Blog Archives

Three Caps Numbers: Talkin’ ’bout Time on Ice

Ward_2

Photo by Amanda Bowen of RRBG Photography

13:49

Marcus Johansson’s ice time vs Tampa last night, the second straight game he’s been below the 14:00 mark and fifth time in the past six games his ice time has decreased. The third line has been great since the return of Brooks Laich, and Jason Chimera is rejuvenated and helping the fourth line. But Johansson has taken big strides forward this season and it would be a shame to see that stunted by limiting his ice time.

17:38

The average time on ice per game for Joel Ward, 4th among all Caps forwards behind Nick Backstrom, Alex Ovechkin, and Troy Brouwer. I like Joel Ward and think he’s an effective hockey player. But he’s a bottom-6 forward. Why is Joel Ward the 4th most used forward by Barry Trotz? He’s also 4th in terms of 5v5 ice time, so it’s not as if his penalty kill time is inflating his numbers. 

16:12

The average 5v5 ice time per game for Backstrom this season, which leads all NHL forwards. His linemate Ovechkin is second. Trotz looks like he’s going to ride his two horses as much as he can. It’s easy to like this strategy.

Two Players the Caps Should Consider Trading

Alzie

Photo by Amanda Bowen of RRBG Photography

Yesterday, prompted by rumors that the Caps are actively looking to make a trade, I looked at two players they’ll likely be asked about but shouldn’t trade. Today, I’ll look at two players the Caps should be looking to use as trade chips if they are actually in active trade discussion with other teams.

Karl Alzner

In previous season, Alzner was often asked to play the role of a “shutdown” D, a role that some would say excuses the Caps consistently getting a lower percentage of shot attempts with Alzner on the ice relative to when he’s off. There’s some merit to that, but it’s a murky issue. For example, quality of competition is often overstated as a factor in puck possession.

So, other than saying I don’t think there’s anything in Alzner’s track record that refutes he’s expendable to this team,  I’ll leave last season alone and look at this season.

Alzner is getting easier assignments this season. He’s starting 51.54% of his shifts in the offensive zone, the easiest zone starts of his career. In his defense, they are the second toughest among Caps D. He’s also facing the second easiest competition of his career, second only to 2009-10, and only 4th toughest among current Caps D.

Yet, the Caps still see a better percentage of shot attempts with Alzner on the bench than with him on the ice. But, since he is considered more of a defensive player, it might be more fair to measure his performance in how well he suppresses opponents shots. Here are opponent shots attempts per 60 minutes of ice time for Caps defenders this season.

image (4)

Alzner does okay in terms of shot suppression, ranking 4th.

At 26 years old and in his seventh NHL season, I think it’s fair to say Alzner has not become the player he was projected to be when the Caps took him fifth overall in 2007. Don’t get me wrong, Alzner is an NHL-caliber defenseman whose contract is a pretty good value ($2.8 million cap hit through 2016-17). But Caps have some depth on the blue line and other teams will likely be interested in him. So, trading Alzner, who is good but expendable, makes sense.  

One thing I forgot to include when publishing this is that Alzner has a full no trade clause, so he’d have to approve any deal.

Troy Brouwer

Apologies to the Brouwer Rangers.

Much like Alzner, I think Brouwer is a good player, which is what gives him trade value. But, also like Alzner, I think he’s expendable.

Brouwer’s 1.50 points per 60 minutes of play this season ranks 168th out of 317 NHL forwards who have played 200+ minutes this season. The Caps see 1.37% less of the total shot attempts when Brouwer is on the ice relative to when he’s off.

While some of the sample sizes are small, all of the players he’s most likely to be skating with on the second line are all better possession players playing without Brouwer rather than with him, which you can see in the chart below.

image (5)

But my point isn’t to drag Brouwer down. I think he’s a decent second line winger. But the Caps have two options, Eric Fehr and Andre Burakovsky, who can’t currently crack the Caps top-6 that could play just as well, if not better than Brouwer. Given that he’s expendable, but likely has trade value, the Caps would be wise to try and get Brouwer’s $3.66 million cap hit (through 2015-16) off the books.

