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Here’s where Tom Wilson and Connor Carrick played juniors last season

While in Detroit this past week, I took a side trip to one of my favorite craft brewers, Bell’s Brewing in Kalamazoo, Michigan, and then stopped by the home of the Plymouth Whalers on the drive back to the city.

Plymouth is where Michal Neuvirth won an OHL championship in 2007 and where Caps rookies Tom Wilson and Connor Carrick (recently assigned to the Hershey Bears) played junior hockey. Former Cap Pat Peake’s jersey is hanging from the rafters as well.

I snapped a few pictures:

Home of the OHL Plymouth Whalers

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champs

Program advertisement that includes Connor Carrick

pat peake

And here’s Mike Ribeiro (63) in a Coyotes jersey during the Phoenix-Detroit game at Joe Louis Arena the night before. We were able to grab seats 11 rows from the ice for $39 (face value of $110) through StubHub. Not a bad secondary ticket market bargain!

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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.

Three possible Mike Ribeiro replacements for the Caps from the Western Conference

I asked through Twitter for suggestions on topics you’d like to see written about.

Here’s the first one we got back:

There are many different ways you can go with this.

Let’s take a look at a scenario where the Caps either deal Mike Ribeiro by the April 3 NHL trade deadline or don’t re-sign him and then seek to replace him via an off-season trade, the same way the team acquired him last June from the Dallas Stars for prospect Cody Eakin and a 2012 2nd round draft pick.

Before diving into this, if anyone has #fancystat-like insight they wish to provide on the players named below, I welcome and would appreciate your input in the comments. There are also people who follow the three teams mentioned below far more closely than I do, who may be able to offer better perspective on this from the other organizations’ angles. Please feel free to jump in and add your thoughts as well—and that goes for everyone.

10 Shawn Horcoff, Edmonton Oilers, Center

Shawn Horcoff (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

As good as he’s been, finding a replacement for Mike Ribeiro is far from impossible. You can comb NHL rosters and come up with a number of centers that might be a good fit for the Caps second line next year and that Washington could reasonably land in many cases, provided they are willing to pay the asking price.

Let’s rule out an in-conference trade for now and, partly for the sake of simplifying the list of options, focus on three teams currently toward the bottom of the Western Conference standings that might be looking to make some changes. These are also three teams that have not made the playoffs for several consecutive seasons, listed here along with the last time they qualified for post-season play: Calgary (2008-09), Colorado (2009-10) and Edmonton (2005-06).

One that might be better to avoid

We’ll begin with the option that seems to have the most people talking, but that might not make the most sense: Paul Stastny of the Colorado Avalanche.

With a pair of 22 year-old centers in Ryan O’Reilly and Matt Duchene on their roster, the Avalanche could move the 27 year-old Stastny to acquire other assets and free up cap space to fill other needs. Stastny’s numbers have declined the past two or three seasons, dropping below his current .86 points-per-game career average, but he’s still young and has shown the ability to put up big numbers; there have been three seasons when he’s posted just under or above a point per game.

One big issue with trading for Stastny is that he only has one season remaining on his contract, yet will likely cost a good bit to acquire given his age and abilities. If he can not be re-signed, Stastny would become a very expensive one-season rental.

Stastny currently earns $6.7 million, which is above what Ribeiro is likely to make going forward. However, if a team trades for Stastny and decides to commit to a long-term deal with him, it makes far more sense to give one to him at age 28 next year, than it does to sign Ribeiro to one at age 33.

As for the cost to acquire Stastny, Brian McNally of the Washington Examiner writes that the asking price is: “Likely Washington’s first-round pick in the loaded 2013 draft – possibly a top 10 selection, if not higher – and either an NHL roster player or one of the top prospects [Evgeny Kuznetsov, Filip Forsberg, Tom Wilson, Riley Barber and Philipp Grubauer].

If the Caps think they can work a deal like this in the off-season, the price they’d need to pay for a player like Stastny is even more reason to deal Ribeiro before the April 3 deadline, allowing Washington to stockpile a few more assets, including another first or second round pick in the deep 2013 draft if possible. But, with or without those assets, a move for Stastny really might not be the best one for the team to make.

