Washington Capitals: 4 Biggest Offseason Needs They Still Must Address
When this offseason began for the Washington Capitals, the list of things that general manager George McPhee had to address was daunting, to say the least.
Find a new coach.
Have a successful draft.
Find a second-line center.
Get the key restricted free agents resigned while, at the same time, try and collect important pieces via unrestricted free agency.
Deal with the Alexander Semin situation—well that was pretty much just a matter of saying good bye to Semin, but you get the picture.
Barely two months later, McPhee has whittled his to-do list down considerably. A good article on McPhee's offseason accomplishments can be found here at sickunbelievable.com.
I don't see how a Caps' fan can be anything but pleased with what McPhee has done in the offseason.
First he solved the problem he has had since Sergei Federov returned to Russia by trading for Mike Ribeiro and obtaining his second-line center in the process (Washington Times).
Not satisfied with just drafting Forsberg and Wilson, McPhee took it to the next level by recently signing Forsberg to a three year deal (Washington Times) and then signing Wilson to a similar deal (Washington Post).
To make a good situation even better, McPhee got both guys involved with the Caps other draft choices at the Caps development camp in early July (Washington Post).
On the free-agency front, McPhee has resigned numerous important pieces of the Caps lineup including Mathieu Perreault and Jay Beagle (Sports Illustrated).
McPhee then took what many consider to be a gamble—but one with immense upside potential—by reaching a new three year, $18.25 million deal with often injured defenseman Mike Green (Washington Post). Many Caps' fans did not like this move. But Green did play quite well in the playoffs so, perhaps, he has turned the corner.
As for unrestricted free agents, McPhee has made a few moves. Nothing big or splashy. But he has signed players that should add depth to the team. For instance, a left winger like Wojtek Wolski could be a suitable replacement for Alex Semin, if Semin does in fact leave.
Something similar could be said for Ryan Stoa or defenseman Jack Hillen. Thus far, McPhee has been quite shrewd with the moves he has made—and there are still a few moves out there that he could yet make.
And then there was McPhee's choice for the new head coach. As all Caps' fans know, McPhee gave the nod to former team captain, Adam Oates (Washington Times), in the hope that Oates could bring a more up-tempo style of game back to the Caps, while maintaining the defensive toughness the team displayed under Dale Hunter.
In what might be a good omen, Oates then got selected for induction into the Hall of Fame (Washington Times) later that day.
And then, very recently, McPhee helped Oates fill out his coaching staff by bringing in former Caps' player Calle Johansson as an assistant coach (Washington Post). Johansson might be a bit light on experience but certainly has a lot of enthusiasm.
Then, as reported by Katie Carrera yesterday, Oates rounded out his coaching staff by naming Tim Hunter as an assistant coach (Washington Post). In sharp contrast to Johansson, Hunter has tons of experience as an assistant coach—13 seasons to be exact—including some prior experience in DC.
That is a lot for any GM to accomplish in an offseason, let alone one that still has a few months remaining to it.
About the only thing McPhee has not done is resolve this pesky CBA situation that threatens the entire upcoming season.
But in reality, there are a few offseason needs that McPhee has not completely addressed yet.
Here are four things McPhee and the Caps still need to address, or at least address further, before the start of the new season.
1. Resign John Carlson
I have said it before. I have written about it before. Frankly, I am tired of preaching to the choir about this.
But I will do it again anyway.
One thing George McPhee needs to get done is he has to resign John Carlson.
Now I am not saying he should be giving Carlson the same sort of money he just gave to Mike Green. Maybe if Carlson ever has a 70-point season, then they can cross that bridge. True, Green might not ever hit 70 points again, but he did it once and that carries some weight.
Nevertheless, Carlson probably deserves more than the qualifying offer the Caps gave him. He did not have a good 2011-2012 regular season as he had only nine goals, 23 assists, a paltry 32 points and a downright dismal minus-15 rating.
But I think Carlson earned a pay raise by his performance in the playoffs. His pairing with Karl Alzner in the playoffs solidified Carlson as one of the two best defenders on the Caps. Alzner and Carlson shut down the best the Boston Bruins and New York Rangers could throw at them time and time again.
If Carlson resigns, then he and Alzner could absolutely become one of the better defensive pairings in the NHL, along the lines of Zdeno Chara and Dennis Seidenberg or the now-splintered combination of Ryan Suter and Shea Weber.
Carlson improved so much during the playoffs, both defensively and as a scoring threat that if the Caps do not retain his services it would be the kind of blow that could really set the team back.
I think it will get done sooner rather than later. As Kevin Klein at sickunbelievable.com reported, in the days leading up to the Mike Green signing, McPhee indicated that contracts for both defensemen were forthcoming (sickunbelievable.com).
Obviously that was very true as to Green. But there has been no word as to Carlson yet.
I would say this is the most important offseason need that has not yet been met.
2. Add More Depth on Defense
I categorize this as an offseason need that has only been partially met.
Like many Caps' fans, I was not surprised, or particularly disappointed, to see Dennis Wideman get dealt to the Calgary Flames (Washington Times). Wideman is a good two-way defender but he made too many mistakes for my liking.
Still his departure left a hole for the Caps to fill on defense. As mentioned previously, the Caps have made some moves towards this goal by some of their free-agent signings.
However I feel some more moves could be made here and the Caps should target a big physical unrestricted free agent that will be able to easily adapt to, and perhaps even advance, the defensive philosophy begun by Dale Hunter last season (and that, in all likelihood, will also be stressed by Adam Oates and his coaching staff).