None of this is meant as a knock on Alzner or Brouwer. In fact, in some ways I’m being complementary of them by saying they have trade value, whereas many of their teammates, for one reason or another, don’t. While they are serviceable (or better) in their current roles, Brian MacLellan should consider both players expendable if he’s looking to make a trade.

The worst shift of the Caps season: What went wrong?

This wasn’t the best weekend of hockey for the Caps. They dropped both games and didn’t look particularly great in either one. There was one shift in particular against New Jersey that was especially bad, quite possibly the worst shift of the Caps season.

At the 2:29 mark of the second period, the Devils brought the puck into the Caps zone. The puck wouldn’t leave the zone for another 1:11, in which time the Devils piled up 10 shots attempts.

J.P. noticed it. I noticed it. We all noticed it. It was possibly the worst shift of the season for the Caps and it somehow didn’t end up in the back of their net.  There were two bad decisions that during the 1:11 in the Caps zone that prolonged the terrible shift.

caps2

Above is 3 seconds after the Devils entered the zone, already with one shot attempt. The puck comes around the boards to Troy Brouwer whose momentum is carrying him towards the goal line. Brouwer’s best decision here, given his momentum, not having the puck completely corralled, and the pressure coming from his right, would be to poke the puck behind the net where Matt Niskanen could gather the puck in. Given the direction of the momentum of the two Devils’ skaters down low in the zone, Niskanen would have more time than Brouwer to fully gain control of the puck. Worst case scenario, Niskanen could bang the puck around the boards.

Instead, Brouwer tries to take the puck behind the goal line himself and is stripped of the puck, as you can see below.

caps3

The Caps did not regain possession for another 53 seconds, during which time the Devils generated 6 shot attempts. Despite the fact that he had a better option, the turnover by Brouwer wasn’t especially egregious, but it sure was costly in terms of shot attempts and time in the defensive zone.

53 seconds later Niskanen, who is exhausted, gets the puck behind the net.

capsgood

Plenty of time to get the puck out, right? Wrong. Niskanen struggles to get control of the puck and then seems bewildered, probably from exhaustion, when he does get the puck cleanly on his stick. As a result, the above turns into the picture below.

capsgood2

So while a bouncing puck and exhaustion make it understandable that Niskanen muffled the clearing attempt (these kind of things happen over the course of 82 games), his approach was questionable from the time he got the puck. He seems intent on pushing the puck along to Andre Burakovsky, but given the impending and then eventual pressure of the Devils’ forechecker, the safer and smarter play would have been to throw the puck behind the net, where Karl Alzner would have had approximately all day to get the breakout started and the Caps headed towards a much needed line change.

Andre Burakovsky could have been more helpful to Niskanen but chose to remain on the half-wall, likely because he was in need of oxygen and water.

13 seconds and 3 additional shot attempts later, a rebound goes to the high slot, where Marcus Johansson gathers in the puck and exits the zone, thus bringing to an end the worst shift of the Caps season.

Marcus Johansson: Where he fits and what to expect

Mojo_2 copy

Photo by Amanda Bowen, RRGB Photography

In previous posts, I’ve discussed certain line combinations and made a case for why some make sense and others should be avoided. One of the conclusions I’ve made is that Eric Fehr should be on the first line alongside Nick Backstrom and Alex Ovechkin. Another post looked at the fact that Troy Brouwer should be a winger on the 2nd line and Brooks Laich should center the 3rd line.

Barry Trotz has said that the 2nd line center job is essentially a battle between Marcus Johansson and Evgeny Kuznetsov and that the loser of the battle will likely be shifted to the wing. So where does the loser fit best? All sample sizes involving Kuznetsov, he of the 17 NHL games, are entirely too small to draw any meaningful conclusions, so I’m not going to focus on him for now. Instead, I want to look at Johansson.

