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Evgeny Kuznetsov vs. Andre Burakovsky

What do Evgeny Kuznetsov and Andre Burakovsky have in common?

They’re poised to make a splash for the Washington Capitals in their first (full) NHL seasons. Neither is a natural centerman, but both have worked to adapt to the position under coach Barry Trotz. And both are in the running for second-line center.

But who is more qualified for the position? Who will be most successful?

It’s tough to predict offensive totals for rookies like Burakovsky, who shone in the uber-inflated OHL. Scoring runs high, and he was one of the league’s strongest offensive players. That’s not to say Burakovsky won’t be successful, but he had incredible linemates during his time with the Erie Otters. In Washington, he won’t be paired with a handful of scoring machines like Connor McDavid or Dane Fox. Trotz has penciled him in as the team’s 3C, where he’ll probably spend most minutes with Joel Ward and Jason Chimera–both effective, grinding, play-driving wingers.

In the OHL, Burakovsky played left wing. The Otters’ surplus of high-quality centers helped set him up (literally) to score 41 goals in 57 games. His 46 assists were also impressive, and hopefully indicative of his. If Burakovsky centers Ward and Chimera, he’ll be aiming to help Ward and Chimera continue their positive trends in scoring. In the preseason, he’s played his new position with a variety of linemates, even on the first line. Trotz is clearly pleased with the results and all but stated that his position on the team is secure.

So how likely is Burakovsky to steal the 2C spot from Kuznetsov?

Let’s turn to the statistics side of things (my efforts to track down fancy stats in major junior have been far from successful.)

Rob Vollman, author of Hockey Abstract, estimates Kuznetsov will score well above 40 points in his upcoming season (the specifics can be found here.) Kuznetsov made his NHL debut last spring, and put up nine points in 16 games. His offensive totals and position have been hotly debated since he was drafted in 2010. At present, it appears that Trotz will employ Kuznetsov as the team’s second-line center, a position that requires superb setup skills in addition to goal-scoring ability.

While Kuznetsov has been guilty of some egregious defensive lapses, Trotz seems fairly unconcerned with these growing pains. He described himself as “patient” in evaluating the rookies’ progress, adding that “in the long run, they’re going to get better and better as they play more and more.”

Slotting two rookie centers into the opening night lineup appears to be cause for concern. Strength down the middle has been lacking for the Caps in recent seasons. But both players have versatility, albeit in different ways. Each could revert to playing wing. And if Burakovsky struggles with bottom-six minutes at the NHL level, he’s still eligible to play in Hershey. Kuznetsov has multiple, successful seasons at the pro level under his belt, and he spent some of that time as a center.

However, a strong center must be able to win faceoffs. Neither Burakovsky nor Kuznetsov has excelled in winning the draw. If Trotz is correct and patience pays off, both will blossom into faceoff-winning machines. Faceoffs in particular seem to be tricky; Eric Fehr cited them as a reason for his discomfort at the center position. But there’s always the possibility that Burakovsky makes a strong case for the 2C role midway through the season, and he gets bumped up at Kuznetsov’s expense. Stranger things have happened (see: Beagle centering Ovechkin.) For the time being, however, Kuznetsov is arguably the best guy for the job.

Caps training camp cuts: Who and why?

If Barry Trotz gets his way, the Caps will have 25 players on their roster by Friday. This target number will include eight defensemen, 15 forwards, and 2 goalies. Some cuts are more surprising than others, with waivers playing a role in Trotz’s decisions.

Last season, the Caps lacked a true fourth defenseman, and the bottom pairing was typically an amalgam of rookies. This time around, the issue is how Trotz will construct all three pairings, given the rich talent available and competition for the sixth, seventh, and eighth blueline slots.

Let’s take a look at some of the most notable cuts, all of which are defensemen.

 

Cameron Schilling

After four seasons with the Miami RedHawks, Schilling was targeted by several NHL teams. Yet he signed with the Caps in 2012 and inked an extension this summer. He’s one of the few defensive defensemen in the Caps’ system and has played in only one NHL game. Schilling is hardly a top prospect, yet he shows promise.

From Penn Live’s Tim Leone:

The 25-year-old may be a target for a claim by another NHL club. Sending him at this point of the preseason, when NHL rosters are full and depth charts deep, may reduce the chances of a waiver claim.

