This past summer was one of the most significant in recent memory for the Washington Capitals, as general manager George McPhee shook up a team that had once again suffered a premature playoff exit, this time with a sweep by division rivals the Tampa Bay Lightning.
Through trades or free agency, Jason Arnott, Matt Bradley, Eric Fehr, Andrew Gordon, Boyd Gordon, Scott Hannan, Tyler Sloan, Marco Sturm and Semyon Varlamov all left and were replaced by Troy Brouwer, Jeff Halpern, Roman Hamrlik, Tomas Vokoun, and Joel Ward.
The Caps are now 36 games into the 2011-12 season and sit at 10th in the Eastern Conference with a measly 40 points. Opinions about the season are starting to form, along with opinions about the new players the Caps acquired over the summer.
Here are the grades for each of the five new Caps players.
To put it bluntly, Roman Hamrlik has been nowhere near the player the Caps hoped he would be when they signed him to a two-year contract paying him $3,500,000 a year.
With the Montreal Canadiens last season, Hamrlik scored five goals and added 29 assists for 34 points and was a plus-6. Through 32 games with the Caps, Hamrlik has only scored once, has two assists, and has gone minus-7.
Hamrlik's struggles have led to one of the Caps' most promising youngsters, Dmitry Orlov, stepping up and becoming an important player for the team. In fact, it seems that even when Mike Green finally returns, the young Russian will most likely stay in Washington.
Unless Hamrlik picks up his game, he could very well be on his way out of the District sooner rather than later.
Joel Ward's first season with his new team started fantastically. Having signed for $3 million on a four-year deal, Ward scored four goals in his first 12 games and quickly established himself as a key part of the Caps' so-called "meat and potatoes" third-line alongside Jason Chimera and Brooks Laich.
However, Ward's offensive game has slipped recently. He hasn't scored since November 5th (25 games) and hasn't recorded an assist since December 13th (7 games).
While Ward has never been a player that has been praised for his offensive ability (his career bests are 17 goals and 35 points), you have to think that the Caps were hoping for more when they signed him to his big contract. He continues to be a valuable player but needs to pick up his offensive game if the trust his team has placed in him is to pay off.
When the Caps signed Czech goaltender Tomas Vokoun for just $1,500,000, it was with the expectation that he would come in and take over the goaltending reigns for a team in desperate need of consistently solid backstopping while helping to mentor the Caps' budding Czech star Michal Neuvirth.
Unfortunately, inconsistency has been the name of game for Vokoun, who has struggled to find a groove in the Capitals' net. At times, he has been the best player on the ice, keeping the Caps in games they really deserved to lose. Other times, he has been porous, letting even the easiest shots go past him.
So far, Vokoun has posted a .913 save percentage and a 2.60 goals-against average. These are decent numbers, but they're a far cry from his career averages of .917 and 2.56 (considering those numbers were with far inferior teams). Vokoun appears to be picking up his play around the new year with a couple of strong starts in succession, but he needs more if the Capitals want to get closer to reaching their Stanley Cup dream this season.
A former Caps captain, Potomac, Maryland native Jeff Halpern was brought back to the District this summer to replace the fourth-line centers from last season (Body Gordon and Dave Steckel). Halpern has done a lot more, becoming a solid offensive producer for the team as well as a leading faceoff man and defensive forward.
One of the reasons the Caps looked to replace last year's fourth-line was the lack of offensive upside it presented. In the past, Jeff Halpern has been a twenty-goal scorer and knows what it takes to find the back of the net.
Through 35 games of the 2011-12 season, Halpern has scored three goals and added seven assists for ten points and has compiled a good plus/minus of four. Those numbers have already eclipsed Gordon's totals from last season and leave him just one short of equalling Steckel's contribution. His 60.1 faceoff win percentage puts him at fourth in the league, and his average shorthanded ice time per game of 1.56 puts him at second among all Caps forwards.
Halpern's performance has been much better than anyone hoped it would be. He is quickly turning into a great value player for the $825,000 McPhee signed him for.
No player has been as under-the-radar for the Caps this season as Troy Brouwer.
Brought in for the Caps' first-round pick last year, Brouwer was quickly signed to a $2,350,000 contract with the expectation of becoming the team's first-line right winger. While the lines have changed and Brouwer has bounced around quite a lot, he has established himself as a key top-six forward for a team high on top-end talent, and has become an important figure in the locker room of a team that appears to be reeling.
Through 36 games, Brouwer has scored ten goals (good for fourth on the team) and added eight assists for 18 points. Those numbers put him on track for 23 goals and 41 points, career bests all around. He has also asserted himself physically, leading the Caps with 114 hits (putting him fifth in the league and two fights.
If Brouwer continues to produce, this will be considered a steal by the Caps.
Follow Jake Ware on Twitter at @JacobWare95