I’m skeptical of his ability to be an effective 2C for any team that hopes to compete this season. Johansson is an alright player, but he’s yet to become the player the Caps hoped he would when they made him a 1st round pick. But even if he loses the 2C job, if Trotz sticks to what he says and puts Johnasson on the wing, it’s hard to believe he won’t be on the 2nd line (or maybe the first, but I’m going to hold out hope Fehr gets that spot). The 3rd line wingers are almost certainly Jason Chimera and Joel Ward and it’s hard to see Johansson demoted to the 4th line in favor of any of the remaining wingers.

As I’ve said, Kuznetsov’s sample sizes are too small to draw much from. So, if Brouwer and Johansson end up on the 2nd line together (whether MoJo is a C or W), is this a duo that’s likely to be part of an effective 2nd line? Here’s a look at their CF% together and when apart.

mojobrouwer

Brouwer and Johansson together are sub 47%. This is not a good start to the makings of an effective 2nd line. That’s not to say a change in systems or a boost in chemistry from the 3rd player on the line couldn’t help things, but this is starting behind the 8-ball, so to speak.

But what’s really interesting here is that Johansson’s CF% isn’t good with or without Brouwer (Brouwer’s overall CF% w/out Johansson is solid). In his career, over 3411 minutes of play, Marcus Johansson is only a 47.6% CF player. Johansson has played 191 or more minutes with 20 different players during his NHL career. He has a CF% of 50 or greater with just one of these players, Nick Backstrom. Only 1 of these players, Jay Beagle, has seen an increase in CF% with Johansson than without him. In general (as in, 95% of the time in our sample) Johansson is a sub-50% CF player and drags down his teammate’s possession numbers.

But, a closer look is cause for some hope when it comes to Johansson’s possession. Here’s his career FenClose rel numbers by season.

mojofenclose

So, after being a negative possession player, relative to his team in his first two seasons, Johansson has been a positive possession player in the two seasons since. This won’t necessarily show up as a +50% CF since Johansson was a positive possession player on relatively weak possession teams. This isn’t a knock on Johansson, in fact it’s a credit to him for doing more with less, so to speak.

What to expect moving forward

Sometimes it’s hard to remember that Johansson is only entering his age-24 season (determined by the player’s age on Feb 1st of that season). Since 1998, 4 other players have played at least as many career minutes as Johansson (4327) with his point total (139) or less by the end of their age 23 season. Taking a look at these players in their age-24 seasons can help us see if it’s realistic to expect any sort of jump in production from Johansson this year or if he is what he is at this point, so to speak.  Here’s each player’s goals, assists, and points per 60 minutes entering their age-24 season, which Johansson is about to enter.

Player G/60 A/60 P/60
Marcus Johansson 0.5 1.11 1.60
Dustin Brown 0.59 0.85 1.44
Martin Hanzal 0.43 0.96 1.39
Josh Bailey 0.58 0.78 1.36
Brandon Sutter 0.62 0.71

1.33

Johansson has been the most productive player/60 minutes of play among those who met the criteria. It should be noted that all players on this list are former first round picks. Further, all of these players except Brown are listed as Centers. But what about production when these players enter their age-24 season? Can it tell us anything about what to expect from Johansson this year?

G/60 A/60 P/60
Through age-23 season 0.55 0.83 1.38
Age-24 season 0.45 0.95 1.4

While the goals and assists were distributed a little differently, the overall production is within .02 P/60, an insignificant difference. So, those expecting a drastic uptick in production from Johansson will likely be disappointed.

But, his improved relative possession play over the past two seasons is encouraging. Can this result in better possession from him and Brouwer a a duo? I’m not sure, but my guess is that we’re going to find out, whether Johansson plays as the C or W on the line.

To recap this and other posts, here are the conclusions I’ve reached about the Caps lines so far:

Ovechkin-Backstrom-Fehr

Johansson (as W or C)-?-Brouwer

Ward-Laich-Chimera

I’ll have some thoughts on the 4th line next week.