Expect Schilling to spend the majority of his upcoming season in Hershey, where strong play could earn him a call-up to D.C. However, he must clear waivers to resume play with the Bears. Given the number of Schilling’s previous suitors, however, it’s unlikely that he’d make the cut later in the season, especially when teams are adjusting their defensive cores and must cope with injuries.

 

Pheonix Copley

Copley’s strong training camp earned him two games in the Caps’ preseason. The first was the Caps’ preseason opener, a 1-0 win over the Sabres. Copley stopped all six shots he faced before his next outing, the first of the Caps’ back-to-back matchups with the Bruins. The game ended in a 2-0 loss for the Caps, and Copley allowed one of nine shots.

Before training camp, Copley was expected to compete for the starting job with the Caps’ ECHL affiliate, the South Carolina Stingrays. But an injury to Eddie Pasquale, the projected backup for Philipp Grubauer, may give Copley to chance to compete for the backup job. However, it’s also possible that both goalies see time in both the AHL and ECHL throughout the season.

 

Madison Bowey

Though consistently ranked one of the Caps’ top prospects, Bowey was a long shot to make the roster. He didn’t survive the first round of cuts and will foreseeably spend the upcoming season with the WHL’s Kelowna Rockets, where he’ll enter his second year of captaincy.

Bowey needs additional seasoning before he’s ready to compete for an AHL or NHL job, an assessment he believes accurate. But his strong performance at rookie camp was indicative of his development. He and Christian Djoos were regular partners on the top pairing, and he saw his share of power-play time. One highlight was a wicked pass during the Fan Fest scrimmage–one example of the types of plays Bowey hopes to make.

Since his return to Kelowna, Bowey has made his presence known. He notched three power-play assists, helping guide the Rockets to a 8-2 win. Should the Rockets bow out of the playoffs early, Bowey could see time with the Bears. He’ll turn 20 in late April, a milestone and exemption from the CHL-NHL agreement.

Kid who inspired the name BrooksLaichyear scores his first goal

My son provided the inspiration for the name of this blog. As mentioned in the first post I wrote here in 2012, “my hockey-crazy three-year-old son is under the impression that number 21 for the Caps and Buzz Lightyear from Toy Story share the same last name: Laichyear. It cracked me up the first time he mentioned the name “Brooks Laichyear” while telling me a story about a Caps game. And [my brother] Pat and I filed it away as what we’d name our Caps blog if we ever started one. ”

He’s six now and played his first hockey game Saturday. Below is the video of his first goal.

And you may have noticed there hasn’t been any blogging happening on BrooksLaichyear for the past few months. My brother is busy with his last year of grad school and I started a new job in the fall, plus my wife and I just welcomed our fourth baby into the world. But here’s one of those kids scoring his first ice hockey goal.

Caps play-by-play man John Walton: “Thug hockey back” in Philly; Calls Flyers goalie Ray Emery’s actions “a disgrace” and worthy of NHL suspension

From Washington Capitals radio play-by-play man John Walton’s call of the Ray Emery-Braden Holtby incident last night (Listen to it on Walton’s blog through the link below):

“Emery takes him down. Oh my goodness. You’ve gotta be kidding me. Ray Emery sucker punching Holtby. He’s still punching him. The referee hasn’t stopped it yet. Oh what a dirty play by Ray Emery. Taking Braden Holtby down. Thug hockey back in town. You’re losing by a touchdown and you just grab a sweater. If you think that’s gonna get you standings points, think again. The Buffalo Sabres are the only thing saving this team from being the bottom of the Eastern Conference and now they’ve taken it to the alley in the dirtiest way possible. Ray Emery went after Holtby. Holtby did not want it. He absolutely didn’t want to fight him. And Emery sucker punched him six times. It’s the only cheer you’re gonna hear out of this building tonight. That’s a disgrace. Ray Emery, a disgrace what he just did.”

“Suspend that guy. Suspend him right now,” Walton went on to say regarding Emery.

full audio clip of Walton calling the Emery-Holtby goalie altercation is available on his Capitals Voice blog.

And here’s a great shot of Michael Latta being waved off during the fight by referee François St-Laurent:

Caps Q&A with Sick, Unbelievable

Kevin Klein from Sick, Unbelievable was nice enough to take the time to answer some questions via email about the new Caps season.  You can follow Sick, Unbelievable on Twitter.

1) During the NHL Network coverage of the Caps preseason game vs. the Jets, it was twice mentioned that the Caps will miss Mike Ribeiro. Agree or disagree?

