Now that the 2009 NHL Draft is behind us, let's take a look at the Washington Capitals. This team has many needs, and would like to improve in a few areas. Progress was made in the 2008-2009 season, as the Capitals advanced to the second round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs. However, key weaknesses were highlighted during the Capitals up-and-down playoff performances.
The Existing Roster
- The Capitals still have a very potent offense, with two-time Hart Trophy winner Alexander Ovechkin, talented (yet enigmatic) winger Alex Semin, offensive threat defenseman Mike Green, and slick center Niklas Backstrom.
- The Caps will suffer from the loss of Sergei Fedorov (signed with a KHL team). His departure will leave a leadership void in the locker room, and the Caps will need a prospect to step up to the second line center spot or find an affordable body through free-agency.
- The Caps also lost Viktor Kozlov to the KHL and his large frame created a lot of space for Ovechkin to score goals. The Caps will most likely promote Brooks Laich or David Steckel to the first line to offset Kozlov's departure.
The 2009 Draft
- GM George McPhee made only one minor deal in the draft, shedding a busted prospect (Sami Lepisto to Phoenix), for a fifth round pick next year.
- McPhee selected a player in each round, grabbing a couple centers, three defensemen, and a couple wingers.
- Out of the draft, the only stand-out should be Russian defenseman Dmitri Orlov, who (if he develops) can be a power-play complement to Mike Green, and is ranked as a fantastic skater.
The Cap Room and Needs
- With the departures of Sergei Fedorov, Viktor Kozlov, Donald Brashear and a couple UFA role players, the Capitals should have about $9 million to spend during free agency. Pending the outcome of hopefully selling Michael Nylander to a European team, the Capitals may open more spending room.
- With the approximately $9 million, and the ability of owner Ted Leonsis to spend to the salary cap, the Capitals can acquire a rugged, tough defenseman to hopefully replace Jeff Schultz or Shaone Morrisonn. Both have been ineffective and George McPhee missed out on Chris Pronger because he was unwilling to part with prospect goaltending, another player, and draft picks (which seems to be a safe/smart move).
- Finally, the Caps do need a second line center, and maybe another gritty winger. Not much is available in the area of cheap, one year buys. Obviously, the Hossa, Gaborik, Cammalleri tier players are too pricey for the Capitals situation. Though they may be able to swing oneyear of $3-4 million from a guy like Alexei Kovalev, or Jere Lehtinen. Both may benefit from playing with the Capitals high octane game, and both play with some European flair.
For now, the Capitals are playing things safe. They have effectively let salary open up in the departure of older, slower finesse players, and the loss of their primary enforcer. The Capitals offered qualifying deals to a few role players, and they drafted safe, possible future role players.
While there were no stand-out stars for the Capitals this year, the team is deep in the AHL and further down the organization. Both AHL and ECHL farm teams won their respective leagues, which shows promise for future call-ups to the NHL club.
The Capitals have a lot of promise to work with and should make a strong impact on the Eastern Conference again in 2009-2010.
As long as George McPhee manages the roster well, and Bruce Boudreau keeps the talent focused, the Capitals will be a threat. Hopefully, the few changes going in to next year will provide the spark to excel past the teams like Boston, Pittsburgh, and Philadelphia.
As Pittsburgh was relatively patient and improved year-over-year with their star-studded rebuilding process. The Capitals have done the same, and will hopefully advance farther in the coming season.