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.
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.
Troy Brouwer’s game winning goal in Saturday’s Game 6 for the Caps in Boston…
…was reminiscent of this Game 7 game winner in 2009 by Sergei Fedorov for Washington against the New York Rangers:
There was a lot of talk after the Caps 3-2 loss in Winnipeg last night about a possible suspension for a Jets player and a stick-holding incident, but there were a couple of things that bothered me more than either of these because they were within the Caps control:
- Why was Troy Brouwer sent out to take the offensive zone faceoff at the start of the Caps PP with 2:22 remaining in the game and the Caps down a goal? The Caps lost the draw and the puck was cleared, ticking off the first 20 seconds or so of a PP with the game on the line. One reason for this, directly or indirectly, is the decision to scratch Jeff Halpern. It’s doubtful that Halpern, who is one of the top faceoff men in the league, would have been out because of the PP and the need for a late goal. However, him not being in the lineup pushes everyone up a spot on the faceoff depth chart that led to a winger, who took one other faceoff the entire game, on the dot at a crucial time in the game. Mathieu Perreault was also on the ice, and may have been tossed out before the CSN camera panned to the dot, but the fact that Brouwer was even put in that spot, whether being first or second choice, is questionable coaching.
- The Caps were rightfully upset with Mark Stuart for his high and late hit on Marcus Johansson in the 1st period. Unfortunately, we only came to find out after the game that the Caps were upset, since there was absolutely no visible response from the Caps during the game. Is this team aware that you don’t have to wait for a player to be traded to Montreal in order to respond to a dirty play on a teammate? The Caps and Jets meet again next Friday and there may be a response then, but why didn’t that happen last night? That’s the kind of hit where I’m okay with a Caps player immediately charging at Stuart and risk giving the Jets a five minute PP.
- Let’s be totally clear about this, Caps fans: “Crosby Sucks!” is not an appropriate chant on Friday when the Jets visit DC. I’ll be at the game and will personally remove anyone from the arena who participates in this.
Overall, I’m still upbeat about the Caps chances of making the playoffs. There is plenty to like about the way the Caps have played in this most recent stretch of games. Additionally, Nicklas Backstrom has been skating and ramping up his workouts. While no return date has even been discussed yet, this is significant progress for the Caps number one pivot.
The Caps now look forward to the Blackhawks in Chicago on Sunday night. Almost two years ago to the day, on a Sunday in Chicago, Backstrom provided the Caps with a thrilling overtime goal to end a game that is one my favorite post-lockout Caps memories.
- Three things that have to improve for the Washington Capitals in the “second half” (brookslaichyear.com)
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.
With about 25 seconds to go in last night’s game against the Tampa Bay Lightning and the Washington Capitals down by a goal, I would have liked to have seen Alex Ovechkin pass the puck to a teammate rather than hold it and eventually shoot from a bad angle (see video embedded below).
Troy Brouwer was open and then, after Ovechkin comes out from behind the net, John Carlson appears to have been open as he was cutting in from the point. Carlson might have had the whole top right corner of the net open for a quick shot, with Lightning goaltender Mathieu Garon down in a butterfly position and over toward the left post.
Just putting the puck on net like Ovechkin eventually did isn’t a bad idea in that situation, but he had better options and they would have involved some puck movement, which is often a very good thing—in fact, it’s what led to the Caps only goal of the game.