Before George McPhee went out and got Mikhail Grabovski, I would have agreed. Regardless of how “lucky” Ribeiro was (a not-exactly-accurate term used on account of his high on-ice shooting percentage and powerplay success), that kind of production was going to be missed. There wasn’t a soul on the roster in June who better fit the mold of 2C than Mike Ribeiro.

Grabovski changed that. He probably won’t be quite as high-octane on the man-to-the-good as Ribeiro was a year ago, but Grabovski has made a career of keeping the puck in the offensive zone at even strength. With the vast majority of the hockey game pie going to the even-strength slice, Grabovski is more likely than not an upgrade at the position. And that’s a conjecture made purely based on his on-ice merit and the Caps’ weaknesses from a year, with nothing to say for his friendlier age, contract, and possible future in the Nation’s Capital.

2) What forwards end up getting the most top 6 minutes?

I’d be a fool to veer away from the obvious answer: the top two lines, whoever they shake out to be. There’s a lot of modularity there with guys like Martin Erat, Brooks Laich, Troy Brouwer and Eric Fehr. After Ovechkin, Backstrom, Johansson, and Grabovski, it’s anyone’s guess.

3) One much discussed topic this preseason is who will see minutes on the 2nd defensive pair. Assuming Mike Green, Karl Alzner and John Carlson are the top 3 blueliners in terms of ice time, what defenseman will see the 4th most amount of minutes this season?

By all accounts it will be John Erskine, and if you ask me, that particular lineup choice is the team’s greatest roster flaw. Erskine’s underlying numbers for a year ago don’t represent how poorly he played— a fact that can singularly be attributed to the fact that he received a .944 sv % from the padstacker behind him over the course of the season. That goaltending didn’t add up in the playoffs, and as a result Erskine was exposed as something of a goat.

I’d expect the Capitals to make a move to obtain another, defensively stronger, left-handed D-man at the deadline to play on the second pairing.

4) Who/What will be the biggest surprise this year, good or bad?

I don’t know if you can call him a surprise at this point, but in many people’s eyes Braden Holtby is still unproven. It’s not a terribly unfounded notion, as Holtby has only played 57 career regular season games— in the ballpark of 1 full season’s work for a non-Lundqvistian NHL goaltender.

By no fault of his own, this will be Holtby’s first chance to put together a strong campaign over the course of a full schedule. Of all goalies that have played a minimum of 2500 minutes at even strength during the past three years, Holtby has the seventh best save percentage. If he can improve upon that, while continuing to rack up the wins (the guy’s got a .649 career winning percentage), it’ll be hard to argue that the Canadian Olympic-hopeful isn’t the real deal— and yeah, I think that will surprise some people.

5) How does this season end for the team?

In my 3-Dieselpunk’s deep mind’s eye, the season ends with Ovi drinking Vodka from the Stanley Cup (and me sharing an under the pressbox seat fistbump with Vlad Putin). In reality I think they absolutely make the playoffs— despite now competing in a substantially more stacked division, this team boasts an opening day lineup that looks as good as any they’ve had in the last ten years. In any event, anything less than a birth in the Conference Finals will be a disappointment, and that doesn’t have as much to do with the paper lineup as it does with our expectations, as they’ve been bred by the organization.

Matt Hendricks at near $2 million for three or more years wouldn’t make much sense for the Caps

Hendricks Smiling

Hendricks Smiling (Photo credit: clydeorama)

NHL free agency season is here and Washington Times columnist Mike Harris writes that the Washington Capitals should do two things that will “be worth every penny spent.” He suggests the team “go all in on Vinny Lecavalier (The Flyers have since signed him)” and “bring back Matt Hendricks.”

Harris says, “Hendricks, who made $850,000 last season, will have a few other suitors and probably should be able to command about $2 million a year for three years or so. For the Caps, it would be money well spent.”

I love the way Hendricks plays and mean no disrespect to Harris, but if the salary cap-challenged Capitals sign Hendricks for near $2 million per year for three or more years as Harris suggests, General Manager George McPhee should immediately be drug tested. As hard as losing Hendricks might be for some Caps fans and as important a role player as he’s been for Washington, the 32-year-old, bottom-six forward is replaceable, just as fan favorite Matt Bradley was.

If Washington were a rebuilding team or one with boatloads of room to spend under the salary cap, perhaps $2 million per year to a player like Hendricks might be possible. But at this point, with other holes needing to be filled and higher-upside, young players like Karl Alzner and Marcus Johansson to be re-signed, there are cheaper ways to replace Hendricks if his price tag ends up being as high as $2 million per year.