The biggest concern of all with a trade for Stastny is that, with prospect Kuznetsov possibly coming to Washington as soon as a year from now, the Caps might not want to acquire a center as young at Stastny, who has such little time left on his deal and likely comes at great cost. The Caps may just need someone to fill the second line center roll for a season or two; it all depends on when Kuznetsov gets to D.C. and how quickly he adjusts to the NHL.

One that sounds like a pretty good fit, if he stays healthy

The Edmonton Oilers have a situation somewhat like the Avs, with two young centers in the picture that could make a more veteran player expendable. As 19 year-old Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and 23 year-old Sam Gagner will likely fill the center role on the top two lines going forward, 34 year-old center Shawn Horcoff is an expensive player the team may want to move.

Horcoff is much older than Stastny and has not put up nearly the same numbers, but he’d likely come at a smaller price in trade and has two more seasons left on his contract, with a cap hit of $5.5 million.

Horcoff has also put up some decent power play numbers in the past and is known for his leadership and two-way play. He’s less similar to Ribeiro than Stastny is when it comes to offensive numbers, but would be an interesting option for the Caps to consider, especially given the time he has left on his contract and the current stage he’s at in his career.

Horcoff could potentially fill the Caps second line center roll next season and the season after if necessary, with Kuznetsov taking over when ready. The Caps could still look to re-sign Horcoff for less money after that, keeping him as a third line center, an option on the power play and for his defensive play.

One factor that must be considered with Horcoff though is injuries, which have been an issue at times in his career and could occur more the older he gets.

One that’s cheaper, if his current team wants to give him up

The Calgary Flames don’t appear to have a great deal of NHL-level depth at center, but do possess a pivot that could be an interesting fit for the Caps next season, though he’s certainly no Stastny in the offensive production department. He also comes with a much lower salary.

29 year-old center Matt Stajan has two seasons left after this one on a deal that pays him $3.5 million and, while he has not been putting up the same offensive numbers as Ribeiro has, he’s shown signs that he’s capable of contributing more points than he currently is. Perhaps inserting Stajan into what could be a more high-powered offense in Washington would bring back some of the numbers he put up with Toronto a few seasons ago (.72 and .75 points-per-game in 2008-09 and 2009-10 respectively), giving the Caps a decent second-line center without a long-term commitment or large cap hit.

However, of the three potential Ribeiro replacements discussed here, Stajan may be the player most likely to be held onto by his current team, given salaries and depth at the position.

That’s a start on some replacement options via trade. There are other teams that can be examined and the free agency market can be considered as well. Please use the comments below to add your suggestions or find me on Twitter at @mikeholden.

More on trade or re-sign Ribeiro

Dave Nichols has a new post up on DistrictSportsPage.com explaining why the Caps should re-sign Mike Ribeiro and it’s a good read in the ongoing debate about what the team should do with their second line center.

A long-term deal for Ribeiro (which I look at as anything greater than three years in this case) still concerns me, with the number of years being a bigger issue than whether the cap hit is $5.5 or $6 million, for example. As I said in my post on selling high on Ribeiro, having him until he’s at least 37 as another highly paid player on the team is a risk I’m not sure I’d take, when there could be other options available:

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.

NHL.com writer Corey Masisak summed up this sentiment well in a tweet yesterday:

ribeiro tweet

When I suggest the team sell high on Ribeiro at the deadline, it’s not to just walk blindly into next season with no idea of who the second line center will be. As I wrote in my post the other day, if the Caps choose to deal Ribeiro—an idea that gets less appealing with every game they win and the playoffs remaining in the picture—they should have a plan to replace him this summer with another qualified second line center from outside the organization.

On the other side of this, before I could fully embrace the idea of signing Ribeiro long-term at whatever it takes to keep him, I’d need for someone to convince me that it’s unlikely the Caps can find another quality second line center in the summer trade market like they did when they acquired Ribeiro.

Here’s another way to look at this whole situation though:

If Ribeiro’s production declines by the third or fourth year of a new deal with the Caps and his numbers no longer justify the cap hit at some point, it could be viewed as part of the price the team paid for the more productive seasons they might get from him. Granted this season is still one in which Ribeiro’s putting up more points per game than he ever has before, save for one year in Dallas, so he may never match this again…or maybe he will. But if Ribeiro does follow the path of many players at the ages he’ll soon hit, the Caps could just hope to get the most from him in the earlier years and then write off the latter ones as part of the cost of the biggest seasons that he has, which hopefully help to bring the team more playoff success.

