2.14.2007

Looking Ahead

If there was any doubt that the Capitals playoff hopes for 2007 were finally snuffed out, it's gone now. With all due respect to Brent Johnson, who is an excellent goaltender in his own right, there is no way the Capitals turn this season around without Olie Kolzig, especially given the way they've played of late. I think we've probably hit rock bottom in terms of overall fan frustration. A lot of fans are starting to lose patience with the rebuilding process and that is mostly understandable, especially given the success of the yellow and black clad evildoers in Pennsylvania. It is especially tough because, at this point, I don't think there is much more this particular group of guys can do to grow as a team.

Part of the fun last season was watching all the new faces grow as hockey players. There was consistent improvement over the course of the season. This year, the team seems to have hit a wall, and I don't really think there is anything that can be done about it. It is time to start bringing in some new faces, but those new faces aren't likely to arrive until the free agency signing period starts in July. So why watch the team right now? The playoffs are out of reach, there's little to be seen by way of growth and improvement from the players, even Ovechkin's attempt to catch Sidney Crosby in the points scoring race is pretty much over. Now the only thing to root for, really, is for Ovechkin to edge Vincent Lecavalier et al for the Richard Trophy, an accomplishment that will likely ring somewhat hollow for most Caps fans as they watch Crosby receive the Art Ross and, most likely, the Hart Trophies while leading his team to the playoffs. So the frustration is to be expected.

Fear not, though. We will get through this. Sure, it's tough, but it's nothing new. It isn't nearly as bad as the final stretch of the 2003-04 season. Besides, no matter how little it shows on the ice right now, there is definitely a bright future in store for this team. One need only look at the amount of space the team has remaining under the salary cap and a list of the potential free agents over the next two years to see that there is a very real possibility of this team being a legitimate power in the Eastern Conference by the 2008-09 season.

In order to help you get through the coming hard times in Capsland, I'm brazenly stealing an idea from 3 Grumpy Caps and running with it. I'd like to show you some of the more notable potential free agents this coming offseason. For the task at hand, I'm only going to look at centers and defensemen, as those are widely accepted as the team's two most pressing needs:

Centers:
-Petr Sykora, EDM
-Pavel Datsyuk, DET
-Robert Lang, DET
-Daniele Briere, BUF
-Chris Drury, BUF
-Mike Comrie, OTT

Defensemen:
-Brad Stuart, CGY
-Sheldon Souray, MTL
-Brian Rafalski, NJ

Nothing especially exciting by way of centers, but I see two defensemen on that list whom I expect hope and pray the Caps will seriously pursue. Stuart, from what I've seen on the two occasions Boston came to visit, is particularly solid in his own end and can really dish out some hits. As for Souray, his contribution to the power play would, one would hope, prove invaluable.

Now let's move on to the summer of 2008, when, out in San Jose, both Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau are scheduled to become UFAs. What are the odds the Sharks will be able to sign both of them? Imagine a world in which Ted opens his pursestrings and lures Marleau to Washington with a good contract and a chance to be the #1 center alongside Alex Ovechkin. Suddenly, everything is looking quite rosy.

Combine the acquisitions of Stuart, Souray and Marleau with the arrival of Nicklas Backstrom and the further development of the youngsters (who will all be 3-4 year veterans by 2008) and all of a sudden things are looking up. Not convinced? Take a look at what the lineup could, conceivably, look like at the start of the 2008-09 season:

Ovechkin-Marleau-Clark
Semin-Backstrom-Fehr
Sutherby-Gordon-Pettinger
Brashear-Laich-Bradley

Morrison-Jurcina
Eminger-Stuart
Green-Souray

Kolzig
Johnson

Pretty impressive, no? The best part is, based on salary figures obtained here and my own estimation of what kind of raises the UFAs might get, the salary comes in some $3 million under the cap. (Assuming the Cap goes to $49 million, which I'm pretty sure I heard was true. Somewhere.)

So things may look bad now, but with a little patience and a whole lot of shameless optimism, I think that we're gonna make it after all.

EDITOR'S NOTE: This is not, necessarily, meant to be an outline of what I think will actually happen. It is mostly just a fantasy I've concocted to make myself feel better. It is based largely on baseless assumptions and wishful thinking. So feel free to go ahead and correct, berate and/or agree with me, or share your own ideas about who might be wearing a Caps sweater uniform system soon, in the comments section.

5 comments:

CapsChick said...

Good points, as usual :)

I would actually prefer Rafalski over Souray, though - he may not have the PP ability, but as a defenseman he's actually better in his own end. You know I love my Habs and Souray has always been among my faves, but as a defenseman he's a bit too close to Gonchar, albeit with a bit more snarl to his game.

Having said that, I don't see NJ releasing Rafalski from their talons unless they hit serious cap trouble (for a change)...

Biff said...

I think the Caps need a good offensive minded d-man before they need another stay at home guy. Say what you will about Gonchar, but he was a huge asset when he was here. Given the current state of the Caps' power play, a player like Souray or Gonchar would be invaluable.

3 Grumpy Caps fans said...

Not for nothing, but isn't Gomez a free agent after this year, too? I think he'd fit really well here.

Biff said...

The problem with Gomez, as with Rafalski, is that his salary is rather prohibitive. Gomez makes $5 million right now, and will probably get a raise as a UFA. Which means that, were he to sign with the Caps, he would instantly become the highest paid player on the team.

That and I've always found Gomez to be wildly overrated.

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