2013 NHL Season: 5 Items the Washington Capitals Need to Address
With a tentative CBA framework in place and the NHL season set to begin sometime later this month, the Washington Capitals must focus on specific items they need to address as a team.
This list will definitely include goaltending as well as the crowded center position.
But what about team chemistry? And what's the status of the team's captain, as he is set to play for a new coach?
Here is a list of five items the Washington Capitals must address.
Will Caps fans see more of Big John under Adam Oates?
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Fighting is a major part of the NHL, but not all teams readily participate in the fisticuffs.
The Washington Capitals are one of the less active teams in the league in this regard. They finished 26th in the NHL in team fighting majors during the 2011-12 season.
Despite evidence to the contrary, Washington Capitals' general manager George McPhee actively supports the use of an enforcer, a player whose primary and often sole purpose is to fight. McPhee was a fighter himself when he played in the NHL.
But McPhee has had a philosophical difference with each of his last two coaches regarding the use of enforcers.
Head coach Bruce Boudreau, a speedy winger with no fighting majors to his name during his NHL career, disagreed with McPhee’s philosophy. Thus, Boudreau did not fully utilize the enforcers at his disposal.
During the 2010-11 season, D.J. King was severely restricted by Bruce Boudreau. King, who had 27 fighting majors in his four-year NHL career prior to joining the Capitals, fought a mere six times while playing in only 16 games.
The next season, D.J. King played in only one game and did not drop the gloves. He was summarily assigned to the Hershey Bears of the AHL.
Once Boudreau was fired, the role of enforcers did not change much. This was a huge surprise, considering the head coach that replaced Boudreau was Dale Hunter.
The owner of the second-most penalty minutes in NHL history did not coach that way. Hunter had an excellent chance to employ a legitimate enforcer during the season, and he passed on it.
Rechlicz was one penalty minute shy of the league leader—while playing 30 fewer games. But with the Caps, Rechlicz played a total of six minutes in three games, and he accrued more penalty minutes on the bench than on the ice.
The Capitals and their fans will quickly find out how much of that aggression was influenced by Adam Oates.
McPhee did not acquire a legitimate enforcer in the offseason for Oates to employ. However, John Erskine is still on the roster.
Erskine has 25 fighting majors since joining the Capitals in 2006-07. But his role was drastically reduced last season, and he appeared in only 28 games.
If Oates emphasizes the use of enforcers, then John Erskine could return to prominence with the Caps.
Will MoJo return to center under the tutelage of Adam Oates?
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The Washington Capitals have significant organizational depth at the center position.
This depth was augmented by the offseason addition of Mike Ribeiro. The 12-year veteran will finally solidify second-line center for the Capitals.
But Ribeiro's addition makes the depth chart rather crowded at center. In fact, in order to deal with the logjam, a couple players may have to play another position.
Another player to watch with regards to the Capitals depth at center is Marcus Johansson. On the Capitals depth chart at The Hockey News, Johansson is listed as a right wing. But the 22-year-old Swede was drafted as a center and played most of his brief NHL career at that position.
It will be interesting to watch how the new head coach handles his plethora of pivots, especially with regards to Marcus Johansson, who found success as a right wing last season thanks in large part to his speed.
Oates, who played center, may be able to impart his wisdom on Johansson and ultimately resurrect MoJo's career as a center.
Will Michal Neuvirth be backing up Braden Holtby?
Adam Oates has a good problem: He has two goalies who could start in the NHL.
Michal Neuvirth has played 108 games in the NHL, compiling a 31-30-9 record. Neuvirth has a .909 save percentage (SV percent) and a 2.65 goals against average (GAA). He is currently playing for Sparta Praha of the Czech Extraliga.
In the 2011 Stanley Cup Playoffs, Neuvirth finished 4-5 with a .912 SV percent and a 2.34 GAA. During the 2011-12 regular season, Neuvirth appeared in 38 games, but he was relegated to backup duty during the playoffs.
The man Neuvirth was backing up was 23-year-old Braden Holtby, who still only has 21 regular season games under his belt.
He has a career record of 14-4-3, with a .929 SV percent and a 2.02 GAA, but Holtby already has 14 career postseason starts, compiling a 7-7 record with a .935 SV percent and a 1.95 GAA.
Due to his two-way contract, Braden Holtby was sent down to the AHL during the lockout. He is currently the starting goalie for the Hershey Bears.
Now the question posed to Adam Oates is, who will be the starting goaltender for the Washington Capitals during the 2012-13 season?
Neither choice would be wrong, and Oates could answer the question with "both."
A platoon system could be very beneficial for everyone involved. Both goaltenders would receive enough rest to stay fresh and sharp throughout the season, yet at the same time, both goaltenders would receive a heavy enough workload to transition to the starting position if the other one gets injured—and both goalies are proficient NHL goaltenders.
Having two young goalies to choose from will be a blessing in disguise for Adam Oates.
Will Alex Ovechkin continue to be captain under Adam Oates?
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The captain of a hockey team is the conduit between the team and the coach. There has to be a great deal of respect and trust for the relationship to work.
Alex Ovechkin was picked as the Capitals captain while the team was coached by Bruce Boudreau. When George McPhee fired Boudreau to replace him with Dale Hunter, McPhee himself adamantly declared that Alex Ovechkin would not be replaced as captain.
When Hunter left immediately following the playoffs, to be replaced later in the summer by Adam Oates, McPhee made no such declaration—which is not to say Oates will ask to have Ovechkin replaced as captain.
But the two must work hard to build a rapport with each other, a fact made more difficult with the strike-shortened season.
And unfortunately, the cold hard truth that Washington Capitals players and fans must accept is that Alex Ovechkin's position as captain will always be under intense scrutiny until and unless he leads the Caps to the Stanley Cup title.
1. Team Chemistry
Will Troy Brouwer's comments divide the locker room?
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This is a new problem for the Washington Capitals.
Even during last year's long and trying season, there was always believed to be a healthy camaraderie among the players.
But after the team's playoff exit in May, Alex Ovechkin alluded to some dissent in the locker room, as told to Katie Carrera of The Washington Post:
I don’t know who’s going to be the coach next year but the leaders in this group have to be together and don’t look, you know. I don’t know how to explain better, but sometimes you don’t have to be jealous….I don’t want to say it was a jealous situation for us, but sometimes you just have to be a group together.
And once the lockout began, the dissent spread, even from thousands of miles away.
Roman Hamrlik told Roman Jedlicka of TV Nova (via Puck Daddy) that "I am disgusted" with how Donald Fehr was handling the labor negotiations on behalf of the NHLPA.
Michal Neuvirth quickly supported Hamrlik's comments, adding that the lockout was about "several superstars with big contracts."
This divisiveness did not sit well with Troy Brouwer, one of two Capitals player representatives on the NHLPA, as he told Katie Carrera of The Washington Post.
For me, I think those guys selling us out, being selfish like that and making those comments … Me being on their team, how am I going to trust them as a teammate from now on? Because you know they’re not going to support players in the big scheme of things when you go and you play on the team with them; it’s going to be tough to want to back those guys from now on.
Those are strong words. It seems Adam Oates will have to be a strong coach to keep his locker room together during his first season as head coach.