Here’s a good analogy that someone used when discussing this with me on Twitter:

My next thought though is, do you keep that expensive car at the risk it loses some power a few years from now? Or do you trade it in by April 3 if there’s a lucrative offer on the table and then replace the car with a less expensive two-year lease this summer (i.e. a guy toward the end of a deal like Ribeiro was when the Caps acquired him) or a younger but established option that might have more big years left to help justify a long-term deal?

If the Caps keep winning though and are in the playoff hunt at the trade deadline, a huge piece of this all goes away. So the easy solution is for them to just win the Cup this season, with Ribeiro earning the Conn Smyth. Simple, right? Then George McPhee can just figure the rest out this summer.

The issue in the Caps’ top six forwards

Ovechkin and Backstrom

Oveckin and Backstrom (Photo: Mike Holden)

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

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.

QUESTION FOR YOU: How many Top 6 forwards do the Caps have?

It’s no secret that the 2012-13 Washington Capitals have holes to fill at wing on their top two lines. After going without a legitimate second line center for several years, the Caps’ June 2012 acquisition of Mike Ribeiro from the Dallas Stars appears to have solved that problem at least through the end of this season, when Ribeiro’s contract is set to expire. But after Ribeiro, Nicklas Backstrom and Alex Ovechkin, the “Top 6″ talent on the Caps’ 2012-13 roster drops off substantially.

Here’s the question for you, the readers: How many Top 6 forwards do you feel the Caps have on the team right now? Tell us in the comments below or via Twitter (we’ll paste some of your tweets into this post) how many you think the Caps have and who those players are. Your answer does not have to be a whole number. For example, I might score the team at a 3.5 right now:

What’s next for the Caps?

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:

Ovechkin-Backstrom/Ribeiro-Brouwer

Perreault-Backstrom/Ribeiro-Ryan( or similar player)

Chimera-Laich-Ward

Crabb-Beagle-Hendricks

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:

Ovechkin-Backstrom/Ribeiro-Brouwer

Laich-Backstrom/Ribeiro-Perreault/Johansson

Chimera-Arnott-Ward

Crabb-Beagle-Hendricks

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.

Possible free agent target: Brad Boyes

The Capitals top-6 forwards are in need of reinforcements. With Alex Semin set to become an UFA and depending on if the Caps have Brooks Laich penciled in as a 2W or 3C next season, the Caps currently have as few as 4-top 6 forwards on their roster right now (Ovechkin, Backstrom, Brouwer, and newly acquired Mike Ribeiro).  These kind of players don’t come cheap, via trade or free agency.  With a particularly thin free-agent market this year, the price for top-6 forwards is likely to be even more inflated than usual.  The Caps have smartly not locked themselves into any crippling free agency deals with such players in recent memory, and it wouldn’t be smart to start now.  That being said, George McPhee would be smart to look for a player with top-6 potential but who has certain questions marks that will keep the money and term of the deal within reason.  On the free agent market this year, a player that fits that mold is Brad Boyes.

Over the course of the 2007-08 and 2008-09 seasons, Boyes played in all 164 games and totaled 76 goals and 62 assists (a 0.84 PPG average).   However, in the 3 seasons since then, Boyes has totaled just 38 goals and 91 assists in 210 games (a 0.61 PPG average).  Boyes was particularly mediocre this season in Buffalo when he totaled 8 goals and 15 assists in 65 games.  So why should the Caps take a look at Boyes?

At 29, Boyes is unlikely to again reach the numbers of 4 years ago, but he is plenty young enough to still be a productive player when put in the right situation.  Last season, Boyes played just 13:10 per game and spent time on the Sabres 4th line.  While some may see a player whose production has fallen off a cliff, I see a player with a lot to prove who could be had on a cheap one year deal.  He likely will be signed to a low-risk/potential high value type deal.  Another positive is that Boyes, while primarily a winger, can play center when called upon.

There are reasons to hesitate signing Boyes and there are certainly valid concerns that his days as a top-6 forward are behind him.  However, in a day and age when many free agent contracts get bloated to regrettable levels, taking a flyer on Boyes, if he is under the radar, may be worth the risk for the Caps.

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