Aaron Volpatti and his $575,000 salary, Michael Latta (acquired along with Martin Erat in the trade for Filip Forsberg, yet rarely talked about compared to the other two pieces of that trade) and 2012 first round draft pick Tom Wilson could all get an opportunity to fill that role at a smaller cap hit than Hendricks would come with at the price Harris wants the Caps to sign him for.

Much like Hendricks in some ways became the new Matt Bradley for Washington, someone can become the new Matt Hendricks. As great as guys like him are to cheer for and to have as teammates, the Caps cannot afford to give Hendricks a substantial raise given the other contracts on their roster and the other ways their remaining cap space could be used to further solidify it.

Kundratek a low-risk bargain at $575,000
On Tuesday, the Caps re-signed defenseman Tomas Kundratek and the deal really couldn’t be much better: $575,000 a year for two years, with the 2014-15 portion being a two-way contract, which would pay him $150,000 if he’s in the American Hockey League (AHL). Kundratek is only 23 and showed potential this season in 25 games with the Caps. If he becomes a regular in the Caps line-up over the next two seasons or even is just a reliable seventh defenseman or call-up from Hershey, Kundratek’s contract is a bargain. If Kundratek doesn’t pan out, at $575,000 a season, he’s a low-risk option that can likely be dealt easily, released or kept in the AHL.

Three good, three bad from Game 1 of Caps-Rangers

Mike Kelly will be providing some guest posts during the playoffs. Here’s his first:

DVR is an amazing invention. Got home late so I figured I’d take my time eating dinner and get to the game later. After fast forwarding through commercials and intermissions, BOOM…only finished about 25 minutes after the actual game ended.

I’m going to try and post the good and the bad in my mind immediately after the game. So here goes from tonight’s big Game 1 win.

The GOOD:

1) Braden Holtby. Cool, calm, collected…almost to a fault. He almost got caught cheating across a couple of times (the Nash shot in the 2nd period is the first one that comes to mind) but he seemed 99% in control. Barring a meltdown of some sort, the rest of his team can feel confident with him back there this post-season. And if he does make a mistake, at least his pants will be there to stop the puck (still not sure how that one didn’t go in). 36 shots and 35 saves…that’ll do every time.

2) The Third Line. What a solid game by these guys. Chimera gets the big third goal caused by Perreault’s relentless forechecking. And then there’s Eric Fehr making George McPhee look like a genius again. Fehr is finally using his long reach and big frame to his advantage…and at times seemed to be skating just as fast as Chimera. I can’t recall any time where this line really got bogged down in their own zone. And they were constantly pushing the puck up ice.

3) Mike Ribeiro. He didn’t make it on the score sheet tonight, but he played the kind of game we all criticized him for not playing so often during the regular season. Aside from a couple of silly turnovers during those first few power plays (more on that later), he played a solid team game tonight. Back-checked several times to break up Ranger chances. Dumped the puck in late in the game. And as always he made smart passes. Was very impressed with his game. I’ll also say that his line’s shift with about nine mintues left in the game tonight was the one that may have broken the Rangers. He, Brouwer, and Erat kept the Rangers pinned in their zone for a solid minute after the Rags had been all over the Caps. I thought it really changed the feel of that period and put the Caps back in the driver’s seat.

The BAD:

1) Turnovers, turnovers, turnovers. This one started off pretty bad with the first power play…and the next two weren’t all that better. The turnovers at the blue line are especially maddening and one almost led to a Hagelin breakway goal. Fortunately Holtby bailed out Backstrom. But even not on the powerplay, the Caps were turning it over more than usual tonight. Green, Backstrom, and Erat stick out as the worst offenders tonight. Even the normally sure handed Karl Alzner was coughing the puck up. This is clearly something that must be fixed as the series goes along.

2) The Rangers first line played well. This partly goes along with the first point. But it seemed like Nash, Richards, and Zuccarello were all over the Caps tonight (Nash leading the way with eight shots on goal). I actually thought the Caps did well keeping Callahan and Stepan in check, who traditionally seem to be Cap killers. But I thought they gave Nash and Richards too much room tonight. Nash is always going to get his chances, because he’s too good of a player not too, but let’s not make it too easy for him.

