Saturday, June 18, 2011

Pool Outlook for Washington

Who really would have thought at the end of last year that the Washington Capitals would be a team in need of some change.  The dynamic offense that is the Capitals was really fun to watch in the 2010 season, but a philosophy change saw the Capitals change up their idea of how to win in the playoffs, becoming a more defensive-minded team, using their quick strike offense more in transition.  It was a pretty good idea, in theory, one that played out well for them in the regular season.  Sadly, it wasn't to be in the playoffs and they were ousted in the second round by the Tampa Bay Lightning.

By the standards already set by Alex Ovechkin, the 2011 season was somewhat of a disappointment.  35 goals and 53 assists in 79 games for the offensively-gifted Russian doesn't really impress like some of his previous years, but still scoring at over a point-per-game made him a valuable player to have on your pool team.  Ovechkin finished 13th in pool scoring overall, 7th among forwards, which is mildly disappointing for a guy who likely went 1st in most pool drafts.  The defensive system that was put in place did hurt his numbers in 2011, which begs the question, what will 2012 bring?

If Ovechkin was going to suffer as much as he did, you would have to believe that the rest of the forwards had a hard time scoring as well.  Nicklas Backstrom finished with only 65 points in 77 games, which dropped him down to 51st in pool scoring in 2011, way down from his 2010 numbers.  Alex Semin finished with 54 points in 65 games and Brooks Laich had 48 points in 82 games, rounding out the forwards that were among the top 100 in positional scoring.  The offensive juggernaut ran out of steam and you can really tell that by the numbers.  Mike Knuble (40 points in 79 games) and Jason Arnott (31 points in 73 games between New Jersey and Washington) round out the scoring up front.

The Capitals blueline had its share of problems in the 2011 season, which didn't help the team's power play or even strength offense through the year.  Dennis Wideman led all Caps blueliners in scoring with 40 points in 74 games, while rookie John Carlson was providing support with 37 points in all 82 games.  Mike Green battled injury all season long, playing in only 49 games, scoring only 24 points.  Still, having three defenders in the top 100 of blueline scoring isn't too bad, something most teams should be striving for in a year.

Going into the season, it looked like a pretty good fight for the crease between Michal Neuvirth and Semyon Varlamov, but before it was too far into the season, Neuvirth really took charge of the crease and did a great job with his time in net.  Neuvirth posted 27 wins and 4 shutouts for 62 points in 2011, ranking him 18th among all goalies in the league, while Varlamov only picked up 11 wins and 2 shutouts for 26 points.  The Capitals didn't stop at those two goalies either, as Braden Holtby had to take a few swings in the crease in 2011 and he was able to win 10 games, 2 by shutout and add an assist for 25 points, which makes the race for the job in 2012 more interesting.

2012 Pool Outlook
Heading into the 2012 off-season, the Capitals have a very well-stocked looking roster, one that just needs tinkering more than an overhaul.  If the season was to start right away, the Capitals already have a solid back end, both in net and on the blueline, signed and ready to go, there are just a couple questions about health that may loom.  Still, a few months off, with a little bit of training, they should be a force once again in 2012.

Alex OvechkinDennis WidemanMichal Neuvirth
Nicklas BackstromJohn CarlsonBraden Holtby
Alex SeminMike Green
Mike KnubleJohn Erskine
Marcus JohanssonJeff Schultz
Jason ChimeraTom Poti
Matt Hendricks
Eric Fehr

Salary CapThe books are pretty solid for the Capitals, they have a great core group of players signed on and for a reasonable cap hit.  The 16 players signed on above come in at $49.7 million against the cap in 2012, which could leave upwards of $14 million for the remaining seven players needed for a full roster.  The Capitals do not have any buyouts on the books and it seems unlikely that they will be in the buyout process this year, so they should be in very good shape when they go to tinker with the club.

The Capitals have a good share of unrestricted free agents heading to market this year, led by Brooks Laich, Jason Arnott, Marco Sturm, Matt Bradley, Scott Hannan and Boyd Gordon.  I could definitely see some of those guys going back to the Capitals for another year or more, but it will definitely be time to move on for some of these guys as well.

Semyon Varlamov, Mathieu Perreault and Karl Alzner are the three big restricted free agents for the Capitals in the 2011 off-season, all three should be getting deals done right away, each not likely to take too much of that remaining cap space away with new contracts.

With a lot of talent already on the blueline for the Capitals, not to mention a stacked trio of goalies, the only room for rookies to jump in will likely be up front, especially with the UFAs that are on their way out.  I'd be looking for Cody Eakin to possibly jump into a bottom-six role, if he makes it out of camp, while Dimitry Kugryshev and Stanislav Galiev will likely push for some offensive spots in the top six.  The Capitals do have some more talent in the wings, but they won't be rookies to watch out for in the 2012 season.

The Capitals sure do like their Europeans, which leads me to believe that they will continue down that road, possibly looking for a two-way centre, that could either play a 2nd or 3rd line role with the club down the road.  The team has tried their luck with a couple of players and are still trying to develop them, but adding another one to the mix will only give the team more options down the road.  I think this could be a solid direction for Washington.

What I said last year at this time... "For 2011, I don't think too much changes, especially draft wise. Ovechkin will remain high, still likely as my number one pick, just to hedge my bets. Backstrom goes higher, as does Green, likely Varlamov, since he'll likely be signed as the number one guy over the Summer. With the core of players that the Capitals have, I can't see them doing worse than the division title in the Southeast, it's what they are built for. They rocked a huge season in 2010 and it will be debateable as to whether or not they will be good enough to repeat the feat. They really did have somewhat of a perfect storm of players, skills and schedule to do what they did, but if they do somehow prove in the Summer that they have improved on their younger personnel, some more influential veteran presence and Varlamov takes 2011 to lift his game up, we should see the same season (and probably a better playoff run) next year."

Let's see... Ovechkin did go number one, Backstrom went number three, Green went in the middle of the 2nd round, Varlamov only a few picks before Green.  Yeah, the Capitals were going to be very popular in the 2011 draft and for good reason... sadly, no one could really predict the power play going into the tank or Neuvirth really stepping up and doing a fantastic job in the crease.  The Capitals had a lot of punch in their line-up, but it wasn't ready to play against the stingy trap in Tampa Bay and so their playoff run wasn't very good at all.  It was a tough year in Washington, but they should be able to turn their ship around before too long.

It's hard not to like the Capitals in the 2012 season, but with a new defensive system, who would you pick first?  Do you still like Ovechkin and his scoring prowess or would you think that Neuvirth is going to get the bulk of the minutes, therefore win a lot of games and get points that way?  Either way, I like the Capitals for points in 2012, likely a touch better than they were in the 2011 season.  They'll be in the race for top spot in the East, possibly the league, especially if they find some quality depth players to compliment their side.  If Green can get himself back to 100%, I really like this Capitals team and may look to go overboard on them, while other teams hum and haw over their lack of offense the previous season.

No comments: