Washington Capitals Armchair General Manager: Examining the Status of the Roster
Every Washington Capitals fan thinks they can be an "armchair general manager" for their beloved franchise.
"You should draft this player. He's good."
"We need to sign this player. He's the last piece of the Stanley Cup puzzle."
"Why don't you trade away that player? He's a bum."
Today, I will take on the job of armchair general manager of the Washington Capitals, to fully examine the status of the current roster. By doing so, I will answer such pressing questions as: Which players stayed? Which players left? Which players joined the team? Is the team better or worse than 2012? What changes still need to be made?
This examination will also include a look at how well the Washington Capitals are built to sustain injuries, and what if any pieces of their roster could be moved as part of a trade.
So, without further ado, here is a look at the Washington Capitals through the eyes of the "armchair general manager." The team will receive a grade for how they fared in each category.
During this offseason, the Washington Capitals did not have a significant list of unrestricted free agents, that may have forced the organization to make difficult choices as to who they should resign and who they should let go.
Washington Capitals players vital to the franchise's future, such as Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom, Brooks Laich, Troy Brouwer, Karl Alzner, Braden Holtby and Michal Neuvirth, were under contract at least through the 2012-13 season.
But there were still a few significant pieces that were unsigned as the Washington Capitals entered this offseason. The two most important of these pieces that were resigned by the team were both defenders, Mike Green and John Carlson.
The 27-year-old Green was signed to a three-year contract worth $18.25 million, keeping him under team control through 2014-15. Meanwhile, Green's blue line partner John Carlson signed a six-year, $23.8 million contract. The 22-year-old Carlson is now signed with the Caps through the 2017-18 season.
With there two important re-signings, the Capitals have secured the bulk of their core for at least another season.
The Washington Capitals had several important players under contract through at least the 2012-13 season. But the same was not true for all of the team's important players.
Alexander Semin had played his entire seven-year career with the Washington Capitals, scoring 197 goals with 408 points in 469 games. But Semin was a free agent this offseason, and he signed with the division rival Carolina Hurricanes.
Semin's loss was the biggest of the offseason for the Capitals, as the team will sorely miss his scoring. But his wasn't the only loss the Capitals suffered.
Goalie Tomas Vokoun was traded to the arch rival Pittsburgh Penguins. Vokoun was originally expected to be the starting goaltender in Washington when he joined the team last season, but injuries and inconsistent play moved him down the depth chart, and he was not even on the playoff roster.
Defender Dennis Wideman was another recent addition to the Capitals that was jettisoned by the team after poor play. Wideman joined the team late in the 2011 season, but suffered an injury that kept him out of the playoffs. He was back with a vengeance in 2011-12, making his first All-Star team in January.
But he was never the same player after the midseason festivities, and his performance continued to spiral downwards in the postseason. Wideman struggled in both the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals against Boston and the Eastern Conference Semifinals against the New York Rangers, finishing the postseason with a plus-minus rating of minus-seven. Wideman was traded to the Calgary Flames in June.
Washington also lost two mainstays of the organization via free agency.
Keith Aucoin spent most of his four seasons in the Washington Capitals organization playing for the AHL Hershey Bears. But he played 27 games in the NHL during the 2011-12 season, and he played a key role on the surprisingly successful fourth line in the postseason, alongside Mike Knuble and Joel Ward. Aucoin signed with the Toronto Maple Leafs during the offseason.
Jeff Halpern, a native of Potomac, MD, returned to Washington in 2011-12 for his second stint with the team. But Halpern saw his ice-time reduced after the hiring of Dale Hunter in November 2011, and played in only two playoff games. Halpern signed an offseason deal with the rival New York Rangers.
But perhaps the most damaging loss the Washington Capitals suffered this offseason was when the team decided to part ways with veteran power forward Mike Knuble. The alternate captain had provided the Capitals with leadership and experience for three seasons, and originally excelled with the Caps at his specialty: complimenting two talented forwards on the top line.
But Knuble struggled with this role early on during the 2011-12 season. As a result, he was demoted to the fourth line and eventually earned a health scratch on multiple occasions at the end of the regular season.
He did return for the playoffs, however, playing in 11 games and assisting on the series-winning goal in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals against Boston. But the Capitals opted not to re-sign Knuble, and he has yet to re-sign with another NHL team.
The actual general manager of the Washington Capitals, George McPhee, has shown a propensity for parting ways with a player whose performance fails to meet expectations, no matter how popular this player may be. In recent years, McPhee did this with Matt Bradley, David Steckel and Boyd Gordon, among others.
Although McPhee has found players to fill the important roles vacated by the departed players, the departed players are losses nonetheless.
The Washington Capitals made moderate additions to their lineup this offseason, both in an effort to offset players who left, and also to address specific needs.
Center Mike Ribeiro was acquired from the Dallas Stars in a draft day trade, one of three significant trades the Caps made over the summer. The Capitals gave up winger Cody Eakin and a second round pick in this year's draft to fill their need for a second line center. The playmaking Ribeiro will strengthen the power play, and add significant depth to the Capitals top six forwards.
The other additions the Washington Capitals made during the offseason came via free agency. Left wing Wojtek Wolski, right wing Joey Crabb, and defender Jack Hillen were all signed to one-year deals this offseason, providing depth at three different positions.
How Does Team Compare to 2011-12?
Back in August, I wrote an article about whether or not the Washington Capitals had gotten worse this offseason.
Now, as the armchair general manager, I will pose the same hypothetical question. And draw the same conclusion.
The Washington Capitals have neither gotten better nor gotten worse. They could be expected to finish a full season of hockey with about 92 points, the same number they totaled during the 2011-12 season.
The 2012-13 Washington Capitals would be significantly different yet not significantly improved, if at all. The Caps filled a need for a second-line center, and added depth to both their forward and defender ranks. But, they lost Semin in the process.
The biggest positive for the Washington Capitals is that they have young players in several key positions, including goaltender, top-pair defense, and bottom-six center. If these players reach their full potential, or at least continue to progress in their development, the Capitals may be able to overcome the obvious needs they did not fill during the offseason.
Changes That Need to Be Made
With all the comings and goings of the offseason, the Washington Capitals still have changes that need to be made.
First of all, the Washington Capitals are now lacking an elite scorer among the top six forwards. General Manager George McPhee chose not to re-sign Semin, and the mercurial winger signed with the division rival Carolina Hurricanes, a one-year deal worth $7 million.
Despite all the misgivings that the Capitals organization and their fans had about Semin, he still averaged 0.42 goals per game in his seven years in Washington, totaling 197 goals in 469 games. That production is difficult to replace, and so far, it has not been replaced by McPhee and the Capitals.
But the Capitals can do so in free agency before the 2013-14 season, when several notable right wingers will become unrestricted free agents, according to CapGeek.com.
One of these players that would be a perfect replacement for Semin is Corey Perry. The 27-year-old Ontario native has also played his entire seven-year career with the same team, just like Semin. As a member of the Anaheim Ducks, Perry has put up numbers very similar to Semin, averaging 0.39 goals per game while totaling 205 goals in 530 games.
But there are noticeable differences in Perry's career, making him even more appealing as a right wing option. Perry is a one-time 50-goal scorer, while Semin's career-high is 40. Perry is more durable than Semin, playing all 82 games in a season three times, including two of the last three seasons. Semin has never played more than 77 games in a season.
Perry also has a lot more sandpaper in his game than Semin. Perry has at least 100 PIMs in each of the last five seasons, and as a result, has compiled a decent fight card at HockeyFights.com.
And finally, Perry has a Stanley Cup ring, winning the title with the Ducks in 2007. All these factors make Perry a worthwhile option for the Washington Capitals as they seek an elite scorer on the right wing.
Corey Perry was set to make $4.875 million during the 2012-13 season, the last year of his contract. The Caps should expect to pay Perry somewhere in the range of $7-8 million per season, but he would be worth every penny.
The second major change the Washington Capitals need to make is adding an elite shutdown defender to their blue line. This is another need they could possibly fill during the offseason free agency period, prior to the 2013-14 season. At that time, several quality defensemen would be unrestricted free agents, including Rob Scuderi.
The 33-year-old Rob Scuderi is just what the Capitals have been looking for on their blue line. In 537 career regular season games, Scuderi has only six goals, with 74 points. Yet in that same time, he has accrued only 165 penalty minutes. Scuderi is also a two-time Stanley Cup winner, drinking from the Cup this past summer with the Los Angeles Kings, as well as in 2009 with the Pittsburgh Penguins. Scuderi's current contract pays him $3.4 million per season.
For the Washington Capitals, these two deficiencies are glaring weaknesses that may once again have them coming up short in their quest to claim the Stanley Cup.
Built to Sustain Injuries?
