BT's 2008/09 NHL Season Preview: The Washington Capitals
Preface: Alright....I'm sick and tired of this.
It's been a week and I'm through with the NFL.
We GET that the Brady injury is devastating. We GET that the most promising Quarterback is done for another season which debilitates an electric offense. That doesn't mean I want to see it anymore.
Has any season-ending hit ever been THIS overplayed? This is so terrible that I don't think I can ever watch a Chiefs' game again because now I feel sick, and associate their jersey's with feelings of loss and despair.
That and I'm rationalizing and believing in Matt Cassel.
Dear NHL: Please start your season early.
The Washington Capitals. Tell me what you think of when you hear that name.
Gone are the days when names like Adam Oates, Olaf Kolzig, and Peter Bondra would immediately flicker to mind. Now, new stars, exciting new talents, and the flashiest of the flashy are starting to take hold in Capitals' fans minds.
Alexander Ovechkin alone makes them fortunate; the fact that they play in the Southeast makes them more fortunate, as it's statistically been one of the easiest divisions to win in recent history.
If it stays that way the Capitals are set. Even if it doesn't, unless they suddenly go catatonic, they should have a clear shot at first in the division, with only Carolina in their way.
Roster Additions: Jose Theodore-G (F.A.),
Roster Subtractions: Christobel Huet-G (F.A.), Olaf Kolzig-G (F.A.), Steve Eminger-D (Trade), Ben Clymer-F (F.A.)
How did 2007/08 go? 43-31-8, Third in Conference, First in Southeast Division, Lost in 1st round of playoffs 2008 (Eastern).
2008/09 Goal: First in Division, Conference Finals
Let's break'er down...
Last season, Bruce Boudreau proved just how useful a head coach can be.
After a disappointing start to the season for the Capitals, Boudreau took over with 61 games remaining in the season, and helped the team do a complete 180 degree turnaround—going 37-17-7, earning 94 points, and vaulting themselves past the Carolina Hurricanes and into first in the Southeast division.
They were also the only representative from that division, so you may get the idea from everything, that it’s one of the lower-tier divisions across the league.
Easy or not though, Boudreau earned his Jack Adams award, and Washington is developing the tools to be dominant for a long time.
$20 says he scores on his back again this year…
Just mention that highlight, and everyone knows who we’re talking about: Alexander Ovechkin.
Anywhere from 50-65 goals in a season, 110-120 points, and some of the greatest celebrations ever, and you’ve got one, if not the, most exciting player in the NHL today. I mean don’t get me wrong, Sidney Crosby is great, but for “get you out of your seat” value, I’d take Ovechkin in a heartbeat.
To go along with Alexander the Great, the Capitals feature a second talented young Russian in Alexander Semin. Although he’s small (listed at 6’2 and 181 lbs), Semin has the ability to perform at a high level. Although injuries derailed him slightly last season, Semin was able to post a solid 26 goals, and with more consistent playing time (thanks to the hope of more consistent health) Semin could easily break the 40 goal barrier (remember he scored 38 in 2006/07) and reach the 80 point level this season.
Coming off a sturdy rookie season, Nicklas Backstrom (the centre, not the goalie) will be looking to eclipse his 69-point breakout, and if he sees a lot of playing time with either Ovechkin or Semin, Backstrom could break out with 80-85 points, if he can stay healthy once again (he played in all 82 games last year).
Along with Backstrom, the Caps have a plethora of dependable young centremen. Both Boyd Gordon and Dave Steckel provide big, physical presences down the middle as both are huge (Gordon is 6’1, 204 lbs and Steckel is—no joke—6’5, 222 lbs.). Brooks Laich is another player who can put a big body to use in a two-way game, but the former Senators’ prospect really started to find his offensive game last season, and he could provide some scoring depth if given a little extra ice time.
If the youngsters down the middle get gun-shy though, both Sergei Fedorov (who found another level with Washington last season we hadn’t seen from him in years: 2 goals, 11 assists, in 18 games) and Michael Nylander (37 points in 40 games) will be expected to step up. Both are interesting cases as Fedorov didn’t really find his game until he came to Washington last season (so it’ll be interesting to see if he can hold on to it) and Nylander finished the season with shoulder surgery. But if they can find last season’s forms, then neither are causes for concern.
