puck that was about to become a shot on goal showed the Caps fighting until the very end.
I did get nervous when the Bruins pulled within one, especially after the Caps’ third period collapse at home versus the Jets a few weeks ago. But the Caps held on. We’ll see if playing back to back days affects the team’s ability to stay focused on the important details during today’s game against Toronto, who’s coming off a Saturday afternoon game against the Flyers.
Check out yesterday’s Caps-Bruins highlights on NHL.com.
Other Notes: For some great analysis, check out this post by WNST’s Ed Frankovic and his theory on why the Caps have played better this week. >>> I was really impressed with Dmitry Orlov in overtime during the Caps win against Tampa on Thursday night. Mike Vogel has a nice look at the rookie defenseman on the Dump ‘n’ Chase blog. >>> Finally, what would it take for CSNWashington to give us a Caps pre-game show before every game? As I noted on Twitter yesterday, it seems there’s been enough interest in the Caps to justify it and these five minutes intros we get before the puck drops for some games, like yesterday’s, feel very rushed.
In case you missed anything, below are links to all the happenings this weekend at BrooksLaichyear.com:
- Looking at the bigger picture and the dollars of the Caps continued season ticket price increases, with an example of 400 level Verizon Center seats that have gone up 90.7% in five seasons.
- Speaking of ticket prices, here is a heads up on some upcoming Caps games you might be able to get into for cheap
- BrooksLaichyear.com is not yet a month old, but Brooks Laich has been with the organization for 8 years as of this weekend
I recently wrote that I thought Jeff Carter was the guy the Caps needed to go after instead of the safer options like Saku Koivu (although, with the Ducks’ recent run, he may be off the market) Derek Roy or any other center from Columbus.
Adam over at Kings of Leonsis recently brought up the name of Steve Ott, which is a suggestion as unique as it is interesting. I hadn’t thought off Ott as an option but as I read Adam’s post, the name made more and more sense to me.
While I still want the Caps to pursue Carter first and foremost, Ott has been a distant second on my wish list but his remaining years on his contract make me a little hesitant. Enter pending UFA, Paul Gaustad.
Why he fits
- He is over 56% in the faceoff circle. Between him and Jeff Halpern, the Caps would be set on draws.
- If the Caps can’t bring in a legit 2C (in my opinion, the only one worth pursuing is Jeff Carter) then I think the next best option is to put Brooks Laich there (I’m not saying Laich is better than the other options, it is more of a Cost-Benefit analysis thing). Bringing Gaustad in to play 3C would allow the Caps to put Laich with Semin and Johansson or Knuble on the 2nd line and give them a gritty shutdown line of Gaustad, Chimera and Ward.
- I’ve mentioned on the site before that I think team toughness is an issue the Caps need to address. I think adding a player who is listed at 6′ 5″ 220lbs with 580 PIM’s in 474 career games would go a long way in addressing that issue.
- He is a UFA at the end of the season so we won’t be handcuffed with any type of long-term deal and his cap hit of $2.3 million for this season could fit on this team without GMGM having to get too creative.
- He should come relatively cheap compared to other options that have been mentioned as trade deadline targets for the Caps. I think a 2nd round pick, if that, could get the deal done. If not, I certainly don’t think any prospect/player added to the deal would be one that would make Caps fans cringe.
I spoke above about cost-benefit analysis, something that I think GMGM is generally very good at come deadline day (contract extensions are a different story). He generally does a very good job at finding a player who is a nice fix for the Caps without mortgaging the future to bring that guy in.
In my post about Jeff Carter I said it was time to abandon that philosophy and I still largely stand by that. However, if GMGM sticks to his general deadline day philosophy, I think a name that makes a lot of sense for the Caps is Paul Gaustad.