3) Martin Erat. Let’s just say this was not his finest performance. A really stupid penalty, some bad turnovers, and just overall seemed lost tonight. Aside from one very good third period shift and his almost goal that Lundqvist got a glove on…i gave his performance a big, Meh.

In the end, they won…by two goals! It’s nice not to have the infamous coin flip game we were so used to last post season. Still, the Rangers had their chances and have to feel relatively good about how they played. The Caps need to clean up in their own end. And both of the Caps top two lines have to be better, especially the second line. Ovechkin and Holtby…just keep doing what you’re doing.

In trading for Erat, Caps’ McPhee makes a move with guts

McPhee Scowls Down

George McPhee (Photo credit: clydeorama)

The Washington Capitals caused a stir on Wednesday, trading highly touted 18 year-old prospect Filip Forsberg to the Nashville Predators at the NHL trade deadline for 31 year-old winger Martin Erat and 21 year-old prospect Michael Latta.

Regardless of how these players perform from here, Washington Capitals General Manager George McPhee has made a move with guts.

In the Alex Ovechkin era, the Caps have become an organization that often seems be waiting for the future to get here. And something they’ve rarely done is take a risk by dealing young prospects to try to change that.

McPhee has made his fair share of deadline acquisitions in recent years for players such as Sergei Fedorov, Jason Arnott and Cristobal Huet, to name just a few. But these have often been deals to bring in older players or ones in the final year of a contract for a short time, and without having to sacrifice a great deal in return. There’s always been somewhat of a “we’re not trading away the future for today” mentality. The Caps have made their moves in the time of the Young Guns, but they’ve never really been all that bold.

Erat isn’t simply a rental player, acquired for the stretch run. He’s under contract for another two seasons after this one at a very reasonable $4.5 million salary cap hit. The Caps have potentially filled a hole that existed in their top six forwards for the near future and without having to take on a long-term or expensive contract.

Erat has averaged .67 points per game in his 11 year NHL career, playing mostly in a defensive-minded system in Nashville. His numbers could be similar in Washington or they could make a jump now that he’ll be playing in a more offense-driven set up and with higher caliber offensive talent. It could certainly be argued that no forward on Nashville’s current roster has the established playmaking talent of Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom or Mike Ribeiro.

Could Erat end up being a bust and produce less than he has for the Predators? Absolutely. Could Forsberg be a 20-plus goal scorer or better in the league for a decade or more? Sure. But these are the chances the top teams in sports often take, sacrificing some of tomorrow for a better shot now.

The Caps have not suddenly made the leap to serious Cup contenders with this one move, though anything can happen in the playoffs if they make it. But they’ve made a trade to improve their chances at the post-season now and to make themselves better for the next two years, rather than waiting to see if prospects pan out. If Forsberg and others take a season or two to adjust to the NHL, that’s more sand through the hourglass with the current core of Caps.

And the Caps do still have several promising prospects, including forwards Evgeny Kuznetsov and Tom Wilson. A roster balance must be maintained to remain competitive in the present, yet positioned for down the road. The Caps have hardly thrown away the future with this one risk.

Except for the once-in-a-generation types, new players can be found via trade, the draft and free agency. Another player of Filip Forsberg’s caliber will come along—there will be several of them available every single NHL draft day, in fact. Barring some huge scouting breakdown, the Caps have not dealt away the next Backstrom or Ovechkin. They traded a still very young player who should not be impossible to replace.

What you can’t get back is time. And unless the Caps want to wake up one day with a 35 year-old Ovechkin on their roster and no Stanley Cups or serious runs at one, they need to take some chances. McPhee just did.

The case for trading Mike Ribeiro

Ribeiro Lays a Hard Check on Wideman

Mike Ribeiro (Dallas Stars) Lays a Hard Check on Dennis Wideman (Washington Capitals). Photo credit: clydeorama

The following is one half of a point/counterpoint pair of posts. Ryan Boushell, who leans more toward re-signing Ribeiro, has posted his view on his blog, Rocking the Red in Pittsburgh.

If the Washington Capitals can re-sign center Mike Ribeiro, preferably before the April 3 trade deadline, for two years at close to the $5 million he currently makes per season, they should do so with little hesitation. But, with the supply of first and second line centers in the 2013 free agent market already looking thin and Ribeiro putting up the best numbers of his career, the 33 year-old can likely do better in both dollars and years if he waits and tests the market this summer. This could be his last chance at a big, multi-year payday before signing some smaller contracts in his late thirties.

