Washington Capitals: Why Rebuilding Through the Draft Is the Right Way to Go
Washington Capitals fans who have been waiting patiently for the Caps to make a big splash in free agency have, so far, been disappointed.
No, the Caps were never really thought of as serious contenders for the services of Zach Parise or Ryan Suter, but the possibility was there.
There was more hope for the Caps to land players such as Jiri Hudler, P.A. Parenteau or Olli Jokinen, but none of those deals came to pass either.
For those hoping the Caps might land the other top-rated defenseman available, Matt Carle, but that went by the wayside when Carle signed with the Tampa Bay Lightning.
The Caps did make a couple of signings today, though.
They re-signed restricted free-agent centers Mathieu Perreault and Jay Beagle to add to some of the lesser-known players they have added.
Sexy, eye-popping signings? Not exactly. But they do add some depth to a team that seems intent on rebuilding—or perhaps retooling is the better word—through the draft.
It is the smart play for the Caps, and a sign that the shift in philosophy that got going during the recent playoff run might not vanish just because Dale Hunter decided to return to the OHL
How Would You Rate The Caps 2012 Draft?
Whether you agree or disagree with the Caps' apparent decision to not spend enormous amounts of money on free agents who probably could have helped the team, one almost unanimous feeling is that they just had an excellent draft, one of their best.
Before the draft even got started, the Caps used one of their eleven picks to help them acquire the second-line center George McPhee has been seeking for several years now, as they traded the No. 54 pick and Cody Eakin to the Dallas Stars in exchange for Mike Ribeiro.
Once the draft got going, the Caps got perhaps the steal of the draft by nabbing Filip Forsberg with the No. 11 pick. They then picked the very promising, and physical, Tom Wilson with the No. 16 pick.
In the third round, the Caps selected another promising forward in Chandler Stephenson.
All three were integral parts of the US Under-18 team that took gold at the World Championships. As reported by Adam Kimelman with NHL.com, Ross Mahoney, the Caps director of amateur scouting, was thrilled with the three selections from the US Developmental program:
"They're winners," Mahoney said. "They won again [World Under-18 Championship gold medal]. Talking to the people in that program, they said it was the best group of kids they've ever had, and they've had some pretty good young men come through that program."
In between, the Caps drafted right winger Austin Wuthrich from Notre Dame, defensemen Christian Djoos and Jaynen Rissling, from Sweden and the WHL respectively, and goaltender Sergei Kostenko from Russia.
Kostenko is the elder of the group at a whopping 19 years old. The rest are either 17 or 18. Clearly, the Caps are building for the future while keeping an eye on the present.
So why is rebuilding and retooling through the draft the better move for the Caps? If you simply look at their recent history, I believe it is easy to see how, at this juncture, the Caps are better served rebuilding their ranks through the draft, as opposed to trying to make a big splash in free agency.
If you go back and look at the Caps' players who have made the biggest impact recently, many more of them came to Washington via the draft than free agency.
Alexander Semin in the 2002 draft.
Alexander Ovechkin and Mike Green in 2004.
Nicklas Backstrom and Seymon Varlamov in 2006.
Karl Alzner in 2007.
John Carlson and Braden Holtby in 2008.
Dmitri Orlov and Marcus Johansson in 2009.
Evgeny Kuznetsov in 2010—well, he has the potential to make an impact anyway.
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Compare that list to the free agents the Caps have picked up over roughly the same time frame.
Brain Pothier and Donald Brashear in 2006.
Viktor Kozlov, Tom Poti and Michael Nylander in 2007.
Jose Theodore in 2008.
Mike Knuble in 2009 worked out quite well, but that is an exception to the Caps' recent free-agent history.
2010 was a pretty good year as well, as the Caps acquired Matt Hendricks, Thomas Fleischmann and Jay Beagle.
In 2011, the Caps put all their eggs into the free agency basket with rather mixed results. Troy Brouwer and Roman Hamrlik had decent seasons; the former scored the game-winning goal in Game 5 of the series against the Boston Bruins.
Joel Ward scored one of the biggest goals in franchise history, notching the overtime winner in Game 7 against the Bruins. But he then became a goat by drawing a damning double minor penalty in the closing moments of Game 5 against the Rangers. New York would tie the game with 6.6 seconds left and go on to win in overtime as the second penalty of the double minor was still in effect.
Thomas Vokoun, on the other hand, can only be considered a disappointment.
The Caps have certainly had, at best, some success through free agency. They have had more success, however, by building through the draft.
Do You Agree With the Caps Free Agency Strategy Thus Far?
There are still a couple of free agents out there who could make a difference for the Caps. Shane Doan stands out as a possibility, and Washington has the cap space available to make a serious run at him. And what Caps fan out there wouldn't welcome a second line of Brooks Laich, Mike Ribeiro and Shane Doan?
While I do not believe the Caps are in a full rebuilding mode, there is little question that the 2012-2013 team will look different than in previous years. Alexander Semin is likely leaving, Dennis Wideman was traded to Calgary and Mike Green has not yet re-signed.
With Adam Oates now taking the reigns in DC, the Caps seem more inclined to return to the up-tempo style of play which the team utilized when it was winning the President's Trophy and securing the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference.
It will be a couple of years before we see Forsberg, Wilson and Kuznetsov rocking the red, although the hiring of Oates, and the belief that he will focus more on the offense, would seem to be a step in the right direction towards getting all three over to the NHL as soon as possible.
But the Caps look to be loaded with talent and explosiveness on offense for the next few years. If Oates can get the team to gel and develop chemistry over the next couple of years, the Capitals are going to be very dangerous very soon.
With their hit-and-miss history with free agency, and with the very good draft the Caps just had, rebuilding and/or retooling through that route was the right way to go.
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