As the season progresses I plan to take a look at the Washington Capitals players that are 'under the microscope.' The Washington Capitals have kicked off their 2009-2010 campaign and there are a lot of sub-plots to discuss:
- Can Alexander Ovechkin win another Hart Trophy, and can he stay healthy?
- Are the Capitals equipped to go deep into the playoffs, or contend for a Stanley Cup?
- What happens to Michael Nylander?
- What is the future for Jose Theodore?
All valid questions, but let's concentrate on the enigmatic goalie for right now. Last season Jose Theodore posted 32 wins (close to his career high of 33), his save percentage was .900 percent (right about his career average), and his goals-against was a bit off his career pace at 2.87. His statistics were not great compared to a stand out goalie like Steve Mason (Columbus) and Vezina Trophy winner Tim Thomas (Boston). Eventually, Theodore's difficulties caught up with him in the playoffs, and he was quickly replaced by rookie Semyon Varlamov for almost the entire post-season.
The questions I hear from a lot of Washington Capitals fans are a follows:
- How did Theodore end up in Washington anyway..? Answer: He had pedigree as a veteran goalie. His career statistics were not stellar, but he brought the same intangibles to Washington that the rising Capitals team saw in their short stint with Cristobal Huet. Theodore brought with him former Hart Trophy stuff, a decent amount of baggage from his days in Montreal, and typical "form and reaction" style goaltending. It also did not hurt that he was accepting of GM George McPhee's "two years max" contract offering. Basically, it was a mutually beneficial opportunity for the player and the team.
- Why was he so up and down last season..? Answer: Theodore was getting used to the Capitals style of "up-tempo" hockey, and as is still an issue, lacked a solid defensive corps in front of him. For most of the season the defense was a complete liability, and that weakness exposed Theodore's confidence and concentration issues. Theodore has a lot of talent, but he loses focus and starts to scramble too much during stretches of games. He is also getting older and lacks some of the athleticism of the younger goalies.
- Will Theodore be re-signed by the Capitals..? Answer: No. The Capitals have some good depth in goal in Semyon Varlamov, Michael Neuvirth, and Braden Holtby. One of those guys will emerge as a bona fide starter at the NHL level. Theodore was a stop-gap after Huet bolted, and no matter how well he plays, he should focus on auditioning for another job.
- Should the Capitals worry about his play this season..? Answer: Yes and No. This offseason Theodore increased his conditioning, and did a lot of work on his timing. He is interested in regaining his MVP form, and we all know he is talented. Unfortunately for Theo, he is now dealing with the loss of his infant son, who died from complications of premature birth. In some way, maybe hockey will become a focal point for him as he mourns that difficult loss. But...if things start to go down hill for him mentally, all of the factors of on and off-ice mental issues may destroy his confidence completely.
Jose Theodore will walk a fine line this season. The fans are not necessarily behind him, his off-ice concerns are pretty heavy, and he is in a contract year. If the Capitals defense does not step up and improve really quickly, than it won't matter who is in net and either goalie will suffer. Jose Theodore must find the composure to play at his best, and to use every emotion positively. This is an audition year, and whether he wears a Capitals jersey in the future, he is going to be judged by how he handled the pressures in Washington. After getting run out of Montreal and struggling at times in Colorado (he lost his starting job there too), Theodore will have to find success this year to guarantee another contract at the NHL level.
I hope, for the sake of the Capitals, that he rises to the occasion and helps guide the young team to playoff success. That way he can pass the reigns to Varlamov or Neuvirth as a winner and mentor. I think only time will tell which Jose Theodore we see this season, for now, he certainly has the most to play for in the Capitals organization. Good luck Jose, but we are watching.
As always, enjoy the game!