As well as Ribeiro has played this season, this type of ‘big payday’ contract is something the Caps should avoid in this case. Signing Ribeiro for 4+ years at $5 to $6 million per year, for example, could give a Washington team with large financial commitments to Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom and Mike Green even less room to maneuver in the future and would mean they’d have Ribeiro under contract until he’s at least 37.

Chances are Ribeiro won’t continue to put up the numbers he is right now for many more years. He’s posted 1.10 points per game this season through Tuesday’s loss in Pittsburgh, while averaging 0.77 per game since joining the NHL in 1999. Only once before has Ribeiro averaged over a point per game for an entire season, back in 2007-08 with the Dallas Stars, and he’s likely to face a decline in production over the coming years now that he’s reached his mid-thirties.

There is the outside chance that Ribeiro could prove his career averages wrong and continue to produce at his current level for a couple or few more years. But the Caps might also be able to get solid production from a less expensive veteran or a slightly younger player in that role, without having to take on the larger risk of a long-term deal, while also freeing up a million or so in cap space to spend on other needs.

Additionally, toward the end of any long-term deal given to Ribeiro, Caps prospect Filip Forsberg—who will likely join the team for 2014-15 season—could be pushing him for second line center minutes, depending on how quickly Forsberg adjusts to the NHL. By that point, Ribeiro could be tough to move at $5 to $6 million per year if his production has dipped.

So, if the Caps can sign Ribeiro to a reasonable two or perhaps a three-year deal prior to April 3, that’s one thing. Signing him ‘at all costs’ and for several years at around or well above what he makes now is another story.

If the Caps wait until the summer, they’re likely to overpay for Ribeiro, provided they’re able to keep him at all given the competition they’re likely to see from other buyers. And, unless he’s really enjoying Washington and sees a great future for himself with the organization that outweighs money, Ribeiro would be foolish not to play the free agency game before deciding to return to D.C. All of this creates an interesting situation for the Caps as April 3 approaches.

At no other time of year do NHL general managers give up more for players than they do at the annual trade deadline, as teams attempt to bolster their roster for the final stretch of the regular season and the playoffs. A solid second line center having a season like Ribeiro could bring a rather large return, such as a first or second round draft pick and a prospect or roster player, for example.

Another factor to consider is that with other free-agent-to-be centers Ryan Getzlaf now signed to an extension by the Ducks and the Panthers’ Stephen Weiss out for the remainder of the season with an injury, the market for Ribeiro is likely even better now than it was just a few weeks ago. If ever there were an opportunity for the Caps to sell high, this is it.

But, even though getting back big assets for a guy you might need to overpay going forward is attractive, the Caps should have a solid plan in mind to fill the hole that will be left at second line center for 2013-14 before they deal Ribeiro. There are several ways the team can do this.

Given the lack of top-tier, NHL-ready centers in the Caps system and a very young Forsberg still a year away from coming to the U.S., an immediate replacement for Ribeiro will almost certainly need to come from outside the Caps’ system.

One way to do this is through free agency but, as mentioned above, the pool for legitimate, second line centers looks thin this off-season and, just as some general managers tend to overpay in assets at the trade deadline, teams often have to overspend in dollars to land the most in-demand free agents each summer. Unless the Caps can find a veteran with a good year or two left in him, which is certainly a possibility, or come up big in the bargain bin, the best way for the Caps to replace Ribeiro might be the way they brought him to DC: via an off-season trade.

In one of the more ideal scenarios, the Caps could sell high on Ribeiro in the next two weeks to a team looking to make a run at the Cup this year and then trade for a center this summer when they might be able to give up a little less than teams normally do at the deadline. And through a trade, the Caps might find someone toward the end of a deal whose salary is less than what Riberio’s will be next season.

The Caps also might be able to find an offensive-minded center that comes without Ribeiro’s temper and penchant for complaining to the referees, which has resulted in three unsportsmanlike conduct penalties in 29 games this season. His latest allowed the New York Islanders to score the game winning goal back on March 9.

Now, don’t get me wrong here as I map out these options for a Caps team without Ribeiro. It would be great to see the Caps keep the best second line center they’ve had in years, provided he cuts back on smashing his stick and yelling at refs when he doesn’t agree with a call. But the conditions under which it make sense to keep him, on a fairly short-term deal at close to the salary he currently makes, appear to be somewhat unlikely. And if the packages being offered for Ribeiro at the trade deadline get so valuable due to a bidding war—for example, two or three solid assets via a combination of picks and players—it might make sense for the Caps to unload him even if re-signing him to a short-term deal at his current salary is possible.