War on Ice, Hockey Analysis, and Hockey Reference all used as resources for this article 

Brooks Laich and Troy Brouwer: Only one can fit in the Caps top-6

Barry Trotz has said not to read too much into his lines for the first 3 preseason games. He has also dropped a few hints as to what the regular season lines may look like. He has said Nick Backstrom and Alex Ovechkin will play together, as will Jason Chimera and Joel Ward. He has also said that the 2nd line center battle is between Maruc Johansson and Evgeny Kuznetsov, with the loser likely being shifted to the wing. This is music to my ears. What this hopefully means is that the loser will shift to wing and not the 3C slot because Brooks Laich will be the 3C. This would eliminate an issue that Trotz has that revolves around the fact that there is not room for Laich and Troy Brouwer in the top-6 because, as I’ll spell out below, it will result in non-optimal line combinations.

I’ve already written about the fact that I think Eric Fehr should be the winger to play with Backstrom and Ovechkin. But for my purpose here, I’ll back up and explain why Laich and Brouwer can’t both fit in the Caps top-6.

First, here’s a look at Brooks Laich’s CF% with and without Backstrom and Ovechkin.

laich with and without

Laich’s possession game suffers when playing with Ovechkin. His possession game improves slightly when with Backstrom. Now, let’s look at how Ovechkin and Backstrom do with and without Laich.

backstrom and ovechkin with laich

This chart is about all I need to see that Laich shouldn’t be in the running for playing alongside Ovechkin and Backstrom.  He’s dead weight to them. He drags their possession numbers down drastically. Yes, Laich’s possession numbers see a slight improvement when playing with Backstrom, but this is more than offset by the much larger dip in possession Backstrom sees with Laich relative to without him.

So what about Troy Brouwer? Maybe he can play alongside the Caps dynamic duo.

brouwer with and without

Brouwer’s possession play suffers when playing with the Caps two best players. This doesn’t bode well for him being a viable option as the RW to play alongside them come opening night. But, for the sake of thoroughness, let’s see what playing with Brouwer does to Backstrom’s and Ovechkin’s possession.

backstrom ovechkin brouwer

I think these two charts show that playing Brouwer with Ovechkin and Backstrom is a possession disaster, which would make it pretty tough for this line to be successful.

So, if neither Laich nor Brouwer are a fit to play RW on the Caps top line, one possibility is that they will play on the 2nd line together. As has been well-documented by many of those around the Caps Blogosphere, these two together are a DISASTER. In case you’re not convinced, here’s another fancy chart.

brouwerlaich

Laich and Brouwer are not a good combination on a line together. Neither fits on the top line. That leaves room for one of them in the top-6 on the second line. Laich’s versatility and the Caps lack of depth at Center make him the clear candidate to be used as the 3C instead of in the top-6. This puts Brouwer playing wing on the 2nd line.

To reiterate, putting only one of these two in the top-6 makes sense on multiple levels:

-It keeps either player from dragging down the Ovechkin/Backstrom duo.

-It keeps the two from playing together, which is a disaster.

-Placing Laich at 3C helps shore up the Caps lack of depth down the middle.

All stats from Hockey Analysis 

On Nick Backstrom, appreciation, and linemates

Backstrom_1

Photo by Amanda Bowen of RRBG Photography

Barry Trotz has not been shy in heaping praise upon Nick Backstrom since becoming head coach of the Caps. Trotz has also noted how under appreciated he feels Backstrom is around the league. I think Backstrom is deeply appreciated by Caps fans, generally recognized as one of the most important players on this team. But, just in case you forgot about how great Backstrom is, here’s a reminder.

backstromusage

Backstrom’s career usage chart displays a few things,none of which are surprising, but that I think are  cool to see in visual form. The first is that he’s only been a negative possession player relative to his teammates once in his career. That is was in 2008-09, and it was by less than 1/4 of a %. Other than that, the Caps, season-by-season, have always been a better possession team with Backstrom on the ice than without him. Backstrom has also faced pretty stiff competition, almost always finishing a season north of 29.2% TOI competition. That’s what we’d expect to find from a 1C who is often deployed with Alex Ovechkin.

