Up for Grabs

With the 2009-2010 regular season approaching and anticipation as ardent as ever, the Washington Capitals will look to close in on the first Stanley Cup. What is not yet known is the roster that will start that chase for Washington at Boston on the eve of October 1st.

As of now, there are two roster spots open and both are Michael Nylander’s presumable wingers. Eric Fehr and Tomas Fleischmann are ailing with injuries and it is certain the latter will miss time well into the season’s inaugural month.

With the interest of filling those two positions, which non-NHLers will or have impressed Gabby and GMGM enough to fill the void?

Chris Bourque – Sparkplug in his heart, the Boston native is an energy guy and a reliable scoring threat even with limited minutes. While he hasn’t stunned anyone just yet, he can offer Michael Nylander some dependable and trustworthy relief in pressure and scoring situations.

The son of legend Ray Bourque deserves more regular time in the NHL and if he can pot a couple of goals and several assists in the first month, he’s likely going to put Bruce in a pickle about sending the winger back to the minors.

With Brendan Morrison likely centering Brooks Laich and Alex Semin, Chris Clark is a lock for the other wing position.  Is he going to live up to his self-created hype that he is as fit as ever? Who knows?

If anyone has a chance of unseating him for NHL minutes, it might be the veteran AHLer Quintin Laing. The 30-year old shot blocking machine during the Caps’ amazing run to the post-season in 2008 was a stellar defensive figure for his club and contributed modestly on offense.

While I admire the heart Laing has for putting his body in front of any shot he saw coming – for a team he played so seldom with (39 games in 2007-2008) – I do not believe he is the supplemental figure for this third line.

There are lots of ifs, ands, and buts however:

If Nylander doesn’t show any sort of willingness to score, commit, or both – is Laich then the third-line center? Does Clark then take Laich’s position on second-line right wing? Does the L-S-B line reunite?

Most importantly, where is the void that needs to be filled? Center? Wing? Defense?

All of these questions are really unanswerable. Boudreau’s lines are as unpredictable as Nylander’s scoring has been of late. With a plethora of young talent rising through the ranks, its only a matter of time when we see the likes of Oskar Osala, Mathieu Perreault, and Dmitri Kugryshev become Washington Capitals.

A Vote of Confidence

Michael Nylander, the Washington Capitals third line $4.5 million center, enjoyed his heyday in New York City not even three seasons ago. There, he played alongside all-time legend and contemporary Washington foe, Jaromir Jagr, and racked up a career best in points in 2006-2007.

While the bald Swede does have outstanding qualities like smooth skating, nifty stickhandling, and superb passing technique, he simply has not lived up to his standards – never mind expectations. What is expected of him this year is still up in the air (see interview with Tarik El-Bashir of the Washington Post).

Nylander maintains that he is still 100 percent committed to the Capitals organization and winning a championship with the team. George McPhee in contrast deems the Stockholm native is exploring his options in Russia like his former New York teammate did just one summer ago.

Should Nylander depart the D.C. dry spell that has defined his second tenure in the nation’s capital? He has all the right to stay and serve out two more tours if he so chooses (no-trade clause). The belief here is that he can be a positive contributor on this Washington team given two agile and sturdy wingers.

Remember in his first season back as a Cap in 2007-2008, the 36-year old was almost a point-per-game player – but his season was cut short due to a painful shoulder injury. On the flipside he was also a minus-19, whereas this season he was an even player with rubbish point totals.

What seemed like a falling out with Bruce Boudreau this season cannot be construed as the coach cold-shouldering the skilled center. If Nylander shows he can participate in Gabby’s system and contribute on the score sheet regularly, it will give him confidence while regains his form of three years ago.

Brendan Morrison was just four years ago a core member of the Vancouver Canucks along with the Sedin twins, Markus Naslund, and Todd Bertuzzi. Because of injuries and being out of form, in 2008-2009 he had a down season just like number 92. Yet, McPhee instilled the same confidence in him when he was signed in July that he attempted to do with Nyls just two off-seasons ago.

In addition, Nylander was originally offered a contract on the presumption that he would interchange between first and second center for the duration of his contract. This means he was intended to play with Alex Ovechkin, but Nicklas Backstrom quickly developed into the sure fire top dog.

When Nyls plays second pivot alongside “other Alex,” the result is pitiful as neither seems to “get” the other player. Most times Sasha Semin is waiting for that perfect pass while the Swede circles – then circles again, and again, and one more time for good measure – before the play dissipates. Third line minutes are not his cup o’ tea because the 12 to 14 minutes he ices every game aren’t enough for a magician, a creator, a tactician to rack up that desired point per game.

Nylander is a worthy member of this team, even a team this stacked on offense. He just needs to find his place in the system. Without a doubt, there is one. If he sticks around, 15 goals and 30 assists should silence any spring hissy fits.

My Mind is in Caps Land, but I’m Somewhere Else

Hi all,

Sorry I have not posted recently. I have been gallivanting across a few countries, most notably the Dominican Republic and Greece, while also preparing for the beginning of my senior year of college. I am not sure I’ll be able to cover rookie camp or main camp as well as I hope seeing as how I am in London doing my senior dissertation among other things.