While Ribeiro’s numbers would be great to have again next season, balance between present and future is critical to maintaining a competitive roster season after season. If through smart trades now, the Caps can better set up their team for success the season after next—when Forsberg and highly-touted prospect Evgeny Kuznetsov will likely join a team that might already have prospect Tom Wilson with a year of NHL experience under his belt—they need to seriously consider it.

Next season should in no way be written-off though. The Caps need to find an approach where they can compete and have a shot at a long playoff run next year, but without committing to too many big contracts that could handcuff the franchise three or so years from now. A large, long-term contract for a 33 year-old having a career year like Ribeiro sends up red flags in this department.

But all present vs. future strategy and other complexities aside, if re-signing Ribeiro to a responsible deal isn’t looking likely and the Caps playoff chances appear bleak as April 3 approaches, he must be dealt. There’s simply too much to be gained at the deadline to risk letting Ribeiro just walk this summer while getting nothing in return.

For the counterpoint to this, see Ryan Boushell’s post, “To Trade or Not to Trade…”

Soon might be the time for Caps to trade goaltender Michal Neuvirth

Neuvirth Catches Puck

Neuvirth Catches Puck (Photo credit: clydeorama)

Much of what I’ve written below could go right out the window if the Washington Capitals continue winning because you don’t necessarily want to be an injury away from Phillip Grubauer in net for the playoffs just yet…

Should the Caps decide between now and the April 3 NHL trade deadline to not re-sign soon-to-be free agent center Mike Ribeiro, they have a coveted asset to sell when teams often give up more for players than at any other time. As a club with several holes to fill in its roster, a Ribeiro trade could be an opportunity for the Caps to pick up somewhere between one and three players or draft picks that could help them next season or beyond.

The Caps have another, less-often-discussed player they might be able to move at the deadline for an asset or two as well, provided they’re no longer in the playoff hunt or simply want to take a risk now for possible reward in the future: Goaltender Michal Neuvirth.

There’s no chance that Neuvirth would bring the Caps the same return that the veteran Ribeiro and his more-than-a-point-per-game average would at the deadline but, particularly given the number of injured goalies around the league at the moment, there might be some takers for the soon-to-be 25-year-old netminder.

Nuevirth will be a restricted free agent this July and he could very well be re-signed and back with the Caps for next season. But keeping Neuvirth may not be the best way for the Caps to put the best team on the ice for the next few seasons.

This week on The Sports Reporters on ESPN 980 AM, Yahoo Puck Daddy blogger Greg Wyshynski said that Braden Holtby seems to be the guy the Caps want in net, citing his mental game as one of the reasons.

If Holtby is the guy the Caps want in goal the majority of the time going forward, then it makes some sense to deal Neuvirth now, when teams could use him down the stretch, either as a back-up or as a starter, and to compete for a number one spot next season.

The New Jersey Devils—who have 40-year-old Martin Brodeur dealing with back pain, 39-year-old back-up Johan Hedberg struggling and two AHL goalies without almost no NHL experience—might be one possible trade partner for Washington.

There are other teams in the playoff race that lack experienced goaltending depth or are only an injury away—during a condensed season that has brought many for goaltenders—from having their back-up in net and mostly unproven AHL prospects on the bench. And if an in-conference trade, as a deal with New Jersey would be, isn’t the Caps’ preference, several teams in the Western Conference fit this description. A read through GoalieGuild.com’s March 2013 depth charts provides some good perspective on where each team stands. No one is necessarily desperate enough to make a move just yet, but they could be in the coming weeks.

It’s extremely doubtful that the Caps will find someone willing to give them what the Colorado Avalanche gave them for goaltender Semyon Varlamov back in 2011: a first and a second round pick. But if the playoffs look out of sight for the Caps at some point and they get an offer half as good as what Colorado gave them, they should take it. The Caps could even consider a Neuvirth trade regardless of the playoff picture, provided they’re comfortable enough with Grubauer as a back-up.

Then this off-season, the Caps can sign a veteran back-up for Holtby for close to what it would cost them to re-sign Neuvirth. The team would then have an insurance goalie behind Holtby for next season, with Grubauer getting more time to develop at the AHL level. And the Caps would have the additional asset or two they got for Neuvirth as well.

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