As of now, the Capitals are looking much grittier and more like your run-of-the-mill, battle-hardened Cup Contender than the sissy finesse team they have been in years passed.
Capital's News Network's Dave Nichols wrote an article on Saturday discussing how the roster has become grittier. Of interest were his ideas for what the bottom two lines may look like this year.
By his prediction, which I agree with, those lines will be much more intimidating and will surely be a pleasure to watch as they grind down opposing teams with hit after gruesome hit night-in and night-out.
Dave would like to see a third line consist of Brouwer-Laich-Ward and the fourth line consist of Chimera-Halpern-Hendricks.
This would definitely be exciting. However, this lineup leaves a hole in the second line on the left side. Dj King can not play second line, nor can Chris Bourque, Jay Beagle or any of the other young prospects in the Caps' system.
I am not bashing on Dave here—if you're reading this, Dave, I loved the article—I simply wanted to use this excitement most Caps fans have about the new physical lineup to point out a remaining flaw that I am absolutely positive George McPhee sees too and plans on fixing.
But before I show you the fix, let's look at the problem.
Thirteen forwards are currently under an NHL contract for the Capitals. They also have a few players on two-way contracts that, while capable of playing in the big league, are not desirable depth guys for a team serious about making a Cup run.
Here's a few lineup scenarios that I have thought up. Note, some are more realistic, based on my knowledge of Boudreau's line-matching tendencies, while others are more speculation and possibility.
Here's the most likely lineup based on lineups of the past and what has been implied by McPhee, Leonsis and Boudreau.
(King, Bourque and Perreault available to fill-in in the case of injuries.)
These are the lines combos I most expect to see out of training camp but I see a few problems with it.
First, the Caps have a real chance at having a true checking line this year—it's fairly contrary to Boudreau's style, but it could be really effective—but this lineup eliminates some of the checking-line options.
Johansson is pretty responsible defensively, especially considering his age and NHL experience, but his body checks don't exactly strike fear into the hearts of other players—his speed and offensive prowess do.
I do like Johansson and Chimera together because they are two of the fastest skaters in the league. Unfortunately, no matter how good of a playmaker MJ90 is, Chimera's hands are made of brick.
His speed is astounding and he seems to exert extremely little energy going from zero to 60 faster than your favorite roller coaster, and he's good at going to the net, but seriously, he can't hit the net or catch a break most of the time.
There is nothing I love more than seeing a hard worker earn a goal by forechecking hard but Chimera really doesn't finish often enough to be a good scoring winger for an up-and-coming playmaking star.
MoJo will be a bona fide second-line center much sooner than most people think, I believe. Plus, Semin needs a playmaking center, not a power-forward center.
Also, I like the idea of having Brouwer and Laich on a line together but Laich, although he is a natural center, is much better suited as a winger since he is great along the boards and is much better at getting to the net than setting up pretty plays along the half-wall.
So, let's take a look at a few other good options Boudreau has.
These line pairings solidify the top-six but leave some problems in the bottom-six. As you can see, Johansson now gets the second-line center duties that I think he earned in the postseason, end of the regular season and likely will re-earn out of training camp.
Semin would have a good center. Semin and Johansson also showed a lot of chemistry this past year when both were on their game and paired up.
This scenario also perfects the top-six since each line has a playmaker, a proven scorer and a 20-goal power forward. You cannot ask for a better top-six. Well, you could ask, but you wouldn't get one with a salary-cap controlled NHL.
The third line also gives the Caps coaching staff a brilliant checking line. This would be a severely intimidating line capable of dishing out punishment on a massive scale. Halpern should be able to play the 12 minutes of ice-time plus a night to fulfill third line duties but it would be up for him to decide how his body is aging.
Here's the issue: While Hendricks is, like Laich, a natural center, he is better suited, like Laich, as a winger. Beagle is also a natural center but, in the NHL at least, fits better as a winger since he is probably not defensively responsible and proficient enough in the faceoff circle to be a quality fourth-line center.
It could be done but it's not optimal.
Here's one last combination.
This lineup, again, solidifies the top-six, although I would prefer to see Laich on the second line over Brouwer.
This is a pretty good lineup but the one problem is, let's be honest, Laich is not a third-liner. Ted Leonsis is not going to give the guy $4.5 million a year to be a third-liner. No way, no how.
Let's take a trip over to the next slide to check out what I would call the X-factor in this roster.