4 Biggest Issues Facing the Washington Capitals Franchise in 2013

Robert Wood@@bleachRWreachrCorrespondent IFebruary 22, 2013

4 Biggest Issues Facing the Washington Capitals Franchise in 2013

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    The Washington Capitals as a team have a few issues facing them in 2013. Being last in the Eastern Conference after 16 games will do that to you.

    But what about the Washington Capitals as a franchise? What issues exist in 2013?

    Here are the four biggest issues facing the Washington Capitals franchise in 2013.

4. Shallow Farm System

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    One issue affecting the Washington Capitals in 2013 is their farm system.

    The Washington Capitals have the 14th best prospect pool on the 2012 NHL Organizational Ranking at Hockey Prospectus.

    Corey Pronman of Hockey Prospectus expounds on this ranking in his system overview of the Capitals:

    Washington has a very top-heavy system, led by two elite prospects in Kuznetsov and Forsberg, a very good one in Stanislav Galiev and an elite goalie prospect in Braden Holtby. But after the top few names, the quality falls off quickly. While the 2012 draft saw the Capitals bring in a fair amount of talent, the players either have average upside or are many years away.

    If the Capitals' future is to be bright, they must rely on the success of their top prospects.

3. The Trouble with Kuzya

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    Evgeny Kuznetsov is the Washington Capitals' best prospect. Kuzya is ranked first among the Washington Capitals Top 10 Prospects, according to Hockey Prospectus. In fact, Kuznetsov is ranked fourth among the Top 100 NHL Prospects at Hockey Prospectus.

    But Evgeny Kuznetsov has sent mixed signals regarding his future in the NHL. In June, Kuznetsov made headlines after signing a two-year contract with Chelyabinsk Traktor of the KHL with an interview he conducted with Evgenia Skroznikova of Canal 31 in Chelyabinsk, Russia (via Russian Machine Never Breaks):

    Simply, both emotionally and physically I am not ready to play hockey there. I think it will be very good for me to play [in Russia] for another two years. It was pretty much a 50-50 decision. I wanted to go and try myself [in the NHL], but I thought it over, Traktor made me a good offer, so why not stay, play here and bulk up.

    Alex Ovechkin disagreed with Kuznetsov's decision, telling Alexander Lyutikov of ProSport Magazine (via Russian Machine Never Breaks) in December 2012 that he spoke to Kuznetsov and "told him it’d be better for him to go to the NHL, that he’s awaited there. And that his skill level will grow faster there."

    And in January of this year, Kuznetsov stated to Tomas Kmec of allhockey.ru: "I promised to play for Washington after the Olympics" (via Russian Machine Never Breaks). Yet in the same interview, when asked about his statement in June regarding why he was not ready to join the Capitals, Kuznetsov replied "I knew there was going to be an NHL lockout. That’s it."

    At this point, the Capitals have no idea what to believe about Evgeny Kuznetsov and his future plans. So the Capitals need to monitor their star prospect very closely.

2. The Albatross in the Room

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    Alex Ovechkin's contract has become an albatross for the Washington Capitals.

    Ovechkin signed a 13-year, $124 million contract with the Washington Capitals in January 2008. At the time, Ovechkin was worth every penny. He was in the midst of a 65-goal campaign, which followed 52 goals in his rookie season of 2005-06 and 46 more in 2006-07.

    Ovechkin justified the contract with his performance during the 2008-09 and 2009-10 seasons, reaching the 50-goal plateau each year. But Ovechkin has come nowhere close to that goal-scoring benchmark since then, totaling only 70 goals in 2010-11 and 2011-12 combined.

    And this lack of production becomes even more glaring when analyzing the team's payroll as a whole. For the 2013 NHL season, the Washington Capitals' project cap payroll is $63,881,027, according to CapGeek.com. Ovechkin's cap hit of $9,538,462 represents nearly 15% of Washington's cap space. This significant concentration of funds on one player limits the team in trying to acquire new players or even to sign players already on the roster.

    Plus, if the Capitals ever considered trading their megastar, they would have a hard time finding a team willing to absorb his burdensome contract.

    The Capitals have created quite a quandary for themselves.

1. The Buck Stops with McPhee

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    All the issues affecting the Washington Capitals will have to be resolved by general manager George McPhee.

    Perhaps some of them were even created by his own handiwork.

    The Washington Post's Post Sports Live recently discussed that topic: How much pressure is on Capitals' GM George McPhee? The purpose of the discussion was to "examine the scrutiny on Capitals general manager George McPhee and debate whether he is the man most responsible for the team’s slow start to this season."

    Such discussions are arising because this team—with lofty expectations that have so far gone unfulfilled—is in the hands of George McPhee. If the team fails, the blame ultimately falls at his feet.

    And if McPhee continues to fail, his head may fall at the feet of owner Ted Leonsis.