Adam Proteau of The Hockey News answers Caps-entric questions.
Do you foresee any more changes to the Capitals roster? (Jim, DC)
The big question mark for me – aside from the standard inclination to wonder if a young goalie (such as Simeon Varlamov) can sustain his playoff prowess through an entire regular season and beyond – concerns what George McPhee is able to with Michael Nylander.
If he convinces Nylander to play in Europe, he can more easily address the grit of the defense corps, which I think most people believe is Washington’s most pressing on-ice need. Getting an early jump on deciding whether to trade Alex Semin or Nicklas Backstrom – a choice I think they’re fated to make – might also help them in their search for some swarthy-type blueliners.
How far do you think the Capitals will make it next season and what do they need to get over the hump? (Lauren, Arlington)
As we saw with the Penguins, it is possible for a young team to win the Stanley Cup. I’m not prepared to say the Caps will be that team next year, but they’re certainly a playoff team, and a favorite to repeat as Southeastern Division champs.
Once they’re in the playoffs, they’ll need better offensive production from their support players – and a much better showing from Mike Green.
I mentioned an infusion of grit for Washington’s defense corps as their No. 1 need. Replacing Nylander with a passable second-line center is No. 2.
Who will be the starting goalie in Washington this year? (Chad, F Street!)
After the playoffs Varlamov had, it has to be him – at least, to start the season – doesn’t it? The Caps don’t want to start the season with that kind of controversy, do they? Hey, aren’t you supposed to be the one asking the questions?
Are the Capitals going to play in the Winter Classic? (Cathy, Alexandria)
The NHL picked Sidney Crosby’s Penguins for Buffalo’s outdoor game in 2008; it also had Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews in Chicago last January for the successful spectacle at Wrigley Field. To not include Alex Ovechkin in the next outdoor game – especially if there winds up being two games – would be inexcusable conduct on the league’s behalf.
What is on the horizon for Backstrom and Semin contract-wise? (Andre, PG)
Many, many bank trucks. You’d have to figure a new deal for Backstrom, already a magnificent talent at age 21, starts in the $5-6 million a year range – and that’s if you’re talking at least double-digits in contract term. You’d also have to figure Semin would want at least that much on a long-term pact – and that both players could command far more on the open market. Hence my earlier comment about the painful decision that’s coming.
Have you heard anything about Anton Gustafsson? What is his status? (Patrick, Alexandria)
I haven’t followed Gustafsson very much, other than hearing he will be at Washington’s development camp in mid-July. Whether he’ll stick with the Caps, play in Hershey, or return to Sweden, I don’t think anybody knows.
Who will stand up for Semin now that Brashear is gone? (David, Arlington)
Um, Semin, maybe? Not to worry, though. I’m sure there’s an Andrew Peters or an Andre Roy out there who’ll make scary faces at the opposition.