BUT – I will be joining the OFB team so look out for some pieces at http://www.onfrozenblog.com.

Other great news to share includes being published by The Hockey News in their September 7 issue. I wrote a feature on Gary McLaughlin’s painting, called Blue Sky White Snow which depicts all the Toronto Maple Leafs to have ever played for the team between 1927 and 2007 – when it was completed. If you are subscribers to the magazine, check it out.

I hope all of you had fantastic summers and are anticipating an even more energetic and successful Capitals campaign.

Bummer

I did not do so well at the tables.

Vegas baby! Vegas!

Sorry for the late post but I will be in Las Vegas for the next week. If anything breaks I’ll be on it but it won’t be nearly as long as the “Johnson” post.

Wish me luck at the tables!

Boo Johnny and I’ll Boo You!

As most of you have already heard, a “class act” Capital as everyone has described him, Brent Johnson has decided to move on after four years with Washington that saw him start only a little more than a full season’s worth of games. The arch-enemy Pittsburgh Penguins picked him up off the free agent goalie list at below market value of $525,000 on a one year deal as reported by www.capgeek.com.

This signing, while it may seem like the treachery of a fan favorite, is nothing more than the salary cap getting the best of a team near the ceiling.

Let’s face it though – we have better options in net. Simeon Varlamov and Michal Neuvrith will carry this team for years to come. Jose Theodore still had 32 wins in a campaign in which he played only 57 games behind a renowned lackluster defense. I am not a Theodore fan, but to have a former Hart and Vezina Trophy winner as backup on a team put up those stats as a starter one season ago isn’t a bad thing.

Johnson is a career backup, having only played as a regular starter for one season – 2001-02 with St. Louis – in which he started 58 games. While Caps fans really got on Theodore’s back this season for not performing to his highest standard in addition to inconsistencies, I don’t believe all the hate was warranted.

Like most of you, I try and watch the East as much as possible and only really like to watch the Detroits, Anaheims, and Chicagos of the West. So when Theodore was signed last year, I didn’t know much about how he was performing aside from his achievement of getting Colorado past a solid Minnesota club in the first round only to get viciously pelleted by the Wings in the second. I diagnose Colorado’s exit as “Detroit is Just Sick” syndrome.

I believe that when the news of Theodore coming to DC broke, most red-rockers were celebrating as if a messiah had come to save us from the god-awfulness in net achieved by one Olaf Kolzig. Oh yeah, I strongly disliked Olaf Kolzig (because my father taught me not to hate) as the Caps’ goalie from about 2003 onwards – I applauded him as a community Capital that gave back to the nation’s capital.

That thought brings me back to good ol’ Brent Johnson. We loved him as many had adored Olie for so many years. In my estimation, he deserved more playing time that Kolzig simply because he was the better goalie.

He was a good goalie and when the team was performing well over the last few years, he did too. So when I say ‘when the team was performing well,’ I mean that was pretty rare from 2005-2007. His only winning campaign as a Capital was last season when he went 12-6.

He was the nice guy though – so will he be missed? Damn right!

As most tend to believe, Johnson was one of the finest characters to have in the locker room. But then again, we have the most celebrated character in the NHL who just happens to bang in about 50 to 60 goals per season and around that number in assists to boot.

I know what you’re thinking now. Ovie’s only seen four fantastic individual seasons in his career, two of which saw his team dig into the Stanley Cup Playoffs and not achieve anything but two Southeast Division banners. The veteran class act that’s been acquired to replace the venerable Johnson is Mike Knuble, a two-time Stanley Cup winner with Detroit in 1997 and 1998.

Knuble is looking to win a championship as a key member of his team for the first time in his career. Detroit’s glory days were not necessarily his own – he was on the bench during crucial moments in games and was scratched many times. The desire the ex-Flyer expressed to win a trophy as a key cog of this team trumps Johnson’s desire to start more than half a season and try to win a trophy if it’s in the cards.

Expect Knuble to hear the boo-birds when he returns to Philly twice in 2009-10. But that’s Philadelphia, home to a bunch of obnoxious and annoying people.

I once walked down a downtown Philadelphia street when a pregnant lady sitting on a bench asked for some change and when I declined, she thought that I was making fun of her because she was pregnant, thus making a huge scene on this downtown road.

In the District, we are by no means Southerners – but we do have a Southern courteous decency. So, please benevolently welcome Brent Johnson back to his home of four years when he comes to visit. When announcer Wes says anything close to resembling Pittsburgh or Penguins or both of those words together, sound off with all disgust in your body, but when he says Brent Johnson’s name I expect to hear nothing but applause.

Brent Johnson - #1 character Capital

Brent Johnson - #1 character Capital.

Post Free Agency Combos

These are TCL’s line combinations after free agency assuming no one else will sign. No point trusting me here seeing as how Boudreau changes his lines every shift, but I thought these would be the best lines for the team in 2009-10.

Ovechkin – Backstrom – Knuble

Semin – B. Morrison – Laich

Clark – Nylander – Fleishmann

Gordon – Steckel – Bradley (Fehr)

Green – S. Morrisonn

Poti – Erskine

Jurcina – Alzner (Shultz/Carlson/Orlov)

Varlamov

Theodore

Note: All restricted free agents are now signed.