When will we see Alex Ovechkin and the Caps this year?
With the first two weeks of the NHL regular season having been canceled (ESPN), and no real end to the lockout in sight, it is time to start looking at how canceled games and a shortened season will affect various teams.
Take the Washington Capitals for instance. Coming into the season, the Caps were one of those teams filled with question marks. With the first two weeks of the regular season now scrapped, those questions will remain largely unanswered.
Let's take a closer look at exactly how the lockout, the canceled games and the likelihood of more games being canceled is affecting the Caps.
Less Time For Adam Oates to Make Adjustments
When Adam Oates was named coach of the Washington Capitals (ESPN), he was already stepping into a tough situation. As a first-time coach, Oates was being asked to come to D.C. and make the Caps more up-tempo, improve their offense, improve their power play and somehow balance all that while maintaining the tough, gritty and physical style of defensive play the Caps showed during the playoffs.
With each game that gets canceled, Oates' job becomes that much more difficult. In an 82-game season, there is some margin for error. Sure, every coach wants to get off to a fast start. But even if the beginning of the season does not go quite according to form, an 82-game season provides the coaching staff with an opportunity to make adjustments, mix up the lines, employ different strategies and so forth.
Will We See NHL Hockey This Season?
Oates will not likely have that luxury. Barring something truly unexpected, if there is a season at all, Oates will have to hit the ice running. In a shortened season, where points will be at a premium, Oates and the Caps can't afford to get off to a bad start.
Certainly, that is not really fair but it is the situation Adam Oates will have to overcome.
If the Caps are to succeed, Oates will have to be up to the challenge.
Is Mike Ribeiro The Answer?
One of the biggest moves the Caps made this offseason was their draft-day trade where they acquired Mike Ribeiro from the Dallas Stars (Washington Times).
The hope is that Ribeiro would finally give the Caps a true second-line center for the first time since Sergei Federov returned to Russia.
The problem that the lockout is causing is it denies the Caps a good opportunity to evaluate Ribeiro's performance and determine whether, in fact, Ribeiro had solved the Caps' dilemma of finding a second-line center.
The problem gets compounded when one stops and recalls that Ribeiro only has one year remaining on his present contract. This puts the Caps in the unenviable position of having to decide whether to offer Ribeiro a new deal or let him go to free agency—without the benefit of a full season to review his play in order to make that difficult call.
And if the season is canceled completely, the Caps have probably lost any ability to evaluate the situation.
In this one area, perhaps more than any other, the lockout is having a huge effect on the Caps.
Is Braden Holtby The Answer?
Another question mark heading into the season was whether Braden Holtby could carry over his tremendous playoff success and maintain that level of excellence over the duration of an entire season.
If he could, then the Caps would have one less issue to worry about, knowing they had one of the better goalies in the NHL between the pipes.
If, however, he could not, then the Caps would either have to turn back to Michal Neuvirth or, perhaps, look elsewhere to try and address this need.
By and large, most people feel that Holtby is the real deal. The fact remains, however, that he has only played in 21 regular season games in his entire NHL career. Getting hot at the right time and having a magnificent playoff run is tremendous, no doubt about it.
But maintaining that level of play during the rigours of an 82-game regular season is equally important. Without question, the Caps would have liked an opportunity to evaluate their young potential superstar netminder over the course of an entire season and see how—particularly from a mental toughness standpoint—he hung in there.
Obviously, that will not happen and the more games that get canceled the more the Caps will have to wonder if their goalie of the present is really their goalie of the future—or whether Braden Holtby is just the goalie of the moment.
Will The Real Alexander Ovechkin Please Stand Up
One of the most important questions to be answered this year is whether Alexander Ovechkin could recapture his scoring touch and become the Great Eight once again.
Optimism was running somewhat high based on the belief that Adam Oates would be able to streamline the Caps offense and make it more amenable to Ovechkin's skill set.
If the Ovi of old were to return, then the Caps would immediately have to be considered a favorite to reach the Stanley Cup finals as the Eastern Conference representative.
If the Ovi who has struggled the past couple of seasons was the best the Caps could get, then this would obviously have a big impact on the Caps entire season.
As it turns out though, with the lockout in place, Alexander Ovechkin is playing in the KHL and threatening to stay overseas if player salaries are slashed any more (Washington Post).
While most people do not take this as a credible threat, the fact remains that the longer this lockout drags on, the greater the chances that Ovi decides the NHL is more trouble than it's worth. If that happens, and if Ovechkin does decide to remain in the KHL, it would be a huge blow to the Caps and the NHL.
What a colossal waste. Instead of Ovechkin being on the NHL ice and trying to silence all of his critics, he is in the KHL and who knows if, or when, he will return even if this lockout ends.
Instead, we are left with ESPN openly questioning whether D.C.'s love affair with Ovi has run out of steam.
To be sure, the lockout is having other effects on the Caps and there are other questions that need to be answered. But, in my opinion, these are the main areas of concern and the areas where this ongoing lockout is affecting the Caps the most.