Much has been made about the fact that Alex Ovechkin will likely start the season back at LW. It’s a fairly safe assumption that Backstrom will line up at Center on a line with Ovechkin. What potential RW would benefit the most by being centered by Backstrom? And what player would Backstrom most benefit from having on his right side?

I’m making a few assumptions in my considerations. One is that Brooks Laich and Evgeny Kuznetsov are not candidates, as I expect them to fill the 3C and 2C spots, respectively. I’m also assuming that most any winger is eligible. It is safe to assume that Trotz won’t be as obsessed with handedness as Adam Oates was, right? I’ve also excluded Tom Wilson from my list of viable options to play alongside Backstrom because their sample size together is minuscule, so there’s nothing to learn from their history together. Here’s how the remaining options for Trotz stack up, measured in Corsi For with and without Backstrom. These are career numbers.

backstromwowy

A note on the sample size here. Minutes with Backstrom are as follows: Brouwer 758:32, Johansson 991:41, Ward 88:53, Fehr 391:26, Chimera 314:37.

Here’s how Backstrom fared with and without each player listed above.

Backstrompart2

 

The “with” sample sizes here are obviously the same.

Brouwer and Johansson have by far the biggest sample sizes playing with Backstrom. It’s clear that Brouwer and Backstrom are not a good match as they both see their possession numbers plummet when playing together. Johansson sees his possession numbers improve with Backstrom, but he’s dead weight to Backstrom, who sees a significant jump in possession away from Johansson. Jason Chimera also appears to be a poor fit with Backstrom.

Joel Ward’s sample size with Backstrom is quite small, but the results are decent. That being said, his skill set is one that thrives on a 3rd line and is likely not suited to play with the likes of Backstrom and Ovechkin on a regular basis.

That bring us to Eric Fehr. Fehr’s success with Ovechkin and Mikhail Grabovski is something we’ve already talked about here in other posts. Fehr’s possession benefits from playing with Backstrom and Backstrom’s possession drops the least when playing with Fehr out of all of the RW options. Long story short, if Eric Fehr is not playing RW alongside Ovechkin and Backstrom on opening night, I’ll consider it a mistake by Trotz.

Nicklas Backstrom is awesome, isn’t he? And boy, an Ovechkin-Backstrom-Fehr line on opening night sure does make a lot of sense.

All stats pulled from War on Ice and Hockey Analysis 

 

Examining the Caps’ possible line combinations

Barry Trotz’s projected lines are still a mystery, but his Q&A with Dan Rosen shed light on possible combinations. Trotz revealed who he’d like to keep on the wing and try at center, in addition to his vision for the Caps’ fourth line. With this new information in mind, here’s a look at mixing and matching certain players.

 

Who will play alongside Ovechkin and Backstrom?

While Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom have two of the top line’s three slots locked up, questions still abound. Will Trotz play Ovechkin as a right or left wing? Once that’s decided, who will complete the trio?

Marcus Johansson typically played with Ovechkin and Backstrom, but Trotz plans to try him at center. Should Johansson perform well, it’s unlikely that we’ll see him playing with Ovechkin and Backstrom–he’s a viable candidate for second-line center, and it’s possible that Trotz will move Ovechkin back to left wing to account for the Caps’ surplus of right wings.

Should Ovechkin line up on the left, Troy Brouwer seems like the Caps’ go-to guy. He’s seen plenty of ice time as a second-liner, so making the transition to top-line minutes is feasible. However, the majority of his production came on the power play–a problem that plagued Ovechkin and Backstrom. Furthermore, Brouwer’s Corsi-for with Backstrom was 49.5%.

So, is Brouwer really the best fit to play right wing on the top line? Given the excess of right wings in the Caps’ system, I say no. Throw in Trotz’s belief that Tom Wilson should play top-nine minutes, and it’s almost difficult to see where Brouwer fits into the equation. He could very well be a trade candidate. Second-line center, anyone?