Down the wings, Tomas Fleischmann will look to continue his development, and may find himself ascending the depth chart in Washington if he starts to produce like he did in the AHL and WHL (at or near a point-per game).
Chris Clark and Donald Brashear will be adding some grit and experience down the wings, while Eric Fehr and Chris Bourque will be expected to begin to come into their own as pieces of a strong Caps future.
Quintin Lang and Matt Bradley are great depth options for a team that has a lot of skilled young players.
Mike Green: Busting Balls since the 2008 playoffs against Philly…
Remember that? The impact? The sound? The image of Patrick Thoresen rolling around in agony after Mike Green ripped a shot off of his manhood?
And that big shot is just one of Green’s assets. He also skates, hits, and has already reached star status with 56 points last year—quite the upswing from his 12 points in 70 games in 2006/07.
Joining him on the blueline will be depth option, and former-London Knight Jon Erskine and the offensive-minded Tom Poti (who could easily regain footing at the 40-point plateau this season with so many weapons at forward).
Brian Pothier needs to prove that he’s fully recovered after suffering a concussion mid-way through last season, but if he has, then Pothier could be good for at least 30 points, while eclipsing his career-high of 35 could be a possibility as well, while fellow middling D-man Shaone Morrisonn could stand to increase in his offensive production to prove he belongs in the upper tier of a regular NHL defensive rotation.
Jeff Schultz, Sami Lepisto, Milan Jurcina, and Karl Azner are all young defensemen who could also earn their way into regular playing time with the Caps this season, although with the expectations placed on Azner, it'll be interesting to see whether or not Washington sees fit to allow him some NHL ice time this season, or to demote him to allow him some more time to gain extra experience.
Either way, when the day comes that Alzner and Green are paired at the top of the Caps' depth chart, they could be one terrific tandem.
Well….at least Jose Theodore isn’t bald yet…
The only problem with the Caps, is that they’re one All-Star away from the trifecta of forward, defense, and goalie. Sure they've got a former All-Star in net, but the Toronot Maple Leafs are also former Stanley Cup champions.
From 2001-2003, Jose Theodore could have provided them with that All-Star presence, and if they had that Theodore, one could easily make a case for the Caps being the Eastern Conference's representative in the Cup finals.
However, the Theodore of recent memory isn’t so heart-warming.
Despite a bounce-back year of sorts with Colorado last season (28-21, 2.44 GAA, .910 save percentage), Theodore’s track record since the lockout is miserable. He’s 31-33 with a GAA over 3.30 (3.35) and a save percentage well under .890 (.887). If Theodore is to justify the Caps investment of $9 million over the next two seasons, then he needs to prove that 2007/08 wasn’t an aberration and that he’s truly back, and able to get even better.
With a young and hungry Caps team he should be able to do that—especially seeing as this team gives him an excellent shot to win in the way they're built, and how they play the game.
If he’s not able to though, then the goaltending reigns fall to Brent Johnson—another former 30-game winner who had an alright season last year. Both he and Theodore need to be ready for the season though, because if they’re not, then the Caps are in big trouble.
Offense can win games, but defense wins championships—and they need that last line bold and underlined if they expect to just get to the first round again this season.
So what does it all mean?
I don’t think there’s any doubt that last year just marked the beginning of a scary run of dominance in the Southeast by the Capitals. As these kids grow together (and they will…Ovechkin’s there for another 13 years), they’re only going to get better and better, and we’ll probably be in store for a few years of Capitals/Penguins finals.
The defense could be a tad overrated, lost in the excitement of Ovechkin, but while they aren't head and shoulders above anyone in the division, they aren't head and shoulders below them either.
Their biggest need is a goalie, and Jose Theodore may have reinvented himself to the point where he can be that solution.
But before we leave, I’d like to say one thing: Sidney Crosby and Alexander Ovechkin are NOT the same player, and are almost too different to compare. Ovechkin energizes his team, leads by example, and cashes in on his opportunities. Although it pains me to say, Crosby doesn’t just drive his teammates to perform better, but his playmaking skills are so mind-boggling he MAKES them better—something that A.O. can’t do yet.
And that will be the nicest thing I say about Crosby until I try to rationalize why the Pens beat the Caps out in the playoffs this year.
1st in Southeast
Bryan Thiel is a Senior Writer and an NHL Community Leader for Bleacher Report. If you'd like to get in contact with Bryan, you can do so through his profile, and you can check out more of his work in his archives.
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