Five thoughts on the day after the Washington Capitals dream ride came to an end:
1. Alexander Ovechkin, who turns 23 this September, is already the best player that the District of Columbia has had during my 31 years on this planet. We’re not just talking hockey – we’re talking across the board. Opponents have yet to figure out a weakness in his game – he hits, he passes and lord knows he can score goals.
Remember the old Russian stereotype? You know, that all Russian athletes are essentially emotionless robots like Ivan Drago from the Rocky movies. Yeah, well, he shoots that right out the window. He celebrates every moment with unabashed enthusiasm and simultaneously endears himself to the ever-growing Captials fanbase.
2. Cristobal Huet just earned himself a fat new contract and the Caps should be the team to give it to him. Let’s take a minute to point out that Montreal gave up on the guy – traded him to the Caps for a second-round pick they acquired from the Ducks for center Brian Sutherby. (Sidenote: In 45 games this year with Anaheim, Sutherby registered zero goals, one assist and 57 penalty minutes. If it weren’t for the penalty minutes you wouldn’t even know he touched the ice). Huet went 11-2 down the stretch and posted a goals against average of 1.63 and a save percentage of .936 with two shutouts. In the playoffs his numbers weren’t as good, but neither was the defense in front of him for the first three games of the series.
Contrary to popular opinion in Montreal (and really, do we want to listen to anyone who riots after the top-seeded team in the conference advances out of the first round?) Huet is a goaltender you can build a team around. Sadly, that means it’s the end of the line for Olaf Kolzig, who has been the face of the franchise since he arrived in ’89. I would hope he decides to retire to focus on the Athletes Against Autism program he cares about so deeply, but I wouldn’t hold it against him if the Caps didn’t resign him and Olie went elsewhere to close out his career. He’s earned the right to do whatever he sees fit.
3. While I’d like to see Sergei Federov return, I just don’t think it’s going to happen. He’s 38 years old and very well may retire. But, if he wants to play another season or two he’s not a lock to remain in town. Let’s not forget that the Caps already have a similar pass-first forward named Michael Nylander on the roster, and will definitely need to find room in their top three lines for him and captain Chris Clark. That probably spells the end for the former Mr. Anna Kournikova, who helped Alex and Alex more than we’ll ever know.
4. The Capitals, in my honest opinion, need two more legit defenseman to take that next step. I’ve heard from a few different places that Brian Pothier may be done (concussion), but even if he were healthy he’s not the answer. Jeff Schultz and Milan Jurcina were nothing short of a liability every time they stepped out on the ice during the playoffs. Jurcina may be 6’4″ and 233 lbs., but he cannot clear the puck out of his zone to save his life. How he sneaks onto the playing surface during a penalty kill is beyond me. I’m not kidding when I say that if I were Bruce Boudreau, I would have hog-tied him to the bench any time my squad was a man down. If he even looked at the ice I’d instruct Donnie Brashear to “ka-bong” him. Signing two veteran blue liners or one vet and bringing in a talented youngster like Calgary Hitman defenseman Karl Alzner would keep a goalie like Huet from having to stand on his head three times a game. While it’s highly exciting to watch, it would probably extend the lives of Boudreau, George McPhee and Ted Leonsis by about a decade.
5. Otherwise, the Caps look an awful lot like the 2006-7 Pittsburgh Penguins. They didn’t make it past the first round in the first dance, but the building blocks are definitely in place. Nicklas Backstrom certainly didn’t play like a rookie during the Flyers series, and except for the occasional ill-advised penalty, Alexander Semin was probably the best Capital not named Huet over the last two weeks. Mike Green is channeling his inner Paul Coffey, while Brooks Laich (who people forget came to town when fan favorite Peter Bondra was traded away) has proven more than just eye candy for the ladies — gladly filling the thankless role of “guy who repeatedly get crosschecked for an entire shift while he screens the opposition’s goalie.” If Eric Fehr, Tomas Fleischmann or any of the other young guns can make modest improvements during the offseason than this team really doesn’t need much more to become one of the league’s elite. While other teams in the local market might not be able to make the same claim, the Washington Capitals can feel confident that they’re ready to “unleash the fury” on the opposition for the forseeable future.
(photo by Brian Murphy)