Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Pool Outlook for Washington

The Washington Capitals were an absolute tour-de-force in the regular season in 2010, rolling over teams with their dominating offense.  They scored a ridiculous amount of goals in the season, leading the league with 313 in total, which was almost 50 better than the second best team in the league.  With all that scoring, it was no wonder they were a very popular team to pick from in the hockey pools and that includes their depth players, who did manage to capitalize on some good momentum set up by the star players.  Much to my surprise, however, I didn't think I would be writing about them as a team that was eliminated in the first round of the playoffs.

It was getting close near the end of the season, but Alex Ovechkin failed to take the titles of the league's top scorer and the pool's top scorer. In NHL scoring, Ovechkin's 109 points (50 goals and 59 assists) only put him in 3rd place and he was 4th place in pool scoring, when you throw Martin Brodeur's 111 points into the mix. Ovechkin's season was interuptted a couple of times by suspension and once by a shoulder injury.  In all, he missed 10 games, which means that his scoring pace was very good, averaging 1.51 points per game.  There really isn't going to be much that can take any credits away from Ovechkin, especially come hockey pool draft time, as he'll remain a very popular player to pick up.

The Capitals could almost have two top scorers to their blog post, but for the sake of consistency, I will only have one and make mention that Nicklas Backstrom could also be considered a top pick, possibly ranking in the top five in this upcoming draft.  Backstrom finished 5th overall in the pool in 2010, even being 8 points back of his teammate.  For all intensive purposes, those two are the most dynamic duo in regular season scoring in the NHL these days.  Also making the Capitals forwards good picks in 2010 were Alex Semin (40 goals and 44 assists), Brooks Laich (25 goals and 34 assists), Mike Knuble (29 goals and 24 assists) and Tomas Fleischmann (23 goals and 28 assists).  Like I had said before, there were lots of goals scored by this team and those were just some of the best names available. 

The defense in Washington isn't quite as offensively deep as the forwards, but it does have the most prolific blueline scorer in the league in Mike Green, who finished the season with 76 points in 75 games.  With those sort of numbers, we'll be looking at Green going in the 2nd round of the Draft, at the very latest.  I would imagine that he might be a 1st round pick in my Draft in September/October, just for the sake of his value compared to other defensemen.  After Green, the scoring does diminish quite quickly, Tom Poti had 24 points in 70 games, Jeff Schultz had 23 points in 73 games and Joe Corvo had only 18 points in 52 games between Carolina and Washington.   Between Poti and Corvo, you would have expected more, but that wasn't the case.

In goal, you would have thought Jose Theodore earned more of a shot in the playoffs than what he got, as he had most of the minutes in net for the Capitals.  Theodore won 30 games, had a shutout and 2 assists, picking up 64 points in 2010.  That was good enough for 17th in the pool among goaltenders, 51st among all players.  Semyon Varlamov, who did take the reins for the Capitals in their only playoff series, was injured for a good part of the season, but he still managed to pick up 15 wins, 2 shutouts and an assist for 35 points, but those points didn't get him too far up the ladder.   There was even an appearance from Michal Neuvirth in the year, who had 9 wins for 18 points.  They went through quite a bit of goaltending in Washington, but it really didn't matter with the juggernaut up front.

2011 Season Outlook
When a team is carrying Ovechkin and Green into a new season, I would have to think that any team would be in pretty good shape going into the new year.  There is plenty of work to do in the off-season, but shoring up some of their main assets in the Summer should give them a great base to start off from.  The emergence of John Carlson into the Capitals line-up in 2010 means good things as well.  I would have to imagine that they would be focussing on developing their young talent, while all their stars are just doing what they do. 

Alex OvechkinMike Green
Alex SeminTom Poti
Brooks LaichJohn Erskine
Mike KnubleJohn Carlson
Jason ChimeraKarl Alzner
Matt Bradley
David Steckel

With no goaltenders in tow, the Capitals will be going into the off-season with 12 skaters signed on and there is some fresh talent on the blueline, which is still on their entry-level deals, so they won't hurt too much against the cap.  Currently, their annual cap hit for 2011 stands at $36.9 million, but you will also notice some very big names that are not on the list, so you would have to believe that a lot of cap space will be taken up by those players.

Free agency is going to be the biggest concern of the Washington Capitals, more specifically restricted free agency, as Nicklas Backstrom, Tomas Fleischmann (pictured), Semyon Varlamov, Jeff Schultz and Michal Neuvirth will all need new contracts, as of July 1st.  Backstrom and Varlamov will obviously be their biggest priorities, while the remaining three will likely have to fit underneath with a little less urgency.  With the way their cap space has rounded out, the Capitals should be in reasonable shape to look after these guys, but it really depends on the proficiency of the signings that will determine how it will all play out for the unrestricted free agents.

Speaking of the UFAs, the Capitals will have a long list to comb through, especially after picking up a lot of rental players at the trade deadline.  The list of players heading to unrestricted free agency in July includes Jose Theodore, Brendan Morrison, Eric Belanger, Eric Fehr, Joe Corvo, Shaone Morrisonn, Scott Walker and Milan Jurcina.  Already, I believe it is understood that Theodore won't likely be back, while a few of those other names really don't hold much for priority going into July, in my opinion, but may hear from the Capitals at some point.  I would have to believe that it would have more to do with how much space is left over from their key RFAs.

In the One to Watch, I think we've seen the big three already this past season, although it was in that minor bit part roles that helped fill in when injuries came down upon the veterans this year.  The Hockey News has John Carlson, Karl Alzner and Michal Neuvirth as their top three prospects in the pipe and all three had some time with the club in 2010.  I won't take a professional scout to tell you that Carlson will be a lock for the Capitals next season, while Alzner has to be close enough to a full-time job by now after toiling in the AHL for the last three seasons.  With goaltending being an open spot at the moment, the Hockey News was suggesting in their Future Watch that Varlamov won't have an easy go of it in 2010, possibly giving Neuvirth a shot at the number one job.

Amazingly, with all the moves the Capitals made at the trade deadline in 2010, they still managed to hang onto their 1st round pick, having only moved their 2nd, 6th and 7th picks in the Draft.  The Capitals had the best record, but that doesn't mean they'll be picking last in the Draft this year, thanks to the playoffs breakdown, they should be picking 25th or so, highest division winner not to make it to the Conference Finals.  With the stocking up of good goaltending, solid defense and numerous centres, I would be looking for the Capitals to start looking seriously at skilled wingers, but if there is another solid defenseman around number 25, you can't have enough solid defense with an offense like they have up front.

What I had said at this time last year: "I know I will have a number of Capitals players high on my list this Fall, but there are a couple that I might put a couple notches down, just so I'm not in a big rush to pick them up. Ovechkin would be my guy, if I had first overall pick in my fantasy draft, as he's pretty much a sure thing. I would also value Backstrom quite high as well, as that tandem is all but a sure thing. Green, I will also value quite highly, but I'm not going to give up on a high producing forward to take him on the back-end. His totals should go up, but that is purely at the discretion of yourself at the time of the draft. The Caps will make some good next year, for sure."

Last year, I just focussed on the players that I would be looking at come draft time and for the most part, that overall look that I had written down was pretty well the approach I took to the draft that I held in September, so I guess I really couldn't be wrong there. I had Ovechkin as my first overall pick, but I didn't get to pick until fifth, so that's really a moot point. I did have Backstrom up pretty high, just not as high as fifth, although, that would have done me a bit better if I did, in the overall scheme of things. Green went really early this year and I would imagine that I would have him about as high as he went next season, just for the sake of.

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.

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