There is nothing wrong with Jack Hillen or Garrett Stafford—but neither one is really on the same level as someone like Wideman.
Luckily for the Caps, there are still some good defensemen available through free agency who could help them.
At the top of my list here is Pavel Kubina. At 6'4" and 258 pounds, Kubina is an imposing physical presence on the ice and he absolutely knows how to punish the opposition.
I think putting Kubina and Mike Green together as the second defensive line would create a great contrast of style. Kubina would be the bruising punishing player while Green would push the puck into the offensive zone and look for scoring opportunities. This would keep opponents off balance and could really solidify the Caps defense.
There are a few other defensemen who would warrant a second or third look from George McPhee.
Players like Michal Rozsival from Phoenix or Jaroslav Spacek from Carolina or Carlo Colaiacovo from St. Louis are also still available and, at this stage of the game, could probably be obtained for a reasonable price.
If any of these players are obtained, it creates a lot of flexibility for the Caps on defense. Roman Hamrilik, John Erskine, Hillen and Dmitry Orlov can be mixed and matched to try and come up with the very best defensive pairings possible. Just as Mike Ribeiro's acquisition gave a great deal of flexibility for the offense, adding someone like Kubina would have a similar effect.
Defense wins championships and it is time the Caps make a concerted effort to prove that old saying to be true.
3. Find a Replacement for Alexander Semin
One thing that seemed a foregone conclusion once the Caps' season ended in an agonizing seven-game series loss to the Rangers was that Alexander Semin had probably played in his final game as a Capital.
Indeed, both sides wished each other well with their future endeavors and that was it. On July first, Semin became an unrestricted free agent and figured to be a hot commodity on the free agent market.
Three weeks later Semin remains unsigned and there is not much indication that a NHL team is willing to give him the big payday with the multi-year deal he has been seeking.
For the Caps, they seemingly accepted the fact that Semin would be gone and began to try and find a replacement through free agency.
As mentioned earlier, the Caps recently signed Wojtek Wolski, Ryan Stoa and Zach Hamill to try and, apparently, replace Semin by committee.
But similar to the defense, there are still a couple of free agents available who could slide into Semin's spot very easily—and could also make a difference.
Many Caps' fans speak of Shane Doan, the long time captain of the Phoenix Coyotes, as someone the Caps should pursue and I agree with that 100 percent. His leadership would be a nearly immeasurable asset for a team that, at times, seems lost and leaderless.
Doan had a 50-point season a year ago while Semin had 54. Based on numbers alone, getting Doan would be a good acquisition.
But it is what Doan has that Semin does not that would make this a real coup for McPhee—playoff toughness and an unrelenting desire to win. The lack of these two traits probably explains why Semin remains unsigned as much as anything.
Unfortunately though, as Chuck Gormley of CSNWashington reported fairly recently, the Caps were not on Doan's short list of teams he wanted to play for (CSNWashington).
If that is true than the Caps might have to look elsewhere for a replacement for Semin.
Another possibility might be Andrei Kostitsyn. The unrestricted free agent for the Nashville Predators remains unsigned. Kostitsyn only scored 36 points a season ago so signing him would seem to represent a reduction in production. But Kostitsyn does have skill and he would give the Caps some more flexibility on the wing.
The same could be said for Petr Sykora, the talented right winger who played in New Jersey last year. Sykora had 44 points last season so the Caps should be able to count on him to produce at a level close to what Semin did.
But, interestingly, the best replacement for Semin might actually be Semin himself. As reported by Sean Gentille of AOL Sporting News, Semin's agent claims that McPhee is constantly asking for Semin to return to the Caps (AOL Sporting News). While I find that very unlikely, McPhee did not completely rule out a Semin return to DC.
In my opinion, the longer Semin remains unsigned, the chances of him returning to the Caps increase. If no other team is willing to give Semin a multi-year deal, then why not return to a team with whom you are very familiar, with players who are your friends and with a new coach and coaching staff who might be able to bring the best out of you?
It makes sense to me.
4. Develop an Identity
This became more of a pressing need once Adam Oates was hired. The reason being that Oates was hired to bring a more up-tempo style of offense to the team. In many ways this seemed like George McPhee essentially stating that he wanted to see the return of the offensive juggernaut version of the Caps from the 2009-2010 season.
But at the same time, McPhee wants to see a blend of an up-tempo offense with a tight defense (CBS DC). The question then becomes this: Who are the Washington Capitals and what will they look like in 2012-2013?
One of the Caps' big problems the last couple of seasons was that they lost their identity. The team that absolutely buried teams under a deluge of goals during the 2009-2010 regular season was exposed during the playoffs against Montreal.
The following season, when the Caps tried to be that same team, their secret was out and teams knew how to play them. The Caps had to adjust, stop being so high-flying, buckle down and play hard. It earned them another No. 1 seed in the playoffs—but the team still did not know how to win in the playoffs.
This past season, the Caps identity crisis was seemingly resolved during the playoffs as they embraced the defensive grind-it-out style of hockey that Dale Hunter was so used to—and it very nearly got the Caps to the Eastern Conference Finals for the first time sine 1998.
Now they are being told to be a bit of both, again.
Wait. Isn't that how we got into this mess in the first place?
With a few months remaining in the offseason, McPhee and Oates would be wise to spend some serious time with the team explaining exactly what they want and who they want the Caps to be.
This team needs to get off to a good start. Each player, each line and each coach needs to truly understand and execute a game plan that, hopefully, will accomplish this blending of aggressive, up-tempo hockey with tight defensive hockey.
Another identity crisis could undo a great deal of the success George McPhee has accomplished this offseason.