Monday, February 5, 2007

Someone call for a ray of sunshine?

Despite all the negativity about the Caps recent tailspin and the bleakness of the prospect of playoff hockey in DC this season, I'm going to go out on a limb and make a bold and, for me, amazingly upbeat prediction. You sitting down? Good.

The Capitals will win a playoff series next season. Notice, I didn't say the Caps were going to make the playoffs. I said they were going to win their first round matchup. Beyond that is anyone's guess, but that's a drastic improvement over what we're looking at as this season comes to a close.

There's only one thing the Caps need to do to make it happen. They need to sign a top tier defenseman this offseason.

I know the Caps have a lot of holes in the roster at the moment, but on closer examination, most will be plugged without any major acquisitions before the start of next year. So let's take a closer look at what the Caps are, and what they should look like to start next season.

Line 1 - Ovechkin, Zubrus, Clark - unchanged (unless Zubrus drastically overestimates his value, he'll be here next year.)

Line 2 - Semin, Beech (blech), Clymer/Fehr to Semin, Backstrom, Fehr. Needless to say, unless Backstrom laughs to death watching Beech "highlights," this will be a HUGE improvement. This takes the second line from decent to hell-on-wheels. Backstrom belongs on a line where he can feed a finisher so he'd fit on either line, but I think Semin could benefit from his passing more than Ovechkin, who creates his own space better.

Line 3 - Pettinger, Gordon, Zednik/Clymer to Pettinger/Fleischmann, Sutherby, Zednik/Bradley. This line should boast improved offensive potential with Fleischmann getting some time on the left side. Sutherby still has trouble with the draws but is a hard nosed player who should fit well covering some of Fleischmann's defensive responsibilites should he have trouble covering in his first full season. If Zed stays put, this line has serious sleeper potential.

Line What are You Lookin' At, Tough Guy? - Brashear, Sutherby, Bradley to Brashear, Gordon, Bradley. Size, defensive ability, and the ability to beat down even the toughest stains. Gordo could also get the call to center the third line when they need someone who doesn't get owned in the faceoff dot.

Okay, so the offense looks better next year, both by addition and subtraction. Keep in mind, that's without bringing in anyone not currently signed with the team. Good times.

Now here's where my call for the Caps to sign a top-tier blueliner comes in. The Capitals have a young defense. For the most part it's a quick skating lineup, with a lot of potential. But right now, that's all they are. Young players with potential. They need a hard-nosed, experienced defenseman to help them mature.

I've made comparisons with Green and Scott Neidermayer (some agree, others not so much) but Neidermayer was able to find his game and become an amazing offensive defenseman quickly BECAUSE HE WAS PAIRED WITH SCOTT STEVENS at the start of his career. He could watch, listen to and learn from one of the best ever to play the position. Pairing that kind of tutelage with a naturally gifted player gets results. Now Neidermayer may be punching his ticket to the Hall of Fame. Who knows if his all around game would have developed without Stevens to learn from.

The Capitals have four talented young defensemen in Schultz, Green, Morrison, and Jurcina all in need of that kind of instruction. And with all due respect to Pothier, he's no Scott Stevens (nobody else is either). So, with that in mind, lets project next year's D setup with a generic UFA tag for whoever the Caps go after. The pairings are gonna look a bit screwy because of injuries and such, but for the sake of comparison, we'll give it a shot

Line 1 - Pothier, Morrison to UFA, Green
Line 2 - Eminger/Erskine, Green to Pothier, Eminger
Line 3 - Jurcina, Schultz to Jurcina/Erskine, Morrison
* Schultz should take a year to develop (read: EAT SOMETHING) and he'll be ready to play with the big boys.

With only one signing, the lineup starts to look a lot stronger, no? Let's hope management feels the same way.

Today's Black History Month spotlight shines on William (Willie) O'Ree, the first black man to play in the NHL. Although he only played in parts of two NHL seasons, he played 21 seasons at the professional level. He currently serves as director of youth development for the NHL's diversity program.


Biff said...

The problem with that is: who do the Caps sign? Have you looked at the list of potential UFA defensemen for this offseason? The only name that really jumps out is Sheldon Souray.

3 Grumpy Caps fans said...

The Caps should make a play at Souray , but because of their hording of draft picks and young talent, they can also look at acquiring a defenseman via a trade. They are stocked to the teeth at left wing in the NHL and the minors, and have plenty of other young talent to deal to a team looking to move some salary.

Biff said...

I would wholeheartedly support a trade. It just seemed like you were rather focused on bolstering the D through free agency.

Agreed on Souray, though.