This leaves Eric Fehr, Joel Ward, and Wilson. Trotz expressed his desire to keep Ward on a line with Jason Chimera, so Fehr and Wilson are probably the most likely options. Wilson isn’t a likely choice, given his relative inexperience. On the other hand, playing Fehr and Ovechkin saw time together as wings and boasted a Corsi-for of 50.9%.  Fehr and Backstrom are an even more promising combination, as their career Corsi-for clocks in at 54.4%. (Last season’s 47.6% was a bump in what’s been an otherwise smooth road.) Statistics aside, Fehr is a creative player and good skater. He can get the puck to his teammates and capitalize on chances himself. Should Ovechkin return to left wing, I’d like to see Fehr as one of his linemates.

 

What if Ovechkin remains a right wing?

Of course, the above scenarios assume that Trotz doesn’t keep Ovechkin at right wing. An opening still remains, so who fills it? We can rule Johansson out for aforementioned reasons, thus leaving Evgeny Kuznetsov and Brooks Laich. Note: even if Andre Burakovsky cracks the lineup, I’m skeptical of how he’ll handle top-line minutes during his rookie season. As I said earlier, Trotz would be foolish to split up Ward and Chimera. However, he stated his intentions to try Kuznetsov and Laich (assuming he’s healthy) down the middle. Both are promising options.

However, someone will be the odd man out, and in turn, likely play an important role on the second line. The need for a 2C is no secret, and Johansson could trump Kuznetsov and Laich in that department. If he can’t find his scoring touch as a winger, he might be more successful at setting up plays than finishing them. He also has previous experience playing center and tallied 36 assists last seasons, second only to Backstrom.

If Trotz wants to use Kuznetsov to supplement the top line’s offense, he’s narrowed the search down to Laich and Johansson. Since there are no guarantees of Laich’s health, Johansson might be the better option–it’s hard to find good centermen, and the Caps need consistency down the middle. Johansson’s also in the last year of his contract, and his role with the Caps is still uncertain. If he succeeds as a 2C, he’s made a strong case for a contract extension.

 

Where do Burakovsky and Wilson fit?

Two players I haven’t discussed in detail are Burakovsky and Wilson. Trotz has made known his plans for each: Burakovsky is a possibility down the middle, while Wilson should see top-nine minutes. The former will, at the very least, begin his season in Hershey. If he sees NHL ice time, I’d prefer it to be at his natural position, left wing. If the Caps wish to mold Burakovsky into a center, Hershey is the best place to make that happen. A player of his talents shouldn’t be stuck on a checking line.

That statement also applies to Wilson, who saw minimal ice time last season. Since Chimera and Ward will likely comprise two-thirds of the third line, that leaves an opening for Wilson on the second line (granted, Brouwer would have to be playing on the top line or with a different team for that to happen.) Wilson cannot spend another season trapped on the fourth line, and it appears as though Trotz will give him the chance to step up offensively with increased minutes and tougher competition.

TONIGHT! Win this Caps prize basket and help raise money to find a cure for Parkinson’s disease

IMG_1814This is a cause that has special meaning to the two of us that started this blog…

Come win this Caps prize basket—which includes an autographed Troy Brouwer picture (thanks to the Caps for donating that!), four bobbleheads, a Caps scarf, blanket and more—and help raise money for the Michael J. Fox Foundation and Parkinson’s research.

Since being diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease in 2011, our mother has been working tirelessly to raise money for TEAM FOX, to help the Michael J. Fox Foundation in their efforts to help find a cure. In just her first year doing this, she raised nearly $8,000 through events like the one tonight in Baltimore.

Please join us for this fundraiser as we help her continue to raise funds for the cause:

TONIGHT!
Saturday, October 26, 2013 at 5 pm

Our Lady of Victory School
4416 Wilkens Avenue
Baltimore, Maryland 21229

The cost is $20 and tickets are available at the door. There will be 18 regular bingo games plus three special games. Prizes are bags (Vera Bradley, Coach and 31) & baskets (Longaberger) filled with a theme of goods & services.

There will also be various raffles at the event, including a 50/50, and food & drinks will be available for purchase, with those proceeds going to the cause as well. Door open at 4 pm and games start at 5 pm. If you can’t make the event but would still like to make a donation, you can do that here.

IMG_1815

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.

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.

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