One aspect of an organization that must be examined while assessing the overall status of a team is how well that organization is built to sustain injuries. As armchair general manager, I will do a thorough assessment of this quality within the Washington Capitals, proceeding in my assessment from position to position.
Center is arguably the deepest position in the Capitals' organizational depth chart. Nicklas Backstrom and Mike Ribeiro are both top-six forwards, and Ribeiro is good enough to play on the first line or the first power play unit. If Nicklas Backstrom were to experience similar injury concerns to the ones he dealt with last season, the Caps would not miss a beat.
Further down the depth chart at center, the Capitals have centermen perfectly suited to their roles, such as Mathieu Perreault on the third line and Jay Beagle on the fourth line. The Capitals have such depth at center that they can afford to play two of their more versatile forwards at positions other than center.
Marcus Johansson was drafted as a center, but is a natural winger. He was moved their last season, and is currently listed as a right wing on the Capitals' depth chart, according to The Hockey News. He could be moved back to center to help deal with an injury.
Even Brooks Laich may find himself playing wing this season. Laich may be supplanted from his normal center position by the arrival of Mike Ribeiro. But like Marcus Johansson, Brooks Laich could be moved back to center to help compensate for an injured player.
However, the Capitals are less able to sustain injuries at the two wing positions.
There may be plenty of warm bodies at right wing, with the additions of Joey Crabb and Matt Clackson. But none of the right wings—or none of the forwards, for that matter—are as skilled a power forward as Troy Brouwer. And no right winger possesses the pure athleticism of Marcus Johansson. An injury to either would leave that position sorely lacking.
In terms of scoring, no forward position boasts the same depth as left wing.
Of the players still on the Capitals roster, the top two goal scorers during the 2011-12 season both play left wing: Alex Ovechkin with 38 goals, and Jason Chimera with 20. If Alex Ovechkin suffers an injury—or a suspension—Jason Chimera could be plugged into the first line in his place. Chimera's speed would be just as troublesome to opposing defenders as that of Ovechkin, if not more so.
But an injury to Jason Chimera would expose the overall lack of depth at left wing. Wojtek Wolski has been an inconsistent goal scorer throughout his career, and Matt Hendricks is a grinder extraordinaire who excels as a bottom-six forward. It would be a risky proposition for head coach Adam Oates to rely on either player for top-six production.
Like the right wing position, the Washington Capitals defense has a lot of warm bodies but is not incredibly deep.
There is only one shutdown pair, consisting of Karl Alzner and John Carlson. The rest of the Washington defenders provide balance, but not the same defensive skill as Alzner and Carlson.
Mike Green, Dmitry Orlov and new addition Jack Hillen are offensive minded defensemen. Roman Hamrlik, John Erskine and especially Jeff Schultz are stay-at-home defenders. But these six would be hard pressed to adequately replace Karl Alzner or John Carlson if they suffered an injury.
Finally, the Washington Capitals are in very good shape at goaltender, especially if Adam Oates chooses to platoon his two starters.
Braden Holtby and Michal Neuvirth could receive just enough starts to stay sharp and well-rested at the same time. The Capitals goalies might be utilized much the same way the St. Louis Blues utilized Jaroslav Halak and Brian Elliott during the 2011-12 season, with a great deal of success.
The Washington Capitals have needs to fill, but so does every team in the NHL. To fill some of their needs, the Caps may need to part with some of their assets in order to complete the deal.
Luckily for the Capitals, their organization has moveable pieces that are on the active NHL roster, as opposed to mere prospects or draft picks.
Most of these moveable pieces stem from the organization's depth at the center position. The most coveted of these is Marcus Johansson. The 22-year-old is a speed merchant that can play both center and wing. This summer, MoJo was even mentioned by a Capitals blogger as part of a possible trade scenario.
Brooks Laich plays mainly center, but can also play wing and defense, when called upon. The longest-tenured Capital was the subject of trade rumors as recently as this June, as reported by the Jim Matheson of the Edmonton Journal.
And a third center, Mathieu Perreault, could be moved by the Washington Capitals, although he can't be considered expendable. Perreault is a talented playmaker that a young or inexperienced team could accept as part of a trade deadline deal, in exchange for a veteran the Caps seek to bolster their lineup for a playoff run.
Finally, veteran defender Roman Hamrlik could be moved by the Capitals if they take on the role of sellers at the trade deadline, instead of buyers. This was very nearly the case last season, when Hamrlik was benched amid trade rumors.