NHL Lockout: 4 Stories to Watch While the Washington Capitals Wait
Aside from the lockout, a few Capitals players have gone overseas to the KHL to hone their skills and keep from getting rusty if the NHL were to return and salvage the remainder of the season.
Newly acquired Capitals players wait to play in their first game with the organization, and this leads to many unanswered questions.
Have the Capitals found a true second-line center in Mike Ribeiro?
Will Braden Holby be able to keep the starting goaltender job after stellar play in the playoffs last season?
Of course, the answers to these questions remain on hold as the NHL and NHLPA hammer out a new CBA.
These are the top four stories to watch while the Washington Capitals are locked out.
The Alexander Ovechkin Show
Washington Capitals' superstar Alexander Ovechkin has been anything but quiet during this NHL lockout.
He opted to play for Dynamo Moscow, a KHL team, and has been openly critical of the NHL during his stay. (via The Washington Post):
It’s not us who stop the NHL, it’s the league stop the NHL. Bettman and the owners stop NHL. They don’t play hockey, they don’t block the shots, they don’t fight, they don’t get hit. They just sit in a box and enjoy the hockey.
Ovechkin has become a bigger story in the world of hockey for what he said about a decision to come back to the NHL if an agreement is reached.
If our contracts get slashed, I will have to think whether to return there or not. I won’t rule out staying in the KHL, even past this season.
A very legitimate point made by Ovechkin who went on to say that many guys might stay over in the KHL if that happens.
Of course, this doesn't bode well for the NHL and not even Ovechkin as some in Washington D.C. have criticized his enthusiasm to play for the Capitals.
If and when the NHL comes to terms on a new agreement with the NHLPA they might see some of their stars stay overseas and snub American hockey organizations.
In the meantime, Russian sharpshooter Ovechkin will continue to amaze KHL fans with his elite play and big body checks.
Mike Ribeiro's Fit as the Second-Line Center
The biggest move this offseason for the Capitals was the acquisition of center Mike Ribeiro from the Dallas Stars.
It is supposed to be the answer to their second-line center problem and will give them some more offense down the middle.
It remains to be seen whether or not this will work but in the meantime Ribeiro has been a vocal critic of the NHL. (via CSNWashington.com):
This time I think were more optimistic that an agreement might happen earlier. Hopefully, by the end of November, so we can have December with. But the owners game plan, at least in my opinion, is that they'll start paying guys after a month and a half or two months, after they get the 20 percent they wanted.
As of right now, Ribeiro has yet to sign elsewhere to play hockey and continues to have informal practices at the Kettler Capitals Iceplex.
If Ribeiro decides to tune up his game elsewhere, all eyes from the Capitals organization will be on how the center performs. A few will also be crossing their fingers that the newly acquired center doesn't get injured if choosing to go overseas.
First-line center Nicklas Backstrom has always been a major point producer for the Capitals.
But in recent years Backstrom has tailed off a bit and gotten into some injury problems. Most notably, Backstrom suffered a concussion last January and missed 40 games.
He was able to return in April for the remainder of the season and a short playoff run but concussions can be very fickle.
Backstrom has been mulling over his options ever since this lockout started and has yet to commit to any team other than the Capitals. (via The Washington Times):
Obviously I have my home team back in Sweden, and there's a couple other options, too. But we'll see what happens. A lot of things have to click before I go.
The lockout creates a small problem for both Backstrom and the Capitals organization.
If Backstrom chooses to play overseas he might risk another concussion if targeted by an opposing player.
Concussions have a nasty habit of reappearing even if symptoms have long since passed.
It would also be more risky as the Capitals organization has no way to evaluate him as they locked out the players. It might be a matter of one big hit that could send Backstrom back to the bench and off the ice for the rest of the year.
The Goaltending Situation
Goaltender Braden Holtby was able to help the Capitals advance to the second round of the playoffs last season.
His stellar play led to a goaltending controversy this season as Michal Neuvirth was considered to be the Capitals' No. 1 goaltender.
Now that the NHL lockout has hit an interesting situation arises for both netminders.
Holtby was assigned to the Capitals' AHL affiliate Hershey Bears for the 2012-2013 season. The Capitals' organization will have a good eye on his performance down in the AHL and see whether last season's playoff run was a fluke or not.
Neuvirth has signed with his former team in the Czech Republic, HC Sparta Praha. (via The Washington Post):
For me, I just want to play. I think it’s going to be better to practice with a team, get some games. I would be happy if I could fly back in a couple weeks and get ready for the NHL season, but at this point I’m looking forward to playing in Czech. Hopefully we’ll all be back here soon.
The Capitals organization will keep tabs on both goaltenders and determine who will get the No. 1 starting goalie position